Making a career decision in 2017 can be difficult when there has been no real-world exposure to a sonographer’s typical day at work. Wise students considering a career in Diagnostic Medical Sonography will make the effort to job shadow a professional sonographer or volunteer at a healthcare facility with an imaging department. These are both excellent ways to see a sonographer in action to better understand the job requirements and what the position entails.
Getting a Close Look at a Sonographer’s Job
Reading a description of a career in sonography is helpful, but there is no replacement for witnessing a sonographer doing his or her job. Watching a sonographer perform typical duties during a shift can help a student verify or correct the impressions formed about the career during research.
For example, it is one thing to think about the look of joy when a pregnant woman sees an ultrasound image of her fetus for the first time. The cozy image is often accurate, but just as accurate is the image of the patient who vomits in the imaging room. The image of caring for the needs of others creates a warm fuzzy feeling, but the reality is that sonographers spend plenty of time alone updating medical records.
There are three main strategies for learning the “truth” about typical work of a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer:
- Job shadowing – Follow a sonographer around on the job
- Volunteer – Work without pay in an ultrasound or imaging department
- Visit with or talk to a sonographer – when job shadowing or volunteering is not possible
If a volunteer position is not available in the department where ultrasound imaging takes place, then it is recommended that the student volunteer in a different medical department. That will at least give the person the chance to visit the sonography department at various times to meet the staff and ask questions. Chances are the volunteers will be allowed to witness some imaging procedures.
The third option of visiting or talking to a sonographer is mentioned because some people have difficulty finding a sonography program willing to allow job shadowing, or there might not be volunteer openings. In that case, it is important to at least talk to or visit with a working sonographer who can describe a typical work day. As part of the program application process, many of the CAAHEP accredited ultrasound schools are requiring students to show proof of a designated number of hours of sonography job shadowing. The reason is obvious: The programs have limited enrollment and want applicants to be certain that this is the career path they want to follow.
Benefits of Seeing the Career in Action
There are many benefits to seeing a career in ultrasound technology in action:
- Better understand the application of sonography skills in various circumstances
- Witness imaging procedures being performed
- View sonograms and see how they are processed and documented
- Observe daily routines of a sonographer
- Strengthen understanding of the link between sonography curriculums and clinical training, and the job requirements
- Learn more about the physical requirements of the job
- Experience the atmosphere of the ultrasound department
- Observe interactions between sonographers and patients, and between healthcare personnel
- Have the ability to ask specific job-related questions
- Witness how professional sonographers approach their jobs
- Watch various medical and computerized equipment in use
Ultimately, the student gains insight into the Diagnostic Medical Sonography on every level.
Finding volunteer opportunities and opportunities for job shadowing is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. When it is difficult, it is not because the healthcare facilities do not want to cooperate. There are issues concerning legal requirements, patient privacy and sonographer workloads that influence whether the facility allows job shadowing or volunteering.
Some of the strategies students have used include:
- Checking local medical centers, especially teaching facilities, clinics and physician offices
- Calling ultrasound program staff at a local educational facility and asking how they help students find observation opportunities
- Contacting a sonography association like the SDMS or ARDMS and ask for advice on possible strategies
- Asking friends and family who are health professionals or have personal contacts
- Contacting volunteer organizations at medical facilities
- Contacting or visiting one or more career centers
Job shadowing and volunteering are two excellent strategies for learning the facts about the daily duties of a sonographer. A student will either decide this is not the right career or will confirm the right career choice has been made. Either way the decision is made based on factual information that confirms any research conducted on the job responsibilities. That is much better than choosing a career in sonography that is based on wrong impressions.