Ask someone to list the basic facts about Diagnostic Medical Sonography and the predictable responses cover topics like the training requirements while attending a CAAHEP accredited sonography program, ARDMS registration, and typical job duties for sonographers. However, there is more to ultrasound technology than meets the eye. It is a fascinating health profession that has evolved over time so understanding where it came from and where it is going only adds to the excitement of becoming an ultrasound technician.
Where Sonography Came From…Bats, Bells and Submarines
When the President of Sound Ergonomics, Joan Baker, spoke at the annual conference held by the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography in 2008, she pointed out that sonography roots go back to ancient Greece. Pythagoras developed the Sonometer (a.k.a. the Monochord) at some point in his lifetime during the years 580 to 500 B.C. It was not a medical device but rather an instrument designed to measure musical sounds and the frequency of the tuning fork.
Understanding the roots of ultrasound technology can lead to a greater appreciation of modern day sonography. Since the days of Pythagoras, there have naturally been many advances. Following are some interesting facts about where sonography came from:
- Lazaro Spallanzani was the first person to document the use of waves for spatial orientation purposes. In 1794, he conducted a study using bats because they navigate by echolocation.
- In 1826, it was Jean Daniel Colladon who discovered that sound traveled faster through water than it did through air. He used a church bell rung underwater. This could be considered the first transducer, of a sort.
- Pierre and Jacques Curie discovered the Piezo-Electric Effect in 1880. The Piezo Electric Effect is the name given to the ability of some materials to create an electric charge when mechanical stress is applied. In a throwback to the days of the ancient Greeks, piezo means push and piezein means to squeeze.
- In 1880, Galton developed and manufactured the first piece of equipment that was able to produce sound waves that had a 40,000 Hz frequency.
- In 1915, the first real transducer appeared when Paul Langevin developed the hydrophone to detect underwater objects like submarines and icebergs. Langevin successfully used piezoelectricity to generate and detect ultrasound waves.
- A series of events then occurred as physicians explored the use of ultrasound for a greater variety of purposes. In 1942, Karl Dussik was the first physician to employ ultrasound to detect brain tumors. In 1948, George Ludwig used ultrasound to diagnose gallstones and detect foreign bodies in tissue. In 1953, Jerome Gersten used ultrasound to treat rheumatoid arthritis. In 1958, Ian Donald first used ultrasound for obstetrical-gynecological cases, measuring the diameter of a fetal head.
An interesting fact is that the early twentieth century saw the era of modern ultrasound advance as rapidly as it did largely because of World War I and the need to detect submarines. The sinking of the Titanic also prompted research in high frequency waves.
Over the years, the scientists and physicians around the world worked on developing uses for ultrasound. In fact, the B-mode equipment developed in 1948 by Douglas Howry was the first to compare gross pathology to cross-sectional anatomy. His research was conducted in his basement. Though there are too many research names to mention here, their dedication to developing medical uses for ultrasound waves led to the high-tech equipment used today in so many procedures.
Where Sonography is Going
The sophistication and uses for ultrasound continue to grow:
- 3D scanning for mammograms are proving to be better able to detect cancer spots than regular scans typically used
- Miniaturization is leading to the development of mobile handheld ultrasound equipment
- Wearable ultrasound devices are being patented that can be used for therapy purposes like treatment of chronic pain
- Increasing use of point-of-care ultrasound is expected, meaning patient information can be collected and used in a more timely fashion
- Ultrasound will be increasingly used for therapy purposes as research proves its effectiveness in treating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and sports injuries to soft tissues
- The use of ultrasound imaging for prediction and prevention will greatly expand as research proves its effectiveness (see article “Use of Neonatal Chest Ultrasound to Predict Noninvasive Ventilation Failure” by Francesco Raimondi et. al., Pediatrics, 10/1/14)
- Technology will continue to advance, producing even more sophisticated equipment that can address complicated imaging needs in patients; sonographers that develop expertise in the latest technology will be highly sought after
In other words, sonographers will find a greater variety of career paths as the healthcare landscape changes through new research and as technology is developed to meet population needs. For example, an aging population is already leading to the developing intuitive ultrasound equipment that can produce images with greater clarity in senior citizens.
Here and Now
The articles at this category and here offer excellent descriptions of the Diagnostic Medical Sonography programs and career. Looking to the past and to the future are both important. However, the excitement is in the here-and-now. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projected job growth for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologies is 39 percent for the period 2012 to 2022. There are over 61,250 sonographers employed as of May 2015. It seems that all times are good times for a career in ultrasound technology.