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Health careers with a difference: sonographers

Spending your working days making sure that others are healthy and well can make for a really rewarding career.

But becoming a doctor, surgeon or nurse aren't the only  jobs where you can make a difference in people’s lives. There are loads of different careers in medicine and healthcare that you can think about pursuing. These jobs might not always get the limelight – you may not even have heard of some of them – but they play a really important roles in our hospitals and clinics.

As part of our series on health careers with a difference, in this guide we’re looking at the role of a sonographer. We’ll talk you through what the profession involves on a day-to-day basis, what skills they need to be pros at the job, and how to become a sonographer.

What is a sonographer? 

A sonographer uses ultrasound technology to “see” inside patients’ bodies. Most people think of pregnant women having ultrasounds to check on their health of their babies, but there are lots of different ways that ultrasounds can be used.

Sonographers use special equipment that projects sound waves into people’s bodies. The sound waves are reflected back and then recorded in order to make ultrasound images. That helps the sonographer to assess and diagnose different medical conditions and even diseases.

‘Sonograms’ or ultrasounds are used on a patient’s heart, abdomen, blood vessels and other areas of the body. Sonographers are also known as “diagnostic medical sonographers”, or sometimes ultrasound technicians.

What does a sonographer do? 

The tasks and responsibilities of a sonographer include:

  • Preparing the patient for the ultrasound by asking questions and reassuring them.
  • Performing the procedure.
  • Gathering and recording ultrasound data.
  • Analysing the images and recognising the difference between normal and abnormal results.
  • Using written and verbal communication skills to report the data to doctors and other healthcare professionals.
  • Helping surgeons to see a patient’s organs during an operation (if they’re difficult to see!).
  •  Preparing and taking care of the ultrasound equipment.

Most diagnostic medical sonographers work in hospitals, but some of them also work in doctor’s surgeries or clinics. And believe it or not, it’s not a job where you’ll be staying in one place! Sonographers can be on their feet for big parts of the day, and they sometimes have to help lift and move patients.

What skills do I need?

When it comes to how to become a sonographer, there’s a wide range of skills required. Check out the list below to see if you might already have some of these characteristics, and if the career is for you.

  • Great attention to detail: this comes in handy when analysing the data from the ultrasound images and then record detailed findings.
  • Hand-eye coordination: sonographers need to focus on the images that come up on their screen, while also moving a device called a “transducer” around on the patient’s body at the same time.
  • Awesome working with people skills: you need to make patients feel comfortable and relaxed if they might be feeling nervous. You’ll also need good teamwork skills to work well alongside your colleagues.
  • Tech know-how: a basic understanding of technology will help when it comes to using the ultrasound equipment and software
  • Critical thinking: the ability to think critically, understand the importance of problem solving skills in the workplace and assess situations is very important for sonographers.

So tell me how to become a sonographer. 

You can become a sonographer by taking a post-graduate course in medical ultrasound. Sonographers are usually trained as a healthcare professional first – this could be as a nurse, midwife or radiographer (radiographers are similar to sonographers but they use X-rays and radiation technology to produce images of patients).

Around 18 universities and colleges in the UK currently offer medical ultrasound courses and training. The post-graduate course at King’s College London, for example, requires a bachelor’s degree in life science, radiography, nursing or medicine.

Enjoy learning about the role of a sonographer? For more amazing jobs where you can really make a difference, check out our Medicine & Healthcare Career Zone 

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