Diagnostic Medical Sonographer: A Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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 certain parts of the human body to diagnose conditions or illnesses. They then report their findings to physicians. 

Sonographers in Canada need to complete a three- to four-year program in diagnostic medical sonography or ultrasound technology. Alternatively, they can complete a two- to three-year program in a related allied health field and a one-year post-diploma program in diagnostic medical sonography.

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 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 sonographers salary

According to the Government of Canada Job Bank, a medical sonographer earns an average salary of $36.71 per hour. The salaries can range from $32 per hour to $53 per hour [1].

Factors that may impact how much diagnostic medical sonographers earn include location, employer, the industry, and any credentials or additional education or training they may hold. Credentialing and years of experience can impact salary, and you may also earn more if you have more than one credential.

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.


Duties and responsibilities

A diagnostic medical sonographer's main duties and responsibilities are conducting ultrasounds of parts of the body, interpreting the results, and sharing those findings. The results from an ultrasound are used to diagnose medical conditions, so it’s important that a sonographer captures accurate images and understands what denotes a quality image. This requires understanding human anatomy, usually a specific part of the body.

A few other duties and responsibilities include:

  • Educating patients on the details of the procedure

  • Maintaining diagnostic imaging equipment

  • Compiling a summary of findings for medical professionals

  • Working with the patient's medical records 

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 in Canada.

  • Obtain a three- to four-year program in diagnostic medical sonography or ultrasound technology

  • Earn a two- to three-year program in a related allied health field and a one-year post-diploma program in diagnostic medical sonography from an accredited institution

You may also need to register with the Canadian Association of Registered Diagnostic Medical Ultrasound Professionals or the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, depending on your employer and province or territory.

Note: For those working in Quebec, registration with l'Ordre des Technologues en Radiologie du Québec is required.

Consider certifications.

Although not necessarily required, some employers prefer candidates with credentials. Being credentialed can also show your expertise to employers that do not require it. Sonography Canada offers the following:

  • Canadian Registered Generalist Sonographer (CRGS): Qualified to examine the abdomen, pelvis, obstetrics, peripheral veins, and superficial structures like the thyroid and scrotum.

  • Canadian Registered Cardiac Sonographer (CRCS): Qualified in adult cardiac anatomy, function, physiology, and pathology and adult congenital assessment  

  • Canadian Registered Vascular Sonographer (CRVS): Qualified in vascular ultrasound imaging and physiologic arterial assessment

Develop your skills.

Diagnostic medical sonographers should have a mix of workplace skills like good communication and empathy, as well as technical skills like operating diagnostic equipment and interpreting ultrasound images correctly. As a result, you should consider developing these skills:

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 credential 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 travelling to different health care facilities working with a variety of people.

  • 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. 

Consider your career progression.

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

Credentials can open up more opportunities for you as a medical sonographer, especially if you get your credentials in a certain specialty like cardiac sonography. With a specialized credential, you can focus on a certain area of health care and expand your role within a field. 

A master’s degree in health science and sonography, or a related field, can open you up to executive-level management positions in medical ultrasound. With a master’s degree in a related field, you may be able to pursue a career as a consultant, educator, ultrasound marketing manager, or chief director of an ultrasound department.

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

  1. Government of Canada Job Bank. "Prevailing wages in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/wages-occupation/4245/ca." Accessed April 15, 2024.

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