Cardiac Sonography vs. Medical Sonography: Which Diagnostic Career is Best for You?

Sonographers use ultrasound technology to produce images of tissues, blood vessels and organs inside the human body, which help medical professionals diagnose and monitor a variety of medical conditions. If you are interested in a sonography career, you'll have the option of training to be a cardiac sonographer or a medical sonographer. Keep reading to learn more about cardiac sonography vs. medical sonography career options.

Cardiac Sonography Overview

Cardiac sonographers perform echocardiograms, which are ultrasound scans used to determine if there is anything abnormal about the size or structure of the heart muscle and valves. An echocardiogram also traces the movement of blood through the heart, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

During an echocardiogram, a sonographer applies gel to the patient's chest and uses a transducer to produce ultrasound waves. These ultrasound waves are reflected off the structures inside the chest cavity and returned to the transducer. A scanning machine uses information gathered by the transducer to produce two-dimensional images, as explained by the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Medical Sonography Overview

The process of performing a medical ultrasound is the same, except the sonographer does not focus on the heart. Instead, a medical sonographer uses ultrasound equipment to produce images of the abdominal organs, pelvic organs, breasts and other areas of the body. For example, a medical sonographer may perform a pelvic ultrasound to determine if a female patient has a cyst on one of her ovaries. The information gathered during an ultrasound can help physicians diagnose illnesses or monitor fetal development, according to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Educational Requirements

When it comes to cardiac sonography vs. medical sonography, the educational requirements are similar. Although you do not need a bachelor's degree to work as a sonographer, some schools do have four-year degree programs. These programs typically include classes in anatomy and physiology, mathematics, diagnostic imaging and healthcare management.

If you would rather start your sonography career right away, look for a training program that lasts for 12 to 18 months. One example is the 14-month cardiac sonography program at The Johns Hopkins University, which blends an academic curriculum with opportunities for hands-on practice. Classes focus on physics, the principles of echocardiography and proper use of ultrasound equipment. Allied-health schools throughout the United States offer short-term training for diagnostic medical sonography, making it possible to become a medical sonographer no matter where you live.

Job Duties

Cardiac sonographers and medical sonographers have similar job duties. Before you begin each ultrasound, you'll explain the procedure to the patient and ask questions about the patient's medical history. If any of your patients are nervous, you'll have to ease their fears before you begin the scan. Therefore, you must have excellent communication skills to succeed in the sonography field.

In addition to performing echocardiograms or diagnostic medical ultrasounds, you'll be responsible for maintaining the ultrasound equipment, checking the quality of the images and summarizing your findings for other medical professionals, according to Pima Medical Institute.

If sonography sounds like an exciting opportunity, visit AMN Healthcare to learn more about launching a career in allied health.

Work Environment

Sonographers work in several types of medical facilities, including hospitals, diagnostic labs, urgent-care centers and imaging centers. If the idea of performing fetal ultrasounds appeals to you, look for a job in an obstetrician's office.

When you perform an ultrasound, you'll need to dim the lights to see the images on the screen, so you should be comfortable working in low lighting conditions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you may also need to lift or turn patients who are unable to move on their own. Medical facilities have strict standards for controlling the spread of disease, so you can expect to work in a clean environment, although you may come into contact with blood, mucus or other body fluids.

Choosing A Career

After comparing cardiac sonography vs. medical sonography, it's clear that the educational requirements and job duties are nearly identical. The key difference is that cardiac sonography focuses on the heart, while medical sonography focuses on other parts of the body. If you prefer to specialize in producing images of just one organ, cardiac sonography is an excellent choice. On the other hand, medical sonography is a good choice for anyone who wants to perform ultrasound scans on several body systems. No matter which option you choose, you'll be able to use your skills to help people manage their health.

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