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Is Ultrasound Technician & Diagnostic Medical Sonographer the Same?

Charles M. Carlsen

Published April 25, 2024
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Doctors sometimes need to see inside your body to make a precise diagnosis of what is ailing you. When that happens, they send you to an ultrasound technician or diagnostic medical sonographer to take an ultrasound or sonogram. And well, those double names can sound confusing for the patient and the rest of us.
So, is ultrasound technician & diagnostic medical sonographer the same, or is there a difference?
Stick with me throughout this article to know the answer to that question I’ll also give you additional information about what sonographers do, what specialties they can opt to take, how you can become a sonographer, and how much these in-demand professionals earn from their work.
Let’s start by describing the profile of an ultrasound technician.

What is an Ultrasound Technician?

An ultrasound technician is a trained healthcare occupational assistant who operates an ultrasound machine to perform diagnostic imaging on patients and produce images of internal body tissues and structures.
The images produced by ultrasound technicians help physicians examine and diagnose medical conditions.
However, the duties of an ultrasound technician are not limited to the main task of producing diagnostic images.
So, what else do ultrasound technicians do?
Ultrasound technicians also perform the following tasks:
  • Prepare the ultrasound machine for the procedure by ensuring its functioning well.
  • Prepare the ultrasound procedure room before inviting the patient.
  • Explain the ultrasound procedure to patients before commencing.
  • Ensure the patient is comfortable and well-positioned for imaging.
  • Take and review ultrasound images for quality and thoroughness against the doctor’s test request form.
  • Assess the ultrasound results for abnormal tissues or organ presentation and write a comprehensive report.
  • Send the ultrasound report to the requesting doctor and keep patient imaging records.(1)
It’s worth noting that although some people may use the name ultrasound to refer to the images, in the strict sense, ultrasound refers to the procedure, while the correct term for the image is sonogram.
This name is why an ultrasound technician is sometimes called a sonographer, one who does sonography.

What is Sonography

The term sonography describes a diagnostic medical procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves from ultrasound machines to create images of internal body tissues and organs.
A professional who does sonography is called a sonographer, one of several terms used as synonyms for ultrasound technician.
But are the two the same or different?

What is the Difference Between Ultrasound Tech and Sonographer?

Generally speaking, an ultrasound technician and a sonographer perform the same job. They create images of the patient's internal organs using the high-frequency sound waves produced by an ultrasound transducer.
However, some experts and colleges that train imaging professionals specify that the term technician after ultrasound or sonographer describes an imaging technician who is a diploma holder without board registration.(2)
Instead, certified medical imaging professionals with at least two years of training merit the title of sonographer.
These seasoned sonographers are also called:
  • Medical sonographer
  • Cardiovascular sonographer
  • Echocardiographer
  • Ultrasonographer
  • Ultra technologist
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer
Experts use the last on the list as an umbrella term.

What is a Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

As anticipated, diagnostic medical sonographer is an umbrella term for highly skilled diagnostic imaging professionals.
What does a diagnostic medical sonographer do?
A diagnostic medical sonographer uses specialized ultrasound imaging equipment to produce images of internal body structures. Doctors and physicians then use these images for precise medical diagnosis and eventual treatment of patients.
A diagnostic medical sonographer also carries out the additional duties listed earlier for ultrasound technicians. That’s because, in the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupation Outlook Handbook, ultrasound technicians fall under the healthcare occupation category of diagnostic medical sonographers.
However, the diagnostic medical sonographer category does not include cardiovascular technicians and technologists.(3) Instead, it incorporates several types of diagnostic medical sonographers.

Types of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers

Diagnostic medical sonographers can fall under a range of types defined by the targeted part of the patient’s body.
The types of medical sonographers include the following:
Abdominal Sonographers
Abdominal sonographers specialize in ultrasound procedures that target the abdominal cavity and the surrounding organs. Such organs include the liver, kidney, spleen, pancreas, and gallbladder. These specialists can also help with ultrasound-guided abdominal exams and biopsies.
OB/GYN Sonographers
OB/GYN sonographers are among the busiest imaging professionals. They focus on ultrasound procedures related to the female reproductive system. Specifically, they can conduct ultrasounds on pregnant women to assess embryo and fetal development. They also work with other women to examine their overall reproductive health.
Breast Sonographers
Breast sonographers assess breast tissue for cysts and tumors. The sonographer can conduct a breast ultrasound after a patient or their doctor detects a lump in the breast or after noticing the same from a mammogram exam. Breast sonographers also assist in drawing abnormal breast tissue for biopsy exams.
Pediatric Sonographers
A pediatric sonographer is the specialist in the ultrasound room when you take your child or infant for diagnostic imaging. Often pediatric ultrasounds target birth defects in babies but are also used in post-birth infant medical conditions. A pediatric sonographer works closely with a pediatric doctor.
Cardiac Sonographers
Cardiac sonographers are also called echocardiographers. They specialize in heart-related medical issues and use ultrasound machines to assess the vessels, valves, and chambers of the heart. The specific term for heart sonographs is echocardiograms. While these specialists target adults and children, they can also perform echocardiograms on fetuses to detect possible heart conditions.
Vascular Sonographers
Vascular sonographers or technologists create sonograms of blood vessels to help doctors diagnose blood flow issues. They often use ultrasound machines with color Doppler imaging technology to highlight blood flow toward the probe (red) and blood flow away from the probe (blue). These color codes help physicians detect blood clots or blocked arteries.(4,5)
Musculoskeletal Sonographers
Musculoskeletal sonographers specialize in muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joint imaging. They assess these body tissues for injuries or other medical conditions like tears, joint issues, tendonitis, bursitis, tumors, and cysts. Musculoskeletal sonographers also guide IV catheter insertions and injections during surgeries or therapies that deliver drugs directly to a particular body organ.
To take up any of these specializations, ultrasound technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers undergo general and specialized training.

How to Become an Ultrasound Technician

To become an ultrasound technician, you require formal education and training following one of these paths.
  • A certificate in sonographywhich takes one year of coursework and practicum. The certificate training targets high school diploma holders or medical graduates interested in a sonography specialization.
  • An associate degree in sonographytakes 2 years of training. It is the standard training program for medical sonographers in the U.S. Associate degree programs receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or other relevant bodies.
  • Bachelor’s degree in sonographywhich takes four years. It is a more rigorous training with coursework and many hours of practicum in a clinical setting. Sonographers who are degree holders have better chances of employment and higher salaries. They can also opt for management positions in sonography departments.
Trained ultrasound technicians and diagnostic medical sonographers can enhance their employment and high remuneration possibilities if they seek certification from the relevant bodies.
You can read further details about how to become an ultrasound technician in our designated article.

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer Salary

Generally, diagnostic medical sonographers earn a salary ranging between $71,817 and $103,839 as of 2023.(6)
However, the salary of a diagnostic medical sonographer can vary depending on factors like level of training or education, years of experience, specialty, geographical location, or the type of industry where one works.
For example, medical sonographers in California earn more than all other states in the U.S., up to a maximum of $144,870 for the highest-paid sonographers in Vallejo-Fairfield as of 2022.
Also, medical sonographers working in outpatient care centers earn more than those working in other industries, up to $113,680, according to the 2022 BLS data.(7)

Concluding Thoughts

Ultrasound technicians & diagnostic medical sonographers have a similar job description: they use ultrasound machines to produce images of internal body organs for use in diagnosis and treatment.
However, ultrasound technicians are sometimes differentiated from diagnostic medical sonographers based on their training preparation. Ultrasound technicians have minimal training and are not certified, while medical sonographers are experts with more training and experience.

REFERENCES

1. U.S Bureau of Statistics. What Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians Do.

2. WCUI School of Medical Imaging: IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ULTRASOUND AND SONOGRAPHY?

3. U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.

4. Evans DH, Jensen JA, Nielsen MB. Ultrasonic colour Doppler imaging. Interface Focus. 2011 Aug 6;1(4):490-502.

5. Salary.com. Ultrasound Technologists II.

6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics.
Article by
Charles M. Carlsen
Hello! I'm Charles, As co-founder of Drsono, I contribute to the DRSONO blog, providing valuable insights and up-to-date information on ultrasound technology and diagnostic imaging.

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