Some technicians specialize in obstetrical ultrasound.

Ultrasound technicians use sound waves to help physicians diagnose medical problems and check on the condition of patients. Also called diagnostic medical sonographers, they take patient histories, prepare patients and equipment for scans, perform scans, analyze scans and keep records. Preparation for the job is available at the certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree level. The time required to earn your credential or degree depends on which path you choose.

Certificate Programs

The fast track to a career as an ultrasound technician is through a one-year certificate program, but students need previous health-care training to qualify for this shortcut. For example, Rochester Institute of Technology offers a certificate in sonography for students with a previous associate degree, bachelor's degree or professional certification in an allied health field, such as nursing. The RIT program requires 53 semester credit hours over one year and includes class instruction in anatomy, sonography instrumentation and sonography techniques. Students also complete supervised clinical practice.

Associate Degrees

Associate degree programs for ultrasound technicians normally take two years and include some general college subjects in addition to technical training. The entrance requirements typically include a high school diploma or the equivalent, and many programs also require college-level prerequisites in physics, biology and algebra. At the Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, for example, students majoring in general ultrasound must complete at least 73 semester units over two years, including one summer. The curriculum in this example includes English composition, anatomy and physiology, physics, ultrasound for various body areas and four sections of clinical practice.

Bachelor Degrees

A bachelor's degree in medical sonography normally takes four years and includes more advanced classes and more clinical internship opportunities than an associate degree program offers. For example, the bachelor's program at Rochester Institute of Technology requires 125 semester hours over four years. In addition to basic sonography, the studies include pre-calculus, medical genetics, patient care, administration and research and specialized sonography techniques. The clinical portion includes an entire year of supervised work experience in at least two health care settings. The bachelor's degree prepares students for a variety of certifying exams and for higher-level positions as supervisors or administrators.

Certification and Licensing

Sonography certification is available at the basic or primary level and in various specialties. It's not always required, although many employers prefer technicians with certification. Candidates for certification must have an accredited education in sonography, including clinical practice. Starting in 2015, all applicants must have an associate degree or higher, either in sonography or another major. All candidates must adhere to ethical standards and pass an examination from the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists to receive certification. In some states, ultrasound technicians must have a license, and certification is usually among the requirements.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of jobs for ultrasound technicians will increase 44 percent between 2010 and 2020, driven by the aging of the population and advances in technology. Ultrasound technicians with specialty certifications -- in vascular sonography, for example -- will have the best prospects. Sonographers averaged $66,360 per year as of 2012, according to the BLS, and the top-earning 10 percent received at least $91,070.