Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians; Including Vascular Technologists


Quick Facts: Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists
2017 Median Pay $65,620 per year 
$31.55 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2016 122,300
Job Outlook, 2016-26 17% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2016-26 21,100

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Medical Diagnostics Career, Salary and Education Information

What Medical Diagnostics Do

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, also called diagnostic imaging workers, operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Sonographers and technologists may work closely with physicians and surgeons before, during, and after procedures.

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Duties of Medical Diagnostics

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, typically do the following:

  • Prepare patients for procedures by taking their medical history and answering any questions about the procedure

  • Prepare and maintain diagnostic imaging equipment

  • Operate equipment to obtain diagnostic images or to conduct tests

  • Review images or test results to check for quality and adequate coverage of the areas needed for diagnoses

  • Recognize the difference between normal and abnormal images, and identify other diagnostic information

  • Analyze diagnostic information to provide a summary of findings for physicians

  • Record findings and keep track of patients’ records

Diagnostic medical sonographers specialize in creating images of the body’s organs and tissues. The images are known as sonograms or ultrasounds. Sonograms are often the first imaging tests performed when disease is suspected.

Diagnostic sonography uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the inside of the body. The sonographer uses an instrument called an ultrasound transducer to scan parts of the patient’s body that are being examined. The transducer emits pulses of sound that bounce back, causing echoes. The echoes are then sent to an ultrasound machine, which processes them and displays them as images used by physicians for diagnosis.

The following are examples of types of diagnostic medical sonographers:

  • Abdominal sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s abdominal cavity and nearby organs, such as the kidney, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or spleen. Abdominal sonographers may assist with biopsies or other examinations requiring ultrasound guidance.

  • Breast sonographers specialize in imaging a patient’s breast tissues. Sonography can confirm the presence of cysts and tumors that may have been detected by the patient, the physician, or a mammogram. Breast sonographers work closely with physicians and assist with procedures that track tumors and help to provide information that will aid doctors in making decisions about the best treatment options for breast cancer patients.

  • Cardiac sonographers (echocardiographers) specialize in imaging a patient’s heart. They use ultrasound equipment to examine the heart’s chambers, valves, and vessels. The images obtained are known as echocardiograms. An echocardiogram may be performed either while the patient is resting or after the patient has been physically active. Cardiac sonographers also may take echocardiograms of fetal hearts so that physicians can diagnose cardiac conditions during pregnancy. Cardiac sonographers work closely with physicians or surgeons before, during, and after procedures.

  • Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in imaging muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. These sonographers may assist with ultrasound guidance for injections, or during surgical procedures, that deliver medication or treatment directly to affected tissues.

  • Pediatric sonographers specialize in imaging children and infants. Many of the medical conditions they image are associated with premature births or birth defects. Pediatric sonographers may work closely with pediatricians and other caregivers.

  • Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in imaging the female reproductive system. Many pregnant women receive sonograms to track the baby’s growth and health. Obstetrical sonographers work closely with physicians in detecting congenital birth defects.

  • Vascular technologists (vascular sonographers) create images of blood vessels and collect data that help physicians diagnose disorders affecting blood flow. Vascular technologists often measure a patient’s blood pressure and the volume of blood in their arms, legs, fingers, and toes in order to evaluate blood flow and identify blocked arteries or blood clots in the body.

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians create images and conduct tests involving the heart and lungs. The following are examples of types of cardiovascular technologists and technicians:

  • Cardiovascular invasive specialists, also known as cardiac catheterization technologists or cardiovascular technologists, monitor patients’ heart rates and help physicians in diagnosing and treating problems with patients’ hearts. They assist with cardiac catheterization, which involves threading a catheter through a patient’s artery to the heart. They also prepare and monitor patients during open-heart surgery and during the insertion of pacemakers and stents. Technologists prepare patients for procedures by shaving and cleansing the area into which the catheter will be inserted and by administering topical anesthesia. During the procedure, they monitor the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate.

  • Cardiographic or electrocardiogram (EKG) technicians specialize in EKG testing. EKG machines monitor the heart’s performance through electrodes attached to a patient’s chest, arms, and legs. The tests can be done while the patient is at rest or while the patient is physically active. For a stress test, the patient walks on a treadmill and the technician gradually increases the speed to observe the effect on the heart of increased exertion.

  • Pulmonary function technologists, also known as cardiopulmonary technologists, monitor and test patients’ lungs and breathing. For example, they use spirometry to measure the amount of air that a patient can inhale or exhale. These technologists help physicians in diagnosing and treating problems of the pulmonary system.


Work Environment for Medical Diagnostics

Cardiovascular technologists and technicians held about 55,000 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of cardiovascular technologists and technicians were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 79%

Offices of physicians: 13%

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: 2%

Outpatient care centers: 2%

 

Diagnostic medical sonographers held about 67,300 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of diagnostic medical sonographers were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private: 60%

Offices of physicians: 21%

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: 11%

Outpatient care centers: 4%

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, complete most of their work at diagnostic imaging machines in dimly lit rooms. They may perform procedures at patients’ bedsides. Diagnostic imaging workers may be on their feet for long periods and may need to lift or turn patients who are ill or disabled.

Work Schedules for medical diagnostics

Most diagnostic imaging workers work full time. Some may work evenings, weekends, or overnight because they work in facilities that are always open.


How to Become a Medical Diagnostic Technician

Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, need formal education, such as an associate’s degree or a postsecondary certificate. Many employers also require professional certification.

Education

Colleges and universities offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs in sonography and in cardiovascular and vascular technology. One-year certificate programs also are available from colleges and some hospitals.

Employers typically prefer graduates of programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Sonography, cardiovascular, and vascular education programs usually include courses in anatomy, medical terminology, and applied sciences. Most sonography programs are divided into the specialized fields listed earlier that correspond to the relevant certification exams, such as abdominal sonography or breast sonography. Cardiovascular and vascular programs include coursework in either invasive or noninvasive cardiovascular or vascular technology procedures. In addition to requiring classroom study, most programs include a clinical component in which students earn credit while working under a more experienced technologist in a hospital, a physician’s office, or an imaging laboratory.

High school students who are interested in diagnostic medical sonography, cardiovascular technology, or vascular technology should take courses in anatomy, physiology, physics, and math.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most employers prefer to hire diagnostic imaging workers with professional certification, or they may expect applicants to earn certification shortly after being hired. Many insurance providers and Medicare pay for procedures only if a certified sonographer, technologist, or technician performed the work. Certification is available from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical SonographersCardiovascular Credentialing International, and American Registry of Radiologic Technologists.

Diagnostic imaging workers can earn certification by graduating from an accredited program, although candidates also may qualify through alternative combinations of education and experience. All candidates must pass an exam. Most of the certifications are for specialties in diagnostic imaging; for example, a sonographer can earn a certification in abdominal sonography. Most diagnostic imaging workers have at least one certification, but many earn multiple certifications.

In addition, many employers prefer to hire candidates who have a basic life support (BLS) certification, which affirms that they are trained to provide CPR.

Few states require diagnostic medical sonographers to be licensed. Typically, professional certification is required for licensure; other requirements vary by state. Contact state medical boards for more information.

Important Qualities

Detail oriented. Diagnostic imaging workers must follow precise instructions to obtain the images needed to diagnose and treat patients. They must also pay attention to the screen while scanning a patient’s body, because the cues that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones may be subtle.

Hand–eye coordination. To get quality images, diagnostic imaging workers must accurately move equipment on the patient’s body in response to what they see on the screen.

Interpersonal skills. Diagnostic imaging workers must work closely with patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and these workers must get cooperation from the patients in order to create usable images. Diagnostic imaging workers must also communicate clearly when discussing images with physicians and other members of the healthcare team.

Physical stamina. Diagnostic imaging workers are on their feet for long periods and must be able to lift and move patients who need assistance.

Technical skills. Diagnostic imaging workers must understand how to operate complex machinery and computerized instruments.


salaries for Medical Diagnostics

The median annual wage for cardiovascular technologists and technicians was $55,270 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $28,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,760.

The median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers was $71,410 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,840.

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for cardiovascular technologists and technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers: $63,700

Offices of physicians: $58,310

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $54,660

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $48,920

 

In May 2017, the median annual wages for diagnostic medical sonographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers: $81,200

Hospitals; state, local, and private: $71,740

Offices of physicians: $69,890

Medical and diagnostic laboratories: $69,690

Most diagnostic imaging workers work full time. Some may work evenings, weekends, 


Job Outlook for medical diagnostics

Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is projected to grow 23 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, is projected to grow 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

As the large baby-boom population ages, the need to diagnose medical conditions—such as blood clots and heart disease—will likely increase. Imaging technology is a tool used in making these diagnoses. Moreover, diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, and vascular technologists will continue to be needed in healthcare settings to provide an alternative to imaging techniques that involve radiation.

Job Prospects for medical diagnostics

Diagnostic imaging personnel who are certified are expected to have the best job opportunities. Those certified in more than one specialty are expected to find even greater job opportunities.

Employment projections data for Medical Diagnostics, 2016-26

Employment, 2016: 122,300

Projected Employment, 2026: 143,400

Change, 2016-2026: +17%, +21,100


Careers Related to medical diagnostics

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients for imaging or therapeutic purposes.

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.

Radiologic and MRI Technologists

Radiologic technologists, also known as radiographers, perform diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.

Registered Nurses

Registered nurses (RNs) provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions, and provide advice and emotional support to patients and their family members.

OccupationENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION2017 MEDIAN PAY
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians$51,770
Nuclear Medicine TechnologistsAssociate's degree$75,660
Radiologic and MRI TechnologistsAssociate's degree$60,070
Radiation TherapistsAssociate's degree$80,570
Registered NursesBachelor's degree$70,000

Citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm