Career Guide to Becoming a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Reviewed by AIMS Education Staff  

June 21, 2021

If you’re looking for a career that is in demand, has an excellent starting salary, and plays a significant role in determining patient ailments, why not consider a future as a diagnostic medical sonographer?

With high job fulfillment rates and a low-stress work environment, pursuing a job in sonography is a great choice for anyone looking for a satisfying role in healthcare. 

Below, find a step-by-step guide of everything you need to know on how to become a diagnostic medical sonographer, including education, certification, and job outlook. 

What Is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Diagnostic medical sonography (DMS) uses special imaging equipment that directs sound waves into the body to form images of different organs. These sonographic images help diagnose a number of medical conditions. 

Because the procedure is non-invasive, sonograms are often the first imaging test performed when a medical problem is detected. 

A diagnostic medical sonographer is an allied health professional who plays an important role in getting accurate images and, consequently, helping doctors narrow down a patient’s diagnosis and provide them with the right care.

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What Does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Do?

Diagnostic medical sonographers perform many different tasks throughout their workday. While it varies from employer to employer, most DMS professionals are responsible for: 

  • Explaining procedures to patients
  • Reviewing and keeping track of patients’ records
  • Preparing and positioning patients for imaging 
  • Preparing and maintaining imaging equipment
  • Operating equipment to get accurate diagnostic images
  • Analyzing images
  • Recording findings
  • Communicating preliminary results to physicians 

A Day in the Life of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Sonographers are predominantly employed in hospitals and doctor’s offices. These allied health specialists, however, can also find employment at privately run medical facilities and diagnostic laboratories. 

Diagnostic medical sonographers can work full-time or part-time, and some may also be asked to work weekends, evenings, or on holidays. 

On a typical day, sonographers handle advanced sonography equipment and work closely with patients of all ages, as well as with doctors and other members of the healthcare team. This requires excellent technical, but also interpersonal skills, such as attention to detail and outstanding communication skills.

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Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Compared to Other Allied Health Jobs

When it comes to choosing a healthcare career, there’s a lot to consider. Before you make a decision, be sure to learn more about the differences between diagnostic medical sonography and other similar allied health career paths

Diagnostic Cardiac Sonography vs Diagnostic Medical Sonography

Diagnostic cardiac sonographers (also known as echocardiography techs) and DMS specialists both use medical imaging equipment to assess parts of the human body. 

The main difference between cardiac and medical sonography is that echocardiography techs specialize in imaging patients’ hearts. They use ultrasound and electrocardiogram (EKG) electrodes to examine the heart’s vessels, valves, and chambers. 

Ultrasound Tech vs Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Sonographers and ultrasound technologists are essentially the same job. These job titles can be used interchangeably. The real difference is the meaning of the word ultrasound vs sonogram. An ultrasound is the use of sound waves to create an image, while a sonogram is the actual image created by an ultrasound. 

MRI Tech vs Sonographer

Both medical sonographers and MRI techs scan internal body organs to help doctors diagnose and treat conditions. The required equipment, though, is quite different. 

MRI specialists assist, position, and guide patients through MRI scans. These scans involve a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine that makes 3D images of the patient’s organs, bones, joints, or tissue. 

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Why Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

There are many great reasons to become a medical sonographer. Some of the biggest benefits include earning a competitive salary, pursuing an in-demand role, doing hands-on work, working with cutting-edge technology, and building a stable, lifelong career. 

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Job Outlook

With a substantial aging population, there is an overall growing need for qualified healthcare professionals in the United States. 

With a projected employment growth of 17% by 2029, the diagnostic medical sonographer job outlook continues to show promising growth. Certified diagnostic imaging professionals are expected to have the greatest job opportunities.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Salary

In 2020, the average diagnostic medical sonographer salary was $75,920. The top 10% made more than $105,340 that year, while the lowest 10% received up to $53,790.

It is worth noting that the median wage can vary based on factors such as industry, employer, and even location. 

Job Trends for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

There are many exciting sonography opportunities throughout the US

Currently, the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area holds the highest employment level in diagnostic medical sonography. Even more, salaries and job opportunities for DMS specialists in NJ continue to boom, making it an excellent destination for qualified sonographers in the Northeast. 

Good job rates can be observed in other regions, as well. Some of the top-paying states include Texas (in the South), Wisconsin and Minnesota (in the Midwest), and California and Washington (in the West). 

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How to Become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

There are different pathways to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer. In most cases, this includes obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree or completing a certificate program.

Certificate programs in diagnostic medical sonography are becoming an increasingly popular option that includes both excellent educational courses and clinical experiences. 

Research Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Programs 

Future diagnostic medical sonographers have the opportunity to choose between obtaining a DMS certificate or degree. What’s the right way for you to become a sonographer is ultimately up to your own preferences and needs.

Certificate programs typically take place at a vocational or technical school, while degree programs generally take place at a college or university. Diagnostic medical sonography certificate programs are shorter and allow you to choose between day and evening classes. 

It is good to remember that most employers hire DMS specialists based on knowledge, skills, and industry certification. This often means that obtaining a higher-level degree does not necessarily offer a significant advantage. 

Whichever you choose, make sure that it provides plenty of hands-on experience. As sonography is a very technical profession, this might be one of the most important components of your education. 

Meet the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Program Requirements

To be eligible for admission, most diagnostic medical sonographer training programs require students to have completed high school or obtained a GED. To enroll in a CAAHEP accredited sonography program, you will also need to have completed the following college courses.

  • English or Communications 
  • General Physics or Radiographic Physics
  • Algebra, Statistics, or a higher-level math course
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology (covering all body systems)

While it might seem overwhelming, these requirements can be fulfilled within a single community college semester, or through the Portage Learning online platform.

Note that in order to complete the clinical phase of the DMS certificate program, you will further need to meet certain technical and health standards. These include being able to stand and walk for 85% of work time, lift up to 45 lbs unassisted, and physically assist patients into proper positions for examination. 

Apply for Financial Aid If Available

During the course of their diagnostic medical sonographer education, many full-time students are eligible for financial assistance. Student loans, grants, and scholarships are available via the Federal Student Aid (FSA)

You can also apply for other financial aid programs through various state and private organizations, such as your school or state grant agency. 

Enroll in a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Course

Future DMS professionals should make sure the program they are enrolling in is accredited. This ensures a minimum quality of education and is generally required for certification. 

Before you can be enrolled, you may be invited to join an in-person or virtual meeting. Most diagnostic medical sonography schools will also require students to complete an exam and an interview with a school official. 

Attend Orientation

Attending orientation is your chance to meet fellow students and faculty members, as well as learn how things work at your new school and ask any questions you may still have. In addition, you will get to find your way around and explore various campus activities.

Complete the Internship Program

Completing a clinical internship is a crucial part of your diagnostic medical sonographer education. It gives you valuable experience in the field and prepares you for what to expect in your future career. This, in turn, increases your confidence in your work and gives you an advantage over other candidates when applying for jobs. 

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Get Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Certification

Obtaining an allied health certification is key for finding better job opportunities, earning a higher salary, and advancing your career.

Diagnostic medical sonographer certification is available through several organizations. The most-recognized one is offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). In order to become certified, students must meet certain requirements. Graduates of a CAAHEP-accredited sonography program are eligible for certification if they pass the required registry exams.

Graduates who have passed the ARDMS Sonography Principles & Instrumentation (SPI) exam and a specialty exam (AB or OB/GYN) can practice under the title registered diagnostic medical sonographer (RDMS). 

What Can a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Specialize In

After completing a diagnostic medical sonography program, many graduates choose to pursue a specialty area. Overall, there are quite a few specialties to choose from, including:

  • Abdominal (AB) sonography
  • Neurosonography 
  • Vascular sonography   
  • Breast sonography 
  • Pediatric sonography
  • Obstetric and gynecological (OB/GYN) sonography 

How COVID Affects Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

The healthcare industry as a whole has been facing an overwhelming hospital workload during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, allied health workers, including diagnostic medical sonographers, have shown remarkable resilience and dedication. The efforts of these medical workers have become critical for ensuring hospitals continue to function properly and help as many patients as possible. 

Because DMS professionals are trained to perform various diagnostic procedures, they have played a crucial role in assisting doctors with consistently monitoring and evaluating the health conditions of patients with both mild and severe symptoms. 

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Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Understandably, choosing a career is a big step. Naturally, you want to be sure that becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer is the right fit for you before investing your time and money. Before you take the next step, consider some of the questions and answers below. 

Is diagnostic medical sonography a good career?

Diagnostic medical sonography is among the top-paying allied health careers that offer plenty of advancement opportunities. It can be a good career option for those looking to help others through direct patient care while having strong job growth and security. 

How much does a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer make?

Qualified diagnostic medical sonographers can expect a wage of $75,920 per year. 

Allied healthcare salaries, however, can vary depending on the employer. DMS professionals working in hospitals, for instance, make around $76,060, while those working in outpatient care centers earn an average of $96,780.

Do you need a degree to be a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

Completing a DMS certificate program is a great option for entering the field quickly. While you can certainly pursue an associate or bachelor’s degree, diagnostic medical sonography is among the healthcare jobs that don’t require a medical degree

Is it hard to be a sonographer?

As with any other profession within the medical field, being a sonographer requires a great amount of dedication.

Still, working as a DMS is one of the best low-stress healthcare jobs, and if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort, it’s a wonderful choice.  

How long does it take to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

How long will it take to enter the field will depend on the type of diagnostic medical sonographer schooling you’ve chosen, as well as whether you are attending day or evening classes. 

In the majority of cases, a diagnostic medical sonography certificate program can be completed in 2 to 3 years, while a sonography degree can take up to 4 years. 

Is sonography in high demand?

With a large aging population, the need for specialists who are able to diagnose medical conditions is likely to increase. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, sonographers are among the most in-demand medical professionals. In fact, the demand for DMS experts is expected to grow faster than average over the next decade.

Where do Diagnostic Medical Sonographers work?

Diagnostic medical sonographers can be found at hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, and medical and diagnostic labs. 

How much does it cost to become a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer?

The costs of becoming a DMS professional depend on the program and school you’ve chosen. Tuition typically ranges from $15,000 to $40,000 annually. Certificate and associate degree programs are typically less expensive than bachelor degree programs.

Launch Your Career as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

With competitive wages, flexible working hours, and plenty of career opportunities throughout the US, there has never been a better time to enter the allied health sector as a diagnostic medical sonographer. 

Ready to kick-start your career journey? Check out our diagnostic medical sonographer program today!