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Associate degree

An inside look at careers in diagnostic medical sonography

Going by titles like ultrasound technician, cardiac sonographer and vascular technologist, diagnostic medical sonographers perform different functions with one common purpose: They provide a window to the inside workings of the body and play a critical role in helping physicians evaluate, diagnose and treat patients.

At a time in which Americans are living longer and chronic health conditions are on the rise, demand for diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to climb an impressive 46 percent nationwide from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That makes it the sixth fastest growing occupation in the country, and means plenty of job opportunities could await new grads in the field.

“I graduated from school in December and started working a week later,” says Shelley Heussner, a registered diagnostic cardiac sonographer based in Petoskey, Mich.

One career, many specialties
Diagnostic medical sonography encompasses a number of specialties. Obstetrics ultrasound technicians, who help monitor fetal development, are probably the most widely known professionals in the field. They use non-invasive technology to capture images of babies in the womb, allowing physicians and expecting parents to see a child before it’s born.

However, this isn’t the only application for sonography technology. The American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography offers four credentials for sonographers that span seven practice specialties:

  • Abdomen
  • Breast
  • Echocardiography
  • Neurosonology
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Vascular technology
  • Musculoskeletal

A sonographer’s work day varies depending on their specialty or employer. Heussner splits her time between a heart and vascular services office and the local hospital.

“I might stay in the clinic area all day with patients, typically seeing one per hour, or I may go down to the hospital and do inpatient imaging,” she says. “Sometimes I travel to another clinic and do tests there.”

Ready to work in two years?
For students exploring their career options, diagnostic medical sonography may be an attractive choice, in part because individuals can potentially be ready to enter the field in two years.

“An associate’s degree is the normal education,” explains Heussner. “You can go up to a bachelor’s degree, but most people do an AAS and that’s all companies really want.”

The Society for Diagnostic Medical Sonography recommends students look for an accredited program, such as one approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. The CAAHEP currently accredits diagnostic sonography programs in 43 states and the District of Columbia, including several online degree options.

Credentials may lead to higher income
After graduation, individuals may want to apply for one or more of the ARDMS certifications. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the median annual wage for diagnostic medical sonographers in the U.S. was $65,860 in 2012, the SDMS says certification could lead to a higher income.

Currently, the ARDMS offers the following credentials to sonographers:

  • Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
  • Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer
  • Registered Vascular Technologist
  • Registered in Musculoskeletal

The 2013 SDMS Sonographer Salary and Benefits Survey found having multiple certifications was linked to higher base salaries among those surveyed. Specifically, those with a combination of the RDMS, RDCS and RVT credentials reported the highest median annual salaries. Looking at the certifications individually, SDMS data indicates the RDCS may be the most profitable.

Is a career in sonography right for you?
Heussner advises students exploring their career options to shadow sonographers in several specialties to find the right fit. “I always knew I wanted something in medical, but I was never sure exactly what I wanted until I job shadowed,” she explains. “As soon as I shadowed in cardiac, I knew that’s what I wanted.”

As for her job today, Heussner says even though she is imaging hearts all day, everyone’s heart is different and each patient’s situation is unique, which makes for a work day that is anything but tedious.

“I love my job,” she says. “Talking with the patients, seeing what’s going on with their hearts… it’s so fascinating.” If working closely with patients in a dynamic medical environment sounds like an engaging career path, you could be just two short years away from having one of the hottest jobs in the country.

Maryalene LaPonsie is a writer for OnlineDegrees.com. This article was originally published on OnlineDegrees.com

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5 contributors to the skills gap in health care hiring

High expectations are set for health care workers, whose daily practices and responsibilities can have a serious impact on the lives of their patients. Thus, hiring managers for health care organizations have a heightened sense of responsibility to find the most qualified and capable workers.

Unfortunately, a majority of health care organizations are struggling to find qualified candidates and fill vacancies, according to a new survey from CareerBuilder and MiracleWorkers.com, its job site for health care professionals. Fifty-two percent of health care employers have open positions for which they can’t find qualified candidates and a similar amount (51 percent) say a skills deficit is the reason behind their vacancies.

Job seekers need to be aware of these five contributors to the skills gap in health care hiring, in order to help minimize the disconnect and also improve their chances of employment.

1. Different expectations for pay
As a job seeker, pay is a key factor in deciding whether a job is the right career choice. However, leading the list of factors contributing to a skills gap in health care hiring, 37 percent of employers point to differing expectations for pay.

Only 27 percent of health care hiring managers believe their organizations offer “extremely or very” competitive pay. One third said they would consider increasing compensation for tough-to-fill roles, and 32 percent said they would not. Thirty-five percent said they’ve already increased compensation.

In order to overcome this hiring hang-up, job seekers need to be aware of industry standards for pay, as well as what wages are typical for their experience level and the organization’s size. More closely aligning expectations for pay with the industry will eliminate this issue.

2. Education and technology gaps
Education and training are steps job seekers and workers should always take to keep up with their careers. Within their industry, medical and technological expertise is always improving and changing, and job seekers need to keep up with these improvements. Thirty-five percent of employers showed concern for candidates with education gaps in particular areas, and 22 percent said potential employees aren’t up to date with new and shifting technologies.

In order to stay current, workers and job seekers can keep up with industry news, study trade publications and continue education through seminars, lectures, academic journals and courses. Employers are helping, too: Nearly one half of health care employers say their organization does offer technical skills training to its workforce (47 percent).

3. Job requirements that are above entry-level
Despite their up-to-date skills and education, graduates’ limited experience is sometimes enough to deter employers from hiring. Thirty percent of employers pointed to job requirements that are above entry-level as a source of hiring trouble.

This issue is just as much a barrier for employers to overcome as it is for education providers; both need to ensure graduates are receiving the most applicable education that will prepare them for roles in health care organizations. For graduates to overcome this issue, target employers that are most closely aligned with the curriculum and mission of your school.

4. Poor interviewing skills
Job seekers can’t always expect their exemplary education and achievements to impress employers; a lack of interview skills is a deterrent to hiring, according to 29 percent of employers. Improving interview skills is a relatively simple fix and will be an asset on the job as well. Being able to clearly explain skills, processes and procedures is just as applicable when interacting with patients as it is with potential employers. Both groups have concerns that only the (potential) employee can quash.

5. On-the-job training is lacking
Health care organizations place much emphasis on specialized experience, making it necessary to have a mechanism for grooming that experience internally. Though 21 percent of employers blame gaps in on-the-job training as a reason they can’t find qualified candidates for highly skilled positions, nearly half of health care hiring managers believe training should be equally shared between employers and workers (48 percent) and 36 percent say the bulk of the responsibility should fall on the employer. This suggests after a worker completes the requisite education, the employer has the opportunity to deliver the on-the-job experience needed for professional growth.

The skills gap can be closed by both health care organizations and potential employees making an effort to reach common hiring ground. On-the-job mentoring and development is key to filling future vacancies within organizations, and specialized experience can be reached by having a mechanism for grooming that experience internally. Job seekers are expected to have the skills, experience and capabilities to compete for a good position and pay. Closing the skills gap will take time and effort from both employers and job seekers, but it is within reach.

Jason Lovelace is president of CareerBuilder Healthcare. 

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