We’re exploring the full range of ultrasonography types and roles to help you decide if this career option is right for you.

Sonographers, who are sometimes referred to as ultrasound technicians, play a pivotal role in diagnosing and treating medical conditions. From fetal ultrasounds to cardiac ultrasounds, these healthcare professionals use innovative technology to perform non-invasive diagnostic medical imaging procedures on patients. Those interested in becoming a sonographer may often be drawn to the role’s blend of technical and clinical responsibilities, patient care, and diverse specialization options. 

If you’re looking for a career in the healthcare industry that enables you to follow your passion for helping others while utilizing a wide array of skills, the diagnostic medical sonography field may be the right fit. Below, we’ve outlined sonography specializations, career aspects, and educational requirements to help you make your decision with confidence and begin pursuing your sonography career today.

In This Article:

Understanding Sonography | Definition

Sonography is the field of non-invasive diagnostic medical imaging in which technicians use high-energy sound waves emitted by a transducer to examine specific organs and areas of the body. You may be most familiar with sonography for its use in obstetrics and fetal imaging during pregnancy, however, there are numerous specialties and applications for ultrasound in healthcare. 

The use of ultrasound in medical imaging traces back to the 1950s, though the study of sound waves dates back much further. Modern ultrasounds still employ the same science but with elevated technology. In general, the sound waves emitted by a transducer reverberate off of tissue and return, creating vibrations in the machine’s lead zirconate titanate (PZT) crystals. These PZT crystals allow the waves to be converted into an electric signal for the processing computer on the ultrasound machine to use to generate images. 

The complexity of this process means that to produce an image in ideal resolution, a sonographer or ultrasound technician must not only be knowledgeable in human anatomy and physiology, but also in their understanding of the technology itself.

Common Sonography Names & Meanings

If you’re diving into the field of diagnostic medical sonography, you’ve likely come across a multitude of terms that sometimes seem interchangeable in confusing ways. Before we delve into the role further, let’s unpack a few of these common names for clarity.

Sonogram vs Ultrasound

A sonogram specifically refers to the image produced by an ultrasound machine. When speaking to the roles of ultrasound technician vs sonographer, the primary distinction is the depth of expertise and use of ultrasound machines. 

Typically, an ultrasound technician focuses on monitoring medical conditions in the body through ultrasound, while a sonographer’s role extends into using ultrasound technology to diagnose, monitor, or treat conditions. A sonographer will generally work with patients who have a specific medical condition and seek to diagnose abnormalities and other medical issues.

Ultrasonography vs Sonography

Sonography can be roughly translated to mean sound writing or writing with sound, consequently implying that ultrasonography is simply sonography with even higher-frequency sound waves. Despite this potential distinction, the two terms are frequently used interchangeably and often mean the same thing.

X-rays, MRIs, & CT Scan vs Ultrasound

When considering a career in diagnostic medical imaging, it’s important to understand the differences between the modalities of imaging procedures, including radiology, sonography, and magnetic imaging. Within these three categories are a variety of subsets, outlined below, however, the primary difference between them is the method through which images are produced: using radiation, using magnetic fields, or using sound waves.

  • Radiologic Imaging. This type of imaging utilizes ionizing radiation and includes X-rays, CT scans, mammograms, fluoroscopy, PET scans, and nuclear medicine. The type of professional who performs these procedures is typically referred to as a radiologic technologist.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The use of magnetic fields for imaging is unique to MRIs. Education and requirements for becoming an MRI technician can vary by state.
  • Ultrasound Imaging. This field applies to the broad spectrum of ultrasonography procedures, often categorized by the area being imaged (musculoskeletal, cardiac, abdominal).


What Do Sonographers Do?

In general, sonographers use specialized ultrasound equipment to capture images of the body’s internal structure that are vital for diagnosing, monitoring, and treating a broad spectrum of medical conditions. 

For the process itself, sonographers must be able to perform the appropriate techniques for optimal imaging, analyze images in real-time to determine which to save for a provider, prepare the patient and ensure their comfort through compassionate communication, and gather the appropriate information from their medical history. Additional technical skills may be required depending on which specific field a sonographer is in. 

On a day-to-day basis, a sonographer’s duties may also include preparing and sanitizing procedure rooms and equipment, communicating with providers, and documenting procedures and histories. Because sonographers often work in 24-hour facilities such as hospitals, they may have more schedule deviations from the typical 9-to-5 routine of other healthcare professions.

What Skills Should a Sonographer Have?

Many of the necessary skills you’ll need to work as a sonographer or ultrasound technician must be learned through the completion of an accredited training program. Other abilities may be inherent, including a sense of compassion, strong communication skills, and attention to detail. Here’s a brief example of a few hard and soft skills a sonographer will be expected to have for the role.

  • In-depth knowledge of ultrasound physics
  • Technical proficiency in complex ultrasound equipment
  • Thorough understanding of anatomy, systems, and conditions
  • Effective communication skills and empathy
  • Problem-solving and analytical thinking
  • Detail-oriented and meticulous


Where Do Sonographers Work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50% of diagnostic medical imaging technicians work in hospitals. This number increases even further for those with specific healthcare specializations, such as cardiac sonographers. Other locations a sonographer may work include clinics, physician offices, outpatient care centers, and medical diagnostic laboratories.

Types of Ultrasonography & Specializations

One of the most appealing facets of pursuing a diagnostic medical imaging or sonography role is the ability to choose from a broad range of specialty subsets. These specialties can be categorized by field, such as pediatric sonography or sonography for oncology patients, or by system focus, such as cardiac or obstetric. 

Below, you’ll find an overview of potential specializations you can consider pursuing as a sonographer.

Echocardiographers & Cardiac Sonography

Cardiac sonography, also known as echocardiography, is a specialized branch of diagnostic medical imaging that focuses on the heart. Cardiac sonographers, or “heart sonographers,” use sophisticated imaging technology to evaluate the anatomy and functionality of the heart, including the size and shape of the heart chambers, the condition of the heart valves, and the direction and flow of blood through the heart. This type of imaging is instrumental in diagnosing heart diseases such as heart failure, valvular heart disease, congenital heart defects, and cardiomyopathies. 

Echocardiography is also vital in assessing the effectiveness of medical treatments or surgical interventions, monitoring changes in heart conditions over time, and guiding cardiologists in decision-making for patient care.

Interested in becoming a cardiac sonographer? Due to the extensive knowledge required in echocardiography, education from a focused cardiac sonography program may be preferable to a general sonography program. At the College of Health Care Professions, our Cardiac Sonography AAS Degree Program includes both general foundations for sonography and training that prepares students to take certification exams through Cardiovascular Credentialing International.

Obstetric Sonography & Gynecologic Sonography

One of the most common branches of medical imaging, obstetric sonography plays a pivotal role in prenatal care by using ultrasound technology to visualize and assess the development and health of a fetus within the womb. This non-invasive diagnostic tool has become an integral part of obstetric care, offering valuable insights into the pregnancy's progress, the fetus's health, and the detection of potential complications. 

Obstetric sonography encompasses several specialized techniques to ensure comprehensive fetal and maternal assessment during pregnancy, including transabdominal, transvaginal, and doppler. 

Alternatively, gynecologic sonographers utilize ultrasound technology to assess and diagnose conditions within the female reproductive system, excluding pregnancy. Gynecologic sonography offers a detailed view of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and surrounding pelvic structures, facilitating the early detection and management of various gynecological issues. This evaluation is instrumental in identifying ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, and other abnormalities that may affect a woman's reproductive health and fertility.

Abdominal Sonography

Abdominal sonography is a pivotal diagnostic tool for the examination of abdominal organs and structures. This non-invasive technique employs ultrasound waves to create detailed images of the liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, and blood vessels within the abdominal cavity. Abdominal sonographers work to diagnose, monitor, and guide treatment for conditions such as kidney stones, liver diseases, and other abnormalities. By offering real-time visuals, abdominal sonography allows healthcare providers to assess organ size, structure, and any pathological changes without the need for radiation, making it a safe option for patients.

Musculoskeletal Sonography

Sonographers specializing in musculoskeletal imaging use ultrasound to produce images of a patient’s musculoskeletal system, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and soft tissues. This form of ultrasound is highly valued for its ability to provide detailed, real-time images of the musculoskeletal anatomy, aiding in the diagnosis of injuries, inflammations, and other conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. 

It is particularly effective for identifying tendon tears, ligament sprains, muscle strains, and various soft tissue masses, such as cysts and tumors. Unlike other imaging modalities, musculoskeletal sonography offers the unique advantage of dynamic assessment, allowing clinicians to evaluate the affected area while the patient is moving. This capability is crucial for diagnosing issues related to joint function or impingement syndromes that may not be apparent in a static state.

In addition to its diagnostic applications, musculoskeletal sonography is increasingly used to guide interventional procedures, such as injections and aspirations, with precision and minimal discomfort for the patient. Moreover, the portability of ultrasound equipment enables point-of-care assessments, enhancing the efficiency of patient management in various settings, from sports medicine clinics to rheumatology practices.

How to Become a Sonographer

The career journey to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer begins with a solid foundation of education, hands-on clinical training, and obtaining a professional certification. Prospective sonographers start by enrolling in an accredited sonography program, which can range from certificate levels for those already holding healthcare degrees to associate and bachelor’s degree programs for newcomers to the health sciences. 

Post-graduation, hands-on experience in a clinical setting sharpens diagnostic skills and prepares individuals for certification exams. Choosing a specialization, such as abdominal, obstetric, or cardiovascular sonography, can occur either during the educational process or while gaining clinical experience.

Sonographer Education Requirements

Aspiring sonographers must complete an educational program in diagnostic medical sonography from an institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). These programs typically offer associate degrees, although bachelor’s degree programs are also available and may enhance career prospects and earning potential.

While some sonographers remain generalists, many opt to specialize in a particular area of sonography. Specializations require additional training and education, often provided during the latter part of a sonography program or through continuing education opportunities.

Certifications for Sonographers

Certification is not always mandatory for sonographers but is highly recommended and often required by employers. Certified sonographers are recognized for their skills and knowledge in the field, potentially leading to better job opportunities and higher salaries.

The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) is the most recognized organization offering certification for sonographers. Other certifying bodies include the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), each offering certifications in specific sonography specialties.

Diagnostic Medical Sonography Programs | Texas | CHCP

The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP) is institutionally accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Our variety of sonography programs blend hands-on clinical training with online courses to allow students to pursue their education through an ideal blend of convenience and quality experiences. 

Once you complete your degree program, you’ll be eligible to take the certification exams for AART or ARDMS. The ARDMS exam requires either a bachelor's degree or graduation from a CAAHEP-accredited program. Graduates from the CHCP locations in Austin or Fort Worth are eligible to take the ARDMS exam.

The following Diagnostic Medical Sonography Programs at The College of Health Care Professions are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs upon recommendation of the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Austin Campus 

Fort Worth Campus

Pursue Your Sonography Career Today with CHCP

Ready to tackle the next steps toward becoming a certified sonographer? Our team of academic advisors is here to help. Fill out our application form to learn more information about our programs and begin your educational journey today with CHCP.