Diagnostic Medical Sonography
For a comprehensive scope and sequence, please see the Curriculum Map.
3D baby image, created by student on campus
Sonography, or ultrasonography is the use of sound waves to generate an image for the assessment and diagnosis of various medical conditions. Sonography is commonly associated with obstetrics and the use of ultrasound imaging during pregnancy, but this technology has many other applications in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions throughout the body.
Diagnostic medical sonographers may specialize in obstetric and gynecologic sonography (images of the female reproductive system), abdominal sonography (images of the liver, kidneys, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas), neurosonography (images of the brain and other parts of the nervous system), breast Sonography, or additional areas of specialization. Obstetric and gynecologic sonographers specialize in the imaging of the female reproductive system. Included in the discipline is one of the more well-known uses of sonography: examining the fetus of a pregnant woman to track the baby's growth and health.
Abdominal sonographers inspect a patient's abdominal cavity to help diagnose and treat conditions primarily involving the gallbladder, bile ducts, kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, and male reproductive system. Abdominal sonographers also are able to scan parts of the chest, although studies of the heart using sonography usually are done by echocardiographers.
Neurosonographers focus on the nervous system, including the brain. In neonatal care, neurosonographers study and diagnose neurological and nervous system disorders in premature infants. Like other sonographers, neurosonographers operate transducers to perform the sonogram, but they use frequencies and beam shapes different from those used by obstetric and abdominal sonographers.
Breast sonographers use sonography to study diseases of the breasts. Sonography aids mammography in the detection of breast cancer. Breast sonography also is used to track tumors, monitor blood supply conditions, and assist in the accurate biopsy of breast tissue. Breast sonographers use high-frequency transducers made exclusively to study breast tissue (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2010).
Oregon Tech students practicing their scanning skills.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
Diagnostic medical sonographers use special equipment to direct high frequency sound waves into areas of the patient's body. Sonographers operate the equipment, which collects reflected echoes and forms an image that may be videotaped, transmitted, or photographed for interpretation and diagnosis by a physician.
Sonographers begin by explaining the procedure to the patient and recording any medical history that may be relevant to the condition being viewed. They then select appropriate equipment settings and direct the patient to move into positions that will provide the best view. To perform the exam, sonographers use a transducer, which transmits sound waves in a cone-shaped or rectangle-shaped beam. Although techniques vary by the area being examined, sonographers usually spread a special gel on the skin to aid the transmission of sound waves.
Viewing the screen during the scan, sonographers look for subtle visual cues that contrast healthy areas with unhealthy ones. They decide whether the images are satisfactory for diagnostic purposes and select which ones to store and show to the physician. Sonographers take measurements, calculate values, and analyze the results in preliminary findings for the physicians.
In addition to working directly with patients, diagnostic medical sonographers keep patient records and adjust and maintain equipment. They also may prepare work schedules, evaluate equipment purchases, or manage a sonography or diagnostic imaging department (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2010).
Sonographer Work Environment
Sonographers typically work in healthcare facilities that are clean. They usually work at diagnostic imaging machines in darkened rooms, but they also may perform procedures at patients' bedsides. Sonographers may be on their feet for long periods of time and may have to lift or turn disabled patients.
Some sonographers work as contract employees and may travel to several healthcare facilities in an area. Similarly, some sonographers work with mobile imaging service providers and travel to patients and use mobile diagnostic imaging equipment to provide service in areas that otherwise would not have access to such services.
Most full-time sonographers work about 40 hours a week. Some sonographers work overtime. Also, sonographers may have evening and weekend hours when they are on call and must be ready to report to work on short notice (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2010).
Oregon Tech DMS students engaging in learning.
Personal and Technical Characteristics
Essential skills required to be an effective Sonographer include:
- Good patient relationship skills
- Attention to detail
- Critical thinking skills
- Team player attitude
- Ability to work independently
- Effective under pressure
- Ability to work with many interruptions
- Ability to remember and recall a large amount of information
- Ability to assess patient and other situations rapidly
- Ability to maintain patient confidentiality at all times
- Sitting < 2 Hrs/day
- Standing 80%
- Walking 4-6 Hrs/day
- Reaching Frequently
- Bending Bending
- Moderate amount of stooping
- Moderate amount of crouching
- Manual Dexterity
- Grasping Ability
- Pushing Ability
- Pulling ability
- Visual Ability: Including ability to view images in dimmed light and ability to see color
- Hearing Ability: subtle voices and in stereo
- Clear Dictation/Speech
- Ability to work long/irregular hrs.