Diagnostic Medical Sonography students can choose from several educational paths. For many people, the decision boils down to whether it is better to pursue an associate degree or a bachelor degree in sonography. Though graduates holding either degree can have a great career and earn an excellent salary, there are differences between the learning experiences and that may influence career advancement. Many believe that the greater depth of coursework better prepares students for working with patients and other health care professionals.
Commonalities of Two Degrees in Sonography
There is much in common between the associate degree and bachelor degree in sonography:
- Both prepare students to qualify for entry-level positions in ultrasound technology
- Both offer the basic and intermediate sonography courses that provide the information and knowledge required to perform imaging duties that meet the SDMS Ultrasonography Scope of Practice
- Both require clinical training which offers hands-on experience with ultrasound equipment and patients
- If both are CAAHEP accredited ultrasound technician programs, graduates are prepared to take ARDMS certification exams without additional clinical training
- Both have strict college-level course prerequisites
- Both offer opportunities for specialization in areas like vascular sonography or obstetrics/gynecology sonography
With so much in common, the differences between the two degrees in sonography may be a bit hard to discern at first glance. The main difference is the depth and breadth of courses required to earn a bachelor degree versus an associate degree.
Different in Depth and Breadth
CAAHEP accredited programs leading to an associate degree offers courses specific to the practice of sonography. The school has general education requirements for qualifying for the degree, and the program has prerequisites that are college level courses to be completed within a designated time period. These are usually classes like algebra, biology, English composition, psychology and others that are relevant to working in a health care profession or dealing with people. Some sonography associates degree programs require students to take classes like behavior sciences and technical writing. Usually, the prerequisites total to less than 15 credit hours.
The bachelor degree programs usually require the student to have already earned an associate degree or to have completed a minimum number of college-level courses that include specific classes like human anatomy and physiology, physics, medical terminology, computer science, and composition. There are programs that also stipulate the associate degree in sonography must be in an Allied Health discipline.
However, the bachelor degree requires additional classes beyond those that are specifically related to imaging and are more related to interacting with people in the health care setting. They may include classes in ethics, diversity, research methods, health services management, sociology, paraphysiology, and so on. There may also be additional sonography classes offered as electives, like the work-related musculoskeletal disorders course offered by the CAAHEP accredited Grand Valley State University program in Michigan.
The bachelor degree may lead to a greater variety of job opportunities for sonographers because the program is more in-depth in terms of sonography and general education coursework. The degree may qualify ARDMS certified sonographers to move higher up the professional career ladder as a department administrator or educator. The bachelor degree also positions the sonographer to continue on the education path at a later time. Some sonographers go on to obtain a Masters Degree in Diagnostic Medical Sonography or enter medical school.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing believes that more education has more impact on the competencies and knowledge of all health care professionals. Students completing bachelor degree programs take additional classes designed to enhance critical thinking, patient and professional interactions, case management, ability to practice in a variety of health care delivery settings, and so on.
Charting a Career Course Through Education
Both the associate degree in sonography and the bachelor degree in sonography prepare students for an exciting career as a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. For many, the right path is earning an associate degree and then working on advancing their education to obtain a bachelor degree while employed. May employers will help with tuition and fees and give professionals the time off needed to pursue additional education, if they commit to working for a specific time period for the employer after graduation.
Many people choose to go ahead and enter a bachelor degree program because it covers all the associate degree course work plus additional health care and general education classes. They find the broader scope of the degree more appealing. The point to keep in mind is that it is important to understand the differences between the two degrees and to consider the desired career path in order to make the best decision.