Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: Duties, Pay, and More

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Sonographers play an important role in the health care community. Learn more about this exciting field and how you can get started today.

[Featured Image] A sonographer wearing blue scrubs performs an ultrasound on a patient.

Diagnostic medical sonographers use sonography machines to create digital images of the human body in order to diagnose conditions or illnesses. A critical part of a medical team, sonographers coordinate with physicians to ensure that patients are properly tested and diagnosed for any possible medical conditions.

If you enjoy working with technology and are looking for a career in health care, then you might consider becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer.

In this article, you'll learn more about what diagnostic medical sonographers do, how much they earn, and what you'll need to do to become one. At the end, you'll also explore online courses that can help you start building job-relevant skills today.

What is a diagnostic medical sonographer?   

A diagnostic medical sonographer is a medical professional who conducts ultrasounds of the body using high-frequency sound waves to detect abnormalities or diagnose conditions. Using this non-invasive way to look inside the human body, medical sonographers interpret their ultrasound results and report findings to the physicians who ordered them.

What does a diagnostic medical sonographer do?

Diagnostic medical sonographers conduct ultrasounds on a patient's body, interpret the results, and convey those findings to the appropriate medical provider. The results from ultrasound are used to diagnose medical conditions, so it’s important that sonographers capture accurate images and understand what denotes a quality image. This requires an understanding of human anatomy, usually a specific part of the body.

Diagnostic medical sonographers are also responsible for: 

  • Preparing the patient for an ultrasound (educating patient on the procedure, answering any questions they may have, ensuring patient comfort)

  • Understanding patient history and how it pertains to the ultrasound procedure

  • Interpreting the results of an ultrasound and communicating those findings to the doctor

  • Using imaging equipment properly 

Diagnostic medical sonographer salary

Diagnostic medical sonographers earn a higher-than-average salary and have a positive job outlook for the foreseeable future. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), diagnostic medical sonographers earned a median annual salary of $81,350 as of May 2022 [1]. That's significantly higher than the median annual salary for all occupations in the country, which the BLS pegged at $46,310 during the same period.

At the same time, the BLS projects that diagnostic medical sonographers will grow by 14 percent between 2022 and 2032 [2]. Much like their earning potential, that's much higher than the national average. According to the BLS, the total job growth projected for all occupations during the same period is only 3 percent.

Read more: What Do Health Care Jobs Pay? Salaries, Job List, and More

Where do diagnostic medical sonographers work?

The majority of diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals, but some also find work in physicians’ offices, diagnostic and medical laboratories, and outpatient surgical care centers. Diagnostic medical sonographers with advanced degrees or certifications may also work in the classroom as educators, in corporate buildings as part of ultrasound marketing or sales teams, or in labs as researchers. 


How to become a diagnostic medical sonographer

Like most health care professions, the path to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer is marked by training, continuing education, and skills building. Here's what you can expect to do as you work to become a sonographer in the health care field.

1. Get your degree.

The majority of diagnostic medical sonographers earn an associate degree to qualify to become a sonographer, though there are other educational pathways to becoming a sonographer like certificate-based programs or a bachelor’s degree.

If you choose to earn your associate degree, make sure you choose a Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredited program since this is usually preferred by employers. Be sure that the school or program also offers any specialties you’re interested in. Some examples of areas of specialties include vascular technology, obstetrics/gynecology, cardiac, breast, and neurosonology. 

Read more: A Guide to Associate of Science Degrees

How long does it take to train as a diagnostic medical sonographer?

Most sonography associate degree programs take two years to complete. A bachelor’s degree will take four years to complete, and though not a requirement, it’s still an option to earn your bachelor’s in a related field. A certificate-based program will take the shortest amount of time to complete, usually around one year.

You’re eligible to earn certification after you’ve completed a sonography program. These certifications vary in length, with the average being 10 to 18 months. 


2. Consider certification (and in some cases licensure).

Certification is not a requirement to work as a sonographer but is an option once you graduate from your program or earn your degree. To become a certified sonographer, you will need to graduate from an approved sonography program and pass the certification exam for the certification for which you’re earning. 

The most widely acknowledged certifications are available through the two major national sonographer organizations: the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) and the American Registry of Radiologic Technologies (ARRT). ARDMS offers four different certifications: registered vascular technologist, registered diagnostic medical sonographer, registered physician in vascular interpretation, and registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer. ARRT offers three different certifications: breast sonography, sonography, and vascular sonography. 

Licensure is not a requirement for sonographers unless you live in one of the four states that do require it. 

3. Develop your skills.

Diagnostic medical sonographers should have a mix of personal skills like good communication and empathy, as well as technical skills like how to operate diagnostic equipment and how to interpret ultrasound images correctly. As a result, you should consider developing these skills:

4. Explore specializations

Diagnostic medical sonographers have the opportunity to specialize in certain areas, like pediatric cardiac sonography or senior vascular sonography. From maternal-fetal sonography to musculoskeletal, there are quite a few interesting positions in the field. A few interesting positions you may want to pursue as a sonographer may be: 

  • Veterinary diagnostic imaging sonographer: Most vet techs get their certification to be able to ultrasound animals and some veterinary clinics and hospitals hire individuals who only specialize in animal ultrasound. 

  • Travel sonographer: These sonographers are a sort of “jack of all trades.” You are typically skilled in various specialties of ultrasound to work as a travel sonographer as you’ll be traveling to different health care facilities working with a variety of people.

  • Ultrasound marketing manager: This position is outside of the typical health care setting as you’ll work to develop and implement marketing plans for ultrasound equipment. This position usually requires a bachelor’s degree or multiple certifications in sonography. 

  • Medical imaging applications specialist: In this role, you are in charge of educating other sonographers on new technologies and equipment in medical imaging. You won’t be working in a traditional health care setting, but rather employed by ultrasound equipment manufacturers and distributors. 

5. Consider your career progression.

You can progress your career in the field of sonography by acquiring certifications, earning advanced degrees, specializing in a particular area, or changing industries. 

Certifications can open up more opportunities for you as a medical sonographer, especially if you get your certification in a certain specialty like cardiac sonography. Earning advanced degrees, meanwhile, can open you up to several new opportunities like managerial roles or even jobs outside of the health care industry.

A bachelor’s degree in ultrasound can help you be eligible for positions like director of an ultrasound department, sonography educator, sonography consultant, or more. A master’s degree in health science and sonography, or a related degree, can open you up to executive-level management positions in the field of medical ultrasound. And, while there are no doctoral programs in sonography or ultrasound, there are PhD programs in biomedical engineering or biomedical ultrasound.

Read more: What Is a Master’s Degree?

Get started

To get started as a diagnostic medical sonographer, find an accredited sonography program and consider if you’d like to specialize in a particular area of the human body.

On Coursera, you can find medical courses for all types of health care professions and interests. Consider taking beginner courses like an Anatomy Specialization to help you better understand the body. Choose a more advanced course like Medical Neuroscience if you know you’re interested in neurosonography.

Article sources


US BLS. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians Summary, Pay, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm#tab-5.” Accessed September 8, 2023.

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