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Diagnostic medical sonographers and vascular technologists use nonionizing, high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) to diagnose, treat and prevent medical conditions.
The sonographer or technologist operates sophisticated electronic equipment that collects reflected ultrasound "echoes" and Doppler signals and uses them to form images of many parts of the body. Ultrasound imaging is used to view organs within the abdomen, fetuses in the womb and spectral tracings in blood vessels (arteries and veins).
Sonographers and vascular technologists work closely with patients throughout the ultrasound procedures. Sonographers look for subtle differences between healthy and pathological areas of the body and work collaboratively with physicians to ensure that images are satisfactory for diagnosis.
Ultrasound imaging has become an increasingly attractive alternative to some radiologic procedures as patients seek safer, more cost-effective treatment methods. Sonographic technology is expected to evolve rapidly and will generate many new ultrasound procedures, such as 3-D and 4-D sonography, for use in obstetric and gynecologic diagnosis.
There are many career opportunities for sonographers and vascular technologists, a trend that will continue as technology generates new ultrasound procedures. Hospitals are the principal employers of sonographers and vascular technologists, providing more than half of the career opportunities. Increases in outpatient care are creating additional job opportunities in physician offices and clinics, primarily those specializing in obstetrics and diagnostic imaging.
Employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2016 as the population grows and ages, increasing the demand for diagnostic imaging. Hospitals will remain the principal employer of diagnostic medical sonographers.
However, employment is expected to grow more rapidly in offices and clinics of physicians, including diagnostic imaging centers. These health care facilities are expected to grow very rapidly through 2016. This is due to the shift toward outpatient care made possible by technological advances that permit more procedures to be performed outside the hospital.
According to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography survey of hospitals and medical centers across the U.S., sonographers and vascular technologists earn a median hourly rate of $32 an hour, or a median annual salary of $66,768, from all sources of compensation. Salary depends upon location and employer.
According the Department of Labor, median annual earnings of diagnostic medical sonographers were $64,380 in May 2010 (most recent data available). Salaries ranged from $44,900 to more than $88,490 for the highest 10 percent of wage earners.