One of the key career decisions a Diagnostic Medical Sonography student has to make concerns specialization. Sonographers can choose to take ARDMS exams in a variety of specializations that include obstetrics/gynecology, pediatric sonography, fetal echocardiography and others. As the population ages and lifestyles change, the healthcare industry is adapting in many ways. The result is a growing demand for cardiovascular sonographers who have specialized in cardiac sonography and/or vascular technology and can deliver the services needed to meet older patient needs.
Aging Population Changes Healthcare Needs
There are differences between a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer and a Cardiovascular Technologist or Cardiovascular Sonographer (read the related article Sonographer vs. Cardiovascular Technologist: Schools, Careers). The ARDMS specialization credentials include the Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT) and the Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS). Some sonography students are choosing to earn both credentials as a RDCS and RVT, making them eligible to become Cardiovascular Technologists able to perform both vascular ultrasound and cardiac ultrasounds.
The demand for Cardiovascular Technologists is growing rapidly in response to changing healthcare industry dynamics. The U.S. Administration on Aging projects that people who are 65 years old or older will account for 19 percent of the population by the year 2030. The percentage equates to an estimated 72.1 million people, and that is more than double the older population of 39.1 million counted in 2009. Since older people experience higher rates of medical conditions associated with the heart and vascular system, it is clear the Cardiovascular Sonographers have much to offer the industry.
Transforming Healthcare Industry
At the same time the population is aging, the healthcare industry is moving towards:
- Reducing rates of invasive heart surgery as a first-choice treatment
- Providing more outpatient care services to increase healthcare access
- Offering more non-invasive, less physically traumatic services
- Adopting procedures that contribute to lowering healthcare costs
- Developing larger cardiovascular departments in medical facilities, requiring more staff
- Increasing the types of services offered with portable equipment
At the same time, there is a national movement to increase public awareness of the importance of wellness, and early disease detection is one of the elements. For an aging population, the ability to detect vascular or heart disease in its earliest stages is critical to enjoying a healthy old-age.
According to the Bureau of Labor, almost 79 percent of Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians were employed in general medical and surgical hospitals as of May 2016. Approximately 13 percent were employed in offices of physicians, 1.5 percent in outpatient care centers and 1.6 percent in specialty hospitals. Those numbers are likely to shift towards more clinics and outpatient care centers (some operated by hospitals) as the population grows older.
Preparing for the Demand for Cardiovascular Sonographers
The healthcare industry has already recognized it has shortages of professionals who are able to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population and a new healthcare delivery system. The newly registered Cardiovascular Technologists can already find excellent career opportunities. Those who gain experience working with the elderly or have other industry-relevant credentials or experience will be in enormous demand. Many Diagnostic Medical Sonographers earn multiple credentials because it makes them more marketable and enables them to demand a higher wage.
There are many ultrasound technician programs in each state that are geared towards helping the student prepare for taking exams to earn a credential as a cardiac sonographer and/or a vascular sonographer (see lists of specialized sonography programs in 2018). Attending one of the CAAHEP accredited programs in Cardiac Sonography, Vascular Sonography or Cardiovascular Sonography is important because these are the programs offering the students all the information and training needed to pass the specialty exams of choice.