Students have many options available for specialized sonography training to become an ultrasound specialist. Pursuing such options can enhance career and salary potential while responding to the increasing need for specialized and sophisticated sonography services in healthcare settings nationwide. The following sections provide an introduction to each of ten specialty career areas open to sonographers.
An abdominal ultrasound specialist performs ultrasounds on the abdominal cavity of a patient in order to scan soft tissues, organs and blood vessels of this region of the body. The abdomen ultrasound assists in diagnosis and treatment of medical issues related to the urinary tract, kidneys and male reproductive organs. In addition to these, it is used to evaluate the pancreas and gallbladder as well as the liver, spleen and other abdominal components. It is a safe and non-invasive way to investigate abdominal pain and swelling and to follow up on conditions such as cysts, benign tumors, gallstones and cirrhosis of the liver. Abdominal ultrasound technicians also scan to identify blockages, plaque and blood clots in abdominal arteries and veins of patients. In addition to diagnostic work, they may provide visual ultrasound guidance during needle biopsies and other invasive procedures. They also produce real-time imaging of blood flow, bowel movement and the movement of internal organs caused by breathing. | See Job Openings
Breast sonographers specialize in screening, detection and monitoring of diseases of the breasts. Breast ultrasound is a frequent adjunct to mammogram cancer screenings because it provides good images of all areas of the breast including those that are hard to see on a mammogram. Ultrasound technicians specializing in this field perform additional imaging for women with dense breast tissue in which cancers may be harder to detect through mammography. Their images frequently help differentiate cysts filled with fluid from hard masses. Breast ultrasound specialists interact on a daily basis with patients for whom a lump or other abnormality has been detected, and they provide comfort and support under such worrying circumstances. Breast sonography reduces the need for biopsies and provides real-time visual guidance during those biopsies that are determined to be necessary. | See Job Openings
Specializing in images of the nervous system, neurosonographers provide crucial data to help in the evaluation of issues affecting the brain, spinal cord and related areas. Neurosonography is frequently used to study blood flow through vessels in the nervous system and to identify and understand disorders such as stroke, brain trauma, brain tumors, and aneurysms. Neurosonographers may also image patients with spinal and central nervous system disorders including paralysis, multiple sclerosis, herniated discs, compressed vertebrae and myelitis. They frequently scan patients with pain and limited mobility and may provide life-saving early detection for an aneurysm or stroke.
Neurosonographers may opt for a sub-specialty such as neonatal imaging in which they assist in the detection of neurological and nervous system disorders in premature and other high-risk infants. These disorders include spina bifida, encephalitis, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy as well as possible stroke in infants with sickle cell anemia. | See Job Openings
Obstetric and Gynecologic Sonographer
These sonography specialists focus on evaluating the health of the female reproductive system. A gynecological ultrasound provides images of the pelvic organs while an obstetric ultrasound is used in pregnant women to view and monitor the health of the developing fetus. Referred to as OB/GYN sonographers, these technicians provide confirmation of pregnancy, monitor fetal growth and development, take measurements to identify gestational age, determine fetal position, assess the placenta and look for any abnormalities. OB/GYN sonographers also identify cases of multiple pregnancies and provide parents their first visual contact with their unborn baby. They have the privilege of disclosing its gender to those parents who choose to be so informed before the birth.
In non-pregnant women, OB/GYN sonographers use imaging to assess problems such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, ectopic pregnancy and cancer. | See Job Openings
Vascular sonography uses ultrasound imaging to assess the circulatory system of the body. Commonly referred to as a vascular technologist, a vascular ultrasound specialist uses a variety of ultrasound procedures and clinical examination methods to evaluate pulse and blood flow to tissues and organs including the brain, abdomen and extremities. The real-time images vascular sonographers produce are vital to understanding many disorders and provide a safe, non-invasive means of assisting physicians to diagnose problems of the vascular system excluding the heart. They see a range of both mobile and physically restricted patients some of who may need to be lifted or assisted due to ulcerations, amputated limbs or other challenges. | See Job Openings
Echocardiography uses ultrasound technology to evaluate the structure and dynamic functioning of blood flow to and from the heart as well as heart valves and other components of the cardiovascular system. This type of ultrasound test is referred to as an echocardiogram or simply an echo. Because the cardiovascular system and its challenges can vary widely at different stages of life, cardiac sonographers typically focus on one of three sub-specialties: fetal echocardiography, adult echocardiography or pediatric echocardiography. | See Job Openings
Routine prenatal ultrasound screening or factors present in a family’s medical history sometimes point to potential abnormalities in fetal cardiac development. In these cases, fetal echocardiographers provide further, in-depth evaluation of the unborn baby’s heart to identify problems and determine what medical or surgical interventions may be necessary after birth to improve the baby’s chance of healthy survival. Fetal echocardiographers use both abdominal and transvaginal ultrasound procedures to observe fetal heart structures and the volume of blood being pumped by the heart. They typically perform echocardiograms in the second trimester of pregnancy. Fetal echocardiography technicians regularly interact with expectant parents who may be worried about the outcome of this test and therefore need a sensitive, empathetic bedside manner. | See Job Openings
The increase in numbers of older Americans seeking ultrasound services in future will be particularly noticeable with regard to echocardiography. Adult echocardiography specialists provide crucial visual information about the size, shape and functioning of the adult heart in order to assist physicians in diagnosing and treating coronary artery disease or problems with the heart muscle. Adult echocardiographers most often perform transthoracic echocardiograms in the region of the chest and upper abdomen but may also need to insert a probe down the esophagus, perform a stress echocardiogram for a patient on a treadmill or study blood flow using Doppler ultrasound. | See Job Openings
Pediatric echocardiography specialists perform transthoracic or chest echocardiograms on children to assess the structure and functioning of the heart and related blood vessels. The pediatric echocardiographer’s primary goal is to identify and assess congenital heart defects that have been present since birth as well as heart diseases acquired during the course of childhood. In the majority of instances involving congenital heart defects, surgery and medication may improve functioning, so the echocardiographer’s role in providing an accurate depiction of the abnormality in question can lead to a better quality of life for many children. Many sonographers already certified in adult echocardiography add pediatric training to their credentials as demand for both specialties is expected to increase in future. Sonographers who enjoy working with and helping children will find satisfaction in this field. | See Job Openings
This specialized ultrasound area focuses on providing visual images of the eye including orbital structures and muscles. Ophthalmic ultrasound can detect a wide variety of abnormalities and can assist in optimizing treatment for some of these conditions. It provides an effective method of seeing inside the eye in cases where a cataract or vitreous hemorrhaging renders the view opaque. Ophthalmologic sonographers usually perform scans with patients lying down in a dimly lit room and must exercise caution in cases where an eye is injured. An ultrasound specialist may choose from as many as five different ultrasound scans depending on what abnormality is being investigated or what procedure undertaken. For example, a scan may involve measurement of the size, thickness or curvature of eye components. It may also provide a complete view throughout the eye socket and or may instead assess blood flow and circulation among other parameters. | See Job Openings
Musculoskeletal ultrasound focuses on the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and soft tissues of the body and provides images that assist in diagnosing a variety of injuries and other abnormalities in these bodily components. Musculoskeletal sonographers often perform imaging procedures on children or infants with pain and injuries and need to be skilled at calming them enough to complete the ultrasound. Examples of conditions for which pediatric patients might need a musculoskeletal ultrasound include soft tissue lumps in children and hip dislocation in infants. Patients of various ages in need of this type of imaging might be suffering from a torn rotator cuff or Achilles tendon, muscle tears, fluid buildup in muscles, bursa or joints, soft tissue tumors, early stages of rheumatoid arthritis or other joint issues. Musculoskeletal sonographers place patients in a variety of sitting or lying down positions depending on the nature of the abnormality for which images are being sought. | See Job Openings