Become an Ultrasound Technician

Choosing an Ultrasound Tech School

ultrasound tech with patientCongratulations on your decision to enroll in an ultrasound technician school.  You have the option to pursue either an Associate or a Bachelor’s Degree.  If you already have a college degree, a post graduate certificate program may also be an option.  You can also choose between the options of attending classes on campus or obtaining your education online.   Keep in mind that most online sonographer schools also have a clinical training component within their curriculum.  And when you have graduated, you will then need to comply with the licensing and credentialing requirements in {state}, or wherever you initially choose to practice.  But once you have decided to enter the medical profession as a sonogram technician, just how do you go about choosing the right school?  Well, your first considerations will probably be:

  • How much time can you invest?
  • How much money can you invest?

An Associate Degree will generally take from 18 months to 2 years to complete.  A Bachelor’s Degree will require an investment of usually 4 years to complete.  If you already have a Bachelor’s Degree in any discipline or an Associate Degree in a related health field, a certificate program may be a better option at just 12 to 18 months to complete.  Of course finances are always a determining factor when choosing a school to attend.  By first determining how much you can afford in tuition and ancillary expenses, you can narrow down your initial list of college choices to those that you can afford.  But now that you have your short list, how do you further narrow down your options so that you can make your final choice?  We’ll take a look at some additional considerations to help you make your school selection.  But first, let’s talk a little bit about what an ultrasound technician does, and what the advantages are of obtaining your degree online.

What Does an Ultrasound Tech Do?

ultrasound technician testing pregnant womanUltrasound technicians have many professional names, such as sonographers, sonogram technicians, or ultrasound technologists.  But regardless of title, their main function is to perform diagnostic ultrasound procedures on patients.  Some specialize in certain areas of sonography, such as pediatrics or cardiology, while others practice as generalists.  The majority work in hospitals, private physician offices, or outpatient diagnostic imaging facilities.  Some of the main duties of an ultrasound tech on a daily basis may include:

  • Verifying patient medical histories and health statuses
  • Speaking with patients to explain the procedure, what to expect and answer questions
  • Sharing any concerns with attending physicians prior to ultrasound procedures
  • Operating the ultrasound equipment and analyzing results during the procedure
  • Assisting with moving patients to ensure comfort and minimal exposure to sound waves
  • Evaluating exam results and identifying those that indicate need for additional testing or medical treatment.

On an ongoing basis techs must also assess the performance and safety of the equipment they operate.  As medical practitioners they are held to a high level of professional standards and code of conduct.  To maintain their certifications and update their medical knowledge, ultrasound technicians are required to complete continuing education on a periodic ongoing basis.

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Taking Ultrasound Technician Classes Online

student attending online sonography classesKeep in mind that you can’t receive all of your training to be an ultrasound tech online.  A good deal of the training is clinical in nature and must take place either on campus or in an approved hospital environment.  But since the rest of the non-clinical course work can be accessed online, this option may be more convenient for some students.  And it can be a big advantage for those who are working or have family and other obligations as well.  Plus online schools are sometimes less expensive than traditional options.  Even ancillary expenses, such as commuting and text books can be reduced to some extent.  Between the extensive offline clinical sonography training and the online courses, everything needed to achieve competency is provided.  But one warning, not all online schools are accredited, which is very important for certification and job placement.  So be sure to verify that any online training you are considering is accredited by a recognized agency, such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).  If you are disciplined and motivated enough to dedicate yourself to this style of learning, then obtaining your training online in conjunction with your clinical training may be the right choice for you.

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How to Narrow your Sonography Program Options

Once you have decided on the degree that you want to earn, and if you want to attend classes online or on campus, you can begin narrowing down your list of school options.  There are numerous ultrasound tech schools and colleges in the United States alone, so it is important to have a checklist to refine your choices so that you can ultimately make your final selection.  As we have discussed, the cost of tuition and ancillary expenses is one of the most important qualifiers and will immediately limit your possibilities depending on your budget.  Following are some additional important factors that you need to research before making your final selection.

Are the Ultrasound Technician School and Degree Program Accredited?  Many sonography schools and programs have earned either a regional or a national accreditation, or both.  One of the most highly regarded accrediting agencies in this field is the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC-DMS).  Colleges receiving accreditation from the JRC-DMS have gone through a comprehensive screening of their curriculum and their instructors.  Online schools may also receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance learning.  Make sure that the degree program as well as the school is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education, or a Council on Higher Education Accreditation recognized accrediting organization.  In addition to helping ensure that you receive a quality education, it may assist in securing financial aid or student loans, which are often not available for non-accredited schools.

What are the Graduation and Job Placement Rates?  Find out from the schools you are considering what their graduation rates are.  Also, how long on average does it take students to complete the program?   A low graduation rate could be an indication that students were dissatisfied with the program and dropped out, or that the instructors were not adept or qualified to teach the syllabus.  It is also important that the school has a high job placement rate.  Older schools have a broader list of alumni, which can mean more contacts for the school to use for their job placement and internship programs.  A high job placement rate will not only help confirm that the school has a good reputation within the industry, but that it also has the network of contacts to help students obtain positions or internships upon graduation.

Check the Campus Facilities and Location.  Unless you are willing to relocate, the school needs to be within commuting distance of your {city} home.  Taking courses online may be an option that will give you more flexibility for attending classes and reduce the need for travel.  Remember that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs it may require higher tuition fees than for in-state students.   Also be sure to check out the campus facilities in person before paying your first tuition payment.  Make sure that they are high-tech and that the equipment you will be training on is state of the art.

Does the School offer Internship or Externship Programs?  One of the best ways to get hands on experience as an ultrasound tech is to work out in the field.  Find out if the schools have a working relationship with local hospitals, clinics or labs for internship or externship programs.  Not only will the experience be rewarding as far as technical training, but it may also help establish relationships in the local medical community and help open doors when looking for a position upon graduation.

How large are the Classes?  You will want as much one-on-one instruction as possible, which will be hard to receive in very large classes.  Ask if you can monitor some classes so that you can experience the interaction between faculty and students and get an idea how large the classes are.  Speak with some of the students and find out what their experience has been regarding class sizes and the instruction that they have received.  Finally, speak with some of the teachers and find out what their level of experience is and what degrees they hold.

Does the College offer Flexible Class Scheduling?  One final item to check is if the sonography school offers flexible class scheduling which can accommodate your busy schedule.  If you can only attend classes at night or on weekends, be sure to consider only those schools that offer night and weekend classes.  If the school requires a full-time schedule and you can only attend part-time, then you may have to consider a different school.  Also, find out if there is an option to make up classes that you may miss due to work, illness or family emergencies. The last thing that you will want to do is set yourself up for failure with a class schedule that will be difficult to attend.

Select the Right Ultrasound Technologist College

Enrolling in the right ultrasound tech program is an important beginning to a medical career that provides diagnostic help to patients.  As we have discussed, it is very important that you select a college and a degree program that are both accredited and have excellent reputations within the medical community.  This is crucial not only if you decide to attend classes on campus, but also if you enroll in an online school.   And if you follow the tips provided for evaluating the schools you are considering, you will be able to narrow down your options so that you can make your final choice.  And by selecting the right college, with discipline and dedication you can achieve your career goal to become a sonographer.