What is an Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree?
Ultrasound technology, or sonography, is a type of imaging used in a medical setting to create images of various systems and structures of the human body. Imaging can be of the abdomen, cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, the female reproductive system, and more. Ultrasound technicians play a key role in the process of diagnosis for patients and assuring they get the care they need.
Associate degrees in ultrasound technology are designed to prepare candidates by teaching them important skills needed to succeed in the field. These skills include the use of technology used to perform ultrasound images as well as preliminary diagnostic skills to interpret what is seen in the images. Associate degree programs also typically cover a variety of other topics ranging from human anatomy to conducting professional interactions with patients and medical staff. Many programs also offer various opportunities for students to get hands-on clinical experience during their course of study.
Titles for an associate degree in ultrasound technology include:
- Associate of Science in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Associate in Applied Science Diagnostic Medical Imaging Sonography (DMIS)
- Associate of Arts in Diagnostic Ultrasound
Why Should I Get an Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree?
Since it only requires two years of schooling, ultrasound technology can be an excellent way to break into the medical field. Some schools even offer accelerated programs that can give you the option of completing a program in as little as a year allowing for even faster entry into the field. Starting in the medical field this way can provide plenty of advancement opportunities for ultrasound technicians. As you gain real-world experience and refine your skills working as an ultrasound technician, you may find yourself with opportunities for management positions within ultrasound technology, continued education for advanced specialized imaging positions, or even sales jobs requiring an understanding of sonography equipment.
How to choose an Ultrasound Tech Associate Program
Choosing the right ultrasound technician program will depend on your career and educational goals, schedule flexibility, and budget. If entering into the workforce as soon as possible is important to you, you may want to choose a shorter program. However, longer programs may be a better option for you if you are more interested in coursework depth, lots of hands-on experience and/or specialized coursework. Furthermore, if you want to do more generalized sonography, a program not geared towards specialty imaging may be a better choice for you.
However, if you wish to become an ultrasound specialist then you will want to choose a program that will offer the coursework needed to prepare you for the type of specialized imaging you wish to pursue.
Location will also play a role in choosing a program. If there is not a program in your immediate vicinity, how far you are willing to commute to a program nearby will impact your choice. Flexibility in your schedule may also come into play when choosing a school; most ultrasound technician associate degree programs are full-time, therefore; the ability to commit to a full-time program could impact your choice. The cost of the program is another important factor; tuition can vary quite a bit from program to program.
Application and Admissions for Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree Programs
The application and admissions process will vary by school. Nearly all schools require a high school diploma. Some schools may also require the completion of a set number of observational hours of ultrasound technicians in the field before applying. Other schools have an admissions process involving interviewing and admissions testing where prospective students are chosen based on a points system.
A minimum grade point average may be part of the admissions process, also. Programs often operate on an application deadline schedule and these dates will vary by school. However, some do operate on a rolling basis where an application can be submitted at any time before the start of the academic year.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree?
Most associate degree programs in ultrasound technology are full-time and can take from one to two years to complete depending on the credit hours required for completion. Typical credit hours required by programs can be as few as 60 or as many as 72. Shorter programs offer the option to enter the workforce faster. However, longer programs may offer longer experiential learning components, such as clinical placements, as well as coursework for more specialized types of imaging. Programs typically consist of coursework with lecture and lab components as well as hands-on experiences that can take the form of an externship, internship, clinical placement, preceptorship, and more.
How Much Does an Associate Degree in Ultrasound Tech Cost?
Costs for an associate degree program in ultrasound tech will vary depending on housing costs, books and supplies, in addition to differences in in-district, in-state, and out-of-state tuition costs. Per credit hour tuition for in-state students can be as low as $115 and as high as around $300. Out-of-state students often pay higher tuition, as much as $400 per credit hour. Books and supplies typically range from about $600 to $2,000 per year depending on the program. Housing costs for room and board will vary by location. Schools that offer an on-campus housing option could potentially result in a lower cost for room and board expenses, although; some on-campus housing can cost more than off-campus housing depending on the school.
Associate Degree Coursework
Most programs in this field offer coursework in topics such as human anatomy and/ or cross-sectional anatomy, medical terminology, psychology, physics, patient care and ethics, diseases and pathology, and various types of sonography.
Common general education course titles include:
- Medical Terminology
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- General Psychology
- Introduction to Physics
Common program course titles include:
- Introduction to Patient Care and Sonography
- Abdominal Sonography
- Obstetric/Gynecology Sonography
- Breast Sonography
Specialized programs often include courses like:
- Vascular Sonography
How Much Can I Earn With an Associate Degree in Ultrasound Tech?
The median annual pay according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2020 for medical sonographers was $75,920 per year. Salary can range from $50,000 to $100,000 a year, with the bottom 10 percent earning less than $53,790 per year and the upper 10 percent making more than $105,340 per year. Pay will vary depending on specialty, job specifics, and employer. For example, salary in 2020 for diagnostic medical sonographers was lower in diagnostic laboratories ($71,650 per year), a bit higher in physicians offices ($75,270 per year) and hospitals ($76,060 per year), and could be as much as $96,780 per year in outpatient care centers.
The highest-paying state in 2020 for jobs in diagnostic medical sonography is California, with Hawaii close behind. The field of ultrasound technology is predicted to grow as much as 17 percent from 2019 to 2029 (BLS). This kind of growth is notably higher than the average projected job growth for all jobs in the US.
Begin a Career as an Abdominal Sonographer
Diagnostic medical sonographers have many responsibilities. They are responsible for: getting patients ready for imaging, keeping up with the maintenance of the imaging equipment, carrying out all necessary imaging as prescribed by their medical provider, conducting diagnostic imaging and analysis, and keeping excellent patient records. Abdominal sonographers image the abdominal cavity and many of the organs housed by the cavity including the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and spleen.
The majority of jobs in diagnostic medical sonography are found in hospitals, however; there are also opportunities in physicians' offices, laboratories, and outpatient care centers. Most imaging is done in an environment with low light to best see images on the screen as they come into view and this job may entail standing for considerable amounts of time to perform the imaging process. Some employers prefer or require certification in addition to an associate degree; we will cover some of these below.
Begin a Career as a Cardiac Sonographer
Cardiac sonographers, or electrocardiographers, perform imaging of the heart to examine the chambers, valves, and nearby vessels. Electrocardiographers may also work in pediatrics to image babies while they are in the womb to check heart conditions during these key developmental stages. This type of imaging is not to be confused with vascular sonographers who take images of vessels throughout the human body that may not be near the heart. As with most diagnostic medical sonography jobs, these jobs are most commonly found inside hospitals at the state, local, as well as private levels. This type of imaging is commonly done in a dimly lit space and may be performed sitting or standing depending on the patient and equipment available. Certification is sometimes preferred for these positions.
Certifications & Licensure for Ultrasound Techs
Becoming a registered diagnostic medical sonographer is a common way to obtain a credential in the field of medical sonography. This is commonly done through the ARDMS or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Getting registered can be an excellent way to certify your qualifications and knowledge as a sonographer. In addition, some specialties and employers require certification. Therefore; job opportunities can increase after becoming a registered sonographer. Each separate credential offered through the ARDMS will vary in required prerequisite qualifications which will consist of clinical hours completed and educational background. Once you qualify, the registration process typically consists of one or more examinations to verify that you qualify for registration.
Credentials you can get through the ARDMS include:
- Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
- Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer
- Registered Vascular Technologist
- Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer
- Midwife Sonography Certificate
Accreditation for Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree Programs
Associate degrees in ultrasound technology or diagnostic medical sonography are commonly accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). To qualify for this accreditation, the program must be recommended by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC-DMS). CAAHEP accredits more than 2,100 programs, making it the largest accreditor of professions in the health sciences spanning 32 different professions in the health sciences. Choosing an accredited program for obtaining an associate degree in sonography is important to confirm that the program meets the standards required for the sonography field as well as specialties within sonography. It's also a prerequisite for financial aid and many industry certifications.
Transfer Options After Completing an Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree
Many schools have designed their associate degrees so that the credits are transferred easily to other schools that offer a bachelor's degree in sonography. Oftentimes, these schools will partner with other schools to make this transfer a smooth process for those students who wish to further their education. Sometimes schools will have a list of articulation agreements made with various schools for transfer from one school where an associate degree was achieved to another school for a bachelor's. Typically these agreements will outline the necessary coursework from the school where the associate was earned as well as the minimum grade-point average to qualify.
What are Other Ultrasound Tech Degree Options?
There are different types of programs, certifications, and course requirements for sonography. Ultrasound tech education requirements will vary depending on your career goals as different jobs may require different courses of study. For example, some employers may prefer their sonographers to have certifications or a bachelor's degree although associate degrees still allow for many career opportunities in the field. Some programs are designed so that graduates will finish with multiple degrees or degrees in addition to certifications. Although much less common, there are select master's degrees available that can prepare you for a management position in medical sonography. However, there are no degrees in sonography offered at the doctoral level.
Bachelor's Degrees in Ultrasound Tech
Bachelor's degrees in sonography will often require more coursework to complete which will typically result in the program taking up to four to five years to complete depending on performance. These programs will sometimes require up to 120 credit hours or more to complete but can vary from school to school. Some schools require the completion of an associate degree in ultrasound technology or sonography before they can pursue a bachelor's in sonography.
Common bachelor's degree titles include:
- Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with an emphasis in Diagnostic Medical Imaging and Therapy
Master's Degrees in Ultrasound Tech
There aren't any sonography degrees at the master's level but master's degrees in health sciences could prepare someone for a position advancement in the field. If your career goals include a managerial position in sonography, a master's degree could help make you a competitive candidate. Some schools also offer programs where a Master of Health Science can be completed concurrently with a Bachelor of Science in Medical Sonography. These types of programs may include coursework that covers management in the healthcare field as well as courses in healthcare policy, research, writing, and biostatistics.
Common master's degrees titles include:
- Master of Health Administration
- Master of Health Science
Certificate Programs in Ultrasound Tech
Sometimes people choose to complete a certificate program in ultrasound technology and then will continue their training once entering into the field. Additionally, some people will pursue certificate programs after successful completion of an associate or bachelor's degree in sonography in order to specialize within the field. Certificate programs within the field of sonography include vascular sonography and breast sonography among others.
Common certificate program titles include:
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography Certificate
- Vascular Sonography Certificate
- Breast Ultrasound Certificate
Scholarships & Financial Aid for Ultrasound Tech Associate Degrees
All students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out which grants, loans and work-study programs might work for them. Almost all schools will offer assistance with this application process and the process of applying for school-specific financial aid and scholarships.
Some of the scholarships offered by these programs can be as much as $6,000 or more per year, meaning some students with financial needs can get an associate degree for little or no cost. Depending on a student's FAFSA information and the school's financial aid program, some students may be qualified for certain grants; one of the biggest is the Federal Pell Grant, which offers up to $6,495 per year. Financial aid programs also frequently include work-study experiences offered through the school that allow students access to on-campus jobs where their salary is put towards their tuition. Some schools also offer assistance for veterans who are eligible for Veteran's Administration funding.