Best Online Ultrasound Technician Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree?

Online associate degrees for ultrasound technicians, also known as diagnostic medical sonographers (DMS), are sufficient qualification for most entry-level positions, and they typically take up two years to complete. These degrees require remote science coursework in human anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, imaging and patient care. Another requirement is clinical sonography training at local health centers, hospitals, doctor's offices or clinics under working professionals.

Since sonography can be used to examine different parts of the body, colleges often offer specializations that students can choose from based on their interests. Many colleges will also offer professional certification exams at the end of their degree programs. Obtaining both a degree and certification are important steps in the process of becoming a sonographer in a number of different health and medical contexts, including pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, vascular medicine, and many others.

Who Should Pursue an Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree?

Anyone who wants to begin a career as a professional ultrasound tech will need at least a two-year associate degree to qualify for the appropriate certification. If you are interested in pursuing a career in this field, and you need the flexibility of online learning, then an online DMS associate degree could be an excellent choice. You will need a high school diploma or GED to apply for an associate degree. Some associate degree programs have prerequisites that are required for acceptance, meaning that you may need to spend some time completing your coursework requirements before applying to the DMS associate degree program within that college.

Most of these programs are full-time, and while you could take transferable classes at a local community college before applying, these are largely full-time programs that recommend you do not attempt to work full-time. The largest single commitment of time will be the clinical experience. It is crucial for potential students of online DMS programs to understand that while the course load will be taken remotely, the clinical training will be entirely in-person and is a significant time commitment.

Application, Admissions, and Enrollment for Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree Programs

Many programs require an online application to both the associate degree program's college or university, as well as a separate application to the program itself. They will likely also require a resume and personal statement.

Besides the usual required materials of high school or other educational transcripts, most programs also require specific grades in prerequisite courses, often being a 2.0 GPA or higher. Be sure to study each program's coursework requirements before applying.

Due to the nature of sonography, you may have to submit proof of vaccinations, and also undergo a background check. Many programs look for relevant volunteer experience, so consider volunteering in a health care context before applying to strengthen your application. This should include interacting with patients, such as a nursing home or hospital.

As there is required clinical experience, your proximity to an approved medical site is a crucial factor for acceptance. Try to be as flexible as possible in the time you can commit to traveling to such a site, particularly if you live outside of a regional health care hub. This will be easier to arrange if you are accepted into a nearby online DMS program, but if the college is not local to you, they will likely assess whether they can find a suitable placement before accepting you into the program. Enrollment is highly selective and typically occurs once per year.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of an Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree Program?

Completing an online DMS associate degree program that has not been accredited by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) means that to become certified, and thus more competitive in your search for a job, you will have to work an additional 12 months in an entry-level job within the field before applying. As there are very few fully online and ARDMS-accredited programs, it's a good idea to examine whether you could take most of the coursework online at an accredited institution and perhaps still attend in-person classes for the ones not available remotely. This is particularly a good idea given that much of your time learning will be spent in-person through your clinical training. As with all online programs, consider if the demands of a remote class are for you, and whether you have adequate internet access and a computer to allow you to be successful.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree?

A full-time associate degree program will typically require two years of coursework, but some students may need longer to fulfill all of their requirements. You will most likely spend up to a year building your coursework prerequisites before beginning an online ultrasound tech associate degree program.

Clinical experience typically begins in the first or second semester of a program and runs well above 1,000 hours over an entire year. This will typically require up to 30 hours per week during working hours. Additionally, you will also have a full coursework load, sometimes totaling around 75 credit hours over the entire degree. Online courses will likely be synchronous lectures with coursework and exams.

As most of these programs begin on a common date, you will likely have a cohort of fellow students with whom you move through the program.

How Much Does an Online Associate Degree in Ultrasound Tech Cost?

The cost of your program will vary depending on the type of school you choose to attend. A private university will likely cost more than the in-state tuition you would pay at a community college. The difference could be significant, from less than $2,000 at a community college for annual tuition, to upwards of $15,000 at a private institution. This does not include additional fees, textbooks, transport, possible room and board, or other expenses. The more credits you can transfer into the program, the cheaper it will likely be.

Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree Coursework

You will learn a great deal about the scientific and practical aspects of diagnostic imaging across several courses. As an ultrasound tech interacts with patients in often stressful situations, most programs will also require you to work on your interpersonal skills through communication and psychology classes. Typical courses included in an ultrasound tech associate degree program:

  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Diagnostic Instrumentation
  • Diagnostic Physics
  • Interpersonal Communication

Many programs allow you specialize in an area of anatomy and physiology, or perhaps emergency DMS work, with the goal of becoming certified in that area. These specializations may include:

  • Abdominal sonography
  • Vascular sonography
  • Obstetrics & Gynecological sonography

What Can I Do with an Online Associate Degree in Ultrasound Tech?

Ultrasound techs are highly-trained for their specific medical role. They work with doctors and nurses, and sometimes even have their own ultrasound assistants to help them with various tasks. Like other fields, there are specializations for ultrasound techs that can cater to your professional interests. These specializations are often built into programs themselves with a series of electives, so it is good to consider early where you would like to be upon graduation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer was $75,920 in May 2020, with a projected growth of 12% from 2019-2029. Salary will often be dependent on your employer, with hospitals often being lower on the scale and small private clinics higher. There is little variation in salary based on specialization, but advancement and experience will likely shift your salary higher up the scale.

Begin a Career as a Cardiac Sonographer

Due to an aging population, cardiac sonographers, also known as echocardiographers, are very much in demand. Cardiac sonographers use DMS instruments to examine the hearts of patients in two or three dimensions, allowing a doctor to create effective treatment plans for those with sometimes life-threatening heart conditions. Most cardiac sonographers work in fast-paced hospital settings, with the unpredictable day or night shifts that those come with. Most employers expect candidates to be Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographers through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, though some may waive this requirement if a candidate has applicable previous experience, and can commit to pursuing the certification while employed. Some employers look favorably on an additional sonography certification by Cardiovascular Certification International|].

Begin a Career as an Obstetric & Gynecological Sonographer

The primary focus of an obstetric & gynecological (OB/GYN) sonographer is creating images of the female reproductive system. Often working with pregnant women, these sonographers take images of the fetus itself. These sonographers may also scan patients to create reports for their attending physician in a busy, and often emotional workplace. This career could include inpatient or outpatient work in various medical settings. Typical salaries vary quite a lot, with pay often being lower in hospitals, and much higher in smaller private clinics, as well as within nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood. OB/GYN sonographer salaries typically adhere to roughly the same median as other sonographers with a variation by region and experience. ARDMS offers OB/GYN certification in this specialization, and some schools even offer it is as a specialization as well. Gaining a nuchal translucency certification, a certification proving that a sonographer is well-versed in using sonographic observations to detect fetal abnormalities, could be advantageous and is often preferred by employers.

What Is the Difference Between an Ultrasound Tech and a Radiological Tech?

While both of these positions image the human body for medical purposes, they differ in how they do so, and in the programs needed to qualify for an entry-level position. A diagnostic medical sonographer uses sonographic instruments to create sound waves for internal imaging while a radiological technician uses x-rays and magnetic fields. Sonography is harmless to both patients and care providers, while x-rays can be extremely dangerous, so radiological technicians must learn many safety protocols. Radiological techs may also use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans. While they differ in tools and methods, radiological technicians and ultrasound techs can both complete a two-year associate degree program to become certified and job ready in a busy and growing field.

Accreditation for Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree Programs

Diagnostic medical sonography programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Entering an uncertified program hugely reduces your chances of gaining a strong DMS education, as well as finding a position after graduation. Examine your program thoroughly for evidence of CAAHEP accreditation. The program's department should also be accredited by the higher education organization of that region. Purely-online DMS programs, strictly for coursework since the clinical portion is always in-person, are separately certified by CAAHEP and are very rare. Many accredited DMS programs offer substantial online coursework and you could consider this to ensure prompt certification after graduation. ARDMS certification requires an additional full year of employment for students who graduate from programs that are not CAAHEP accredited.

Transfer Options After Completing an Online Ultrasound Tech Associate Degree

Graduating with an associate degree as a certified ultrasound tech could allow you to transfer existing credits into a more advanced degree such as a bachelor's degree in diagnostic medical sonography. Earned credits from accredited ultrasound tech programs are far more likely to be accepted as transfer credits than credits from an unaccredited program. Due to the specialized nature of sonography, one option after graduation is to apply for multiple ARDMS certifications to open multiple professional ultrasound avenues, such as abdominal, vascular, cardiac or others. Many community colleges have reliable transfer arrangements with state system universities, so check before applying if you have further education plans. Some possible options for certified associate degree holders looking for another challenge could be a bachelor's in health administration, or a similar field such as public health.

What are Other Ultrasound Tech Degree Paths/Options?

While an associate degree is a common track for becoming a DMS, there are other routes available, as well as more advanced degree options for those qualified to pursue them. These range from certificate programs to a full master's degree.

Online Bachelor's Programs in Ultrasound Tech

The most common and obvious possible online path to DMS certification and employment would be a bachelor's degree, which can also lead to an ARDMS certification, but has a broader general education focus. Expect to take more liberal arts and ethics-related courses, with a core grouping of DMS training and science courses, as well as a clinical requirement. Courses in administration are an option in many programs if that is a possible future career goal.

Online Master's Programs in Ultrasound Tech

Due to the core DMS training taught in associate and bachelor's degree programs, there are few master's programs specifically for medical sonographers. One applicable degree that does exist is the Master of Health Science (MHS) degree, which is aimed at those who wish to move beyond clinical practice into research or teaching. This commonly requires two years of experience as a DMS plus a bachelor's degree. Possible coursework will likely involve seminar-format readings, discussions on topics of administration, and advanced research methods for possible future studies.

Online Certificate Programs in Ultrasound Tech

Being essentially the core DMS classes without the additional associate degree requirements, online certificate programs are for those with an associate or bachelor's degree, and are a valid option for moving into the DMS field. Programs are typically 12 to 18 months and have the same prerequisites as an associate degree, including a lengthy clinical experience at a local hospital or clinic. While certificate programs typically cost less than a full associate degree due to their length, the degree requirements make this a flexible sidestep from an existing health career.

Scholarships & Financial Aid for Ultrasound Tech Online Associate Degrees

Like all higher education, pursuing an online DMS associate degree can be expensive, so the first step is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This allows you to apply for grants and loans that can help support you while attending a DMS degree program. Funding can also come in the form of work-study or other arrangements. Your chosen program may also have departmental, or school funding for new students, so be sure to review the tuition and financial aid section on the program's website. The Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS) has a funding page of available grants and scholarships for DMS students. They also have funding for certification costs which come at the end of the degree. The SDMS funding requires membership in the organization and demonstration of need, ability, or both.

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