Are Sonogram Technician Salary Levels Catching Up With Other Imaging Specialists?
Many in the field of sonography would argue that pay scales for their particular profession have lagged behind others in the field of medical imaging. However, given the level of education required to become an ultrasound technician specializing in sonography, average salaries are quite high. But are sonogram technician salary levels on par with MRI, CT, and other specialists within the imaging profession?
Educational Requirements for Sonogram Technicians
As of right now educational requirements for entry level technicians are very low. Candidates need only complete an 18 month course ultrasound imaging to qualify for a job performing diagnostic ultrasound exams. Many in the industry feel these low educational requirements are one of the reasons that sonogram tech salary levels are lower than others in similar fields.
Certification is another sticking point. Because of the lack of certification requirements many industry leaders feel that sonography departments are often staffed with technicians that have no passion for their work.
“It’s a plague upon on our profession that people who perform imaging are not certified,” said James Pennington, lead perinatal sonographer and clinical instructor at the University of Nevada School of Medicine in Las Vegas. “What’s even worse is that any high school graduate who completes an 18-month course in ultrasound imaging at a commercial for-profit trade school can get a job to perform diagnostic ultrasound exams.”
He added, “These for-profit schools are diluting our field with people who are less than qualified. Furthermore, graduates of these schools — and others — may have no desire to expand their horizons. Our specialty is filled with people who like to go to their job, punch a clock, do scans, mindlessly go through the day, and go home.” read more at Auntminnie.com
Many within sonography point to a recent change in radiological education requirements. In 2014 all radiologic technologists will be required to have a minimum of a 2 years associates degree from an accredited college. This is something that current sonographers feel would help raise salaries overall within the field.
“We don’t even have that,” LaRusso said. “How can we demand better salaries with such low educational requirements? Financial compensation goes hand in hand with education. The difference between [being considered] a midlevel medical practitioner boils down to education. Most midlevel practitioner medical specialties require a master’s degree at entry level. I’m not knocking on-the-job training. But our entry-level requirements need to be set at a much higher level.”
And that includes certification. LaRusso said that it took a year to convince human resource managers at Hershey Medical Center to classify ultrasonography professionals as sonographers. The hospital now requires that all newly hired sonographers who have not passed their accreditation boards take them within six months. Those who do not pass are given an additional grace period of six months to do so. If they have not succeeded within a year, they are fired.
Certainly this is one side of the coin. But more education doesn’t necessarily qualify an individual for a higher salary. The other side of the coin is that salaries are often driven by demand. Those with higher levels of education might feel entitled to a higher salary, but from a hospital or imaging facilities perspective it often comes down to the bottom line. And if they have a glut of technicians in their area, they will be able to pay a lower salary and still fill the position.
And a glut of sonographers is exactly what many areas have seen. Because so many candidates are graduating from imaging schools and programs, hospitals in these areas benefit by having to pay less.
This is why it is imperative to research open positions in your area, as well as trends within the industry. It doesn’t make sense to spend 18 months in school training for a position that is already over-serviced in your area. So unless you plan on moving somewhere where there is higher demand, plan on instead training for a position that is in high demand.
Sonogram Tech Salary Levels Compared to Other Imaging Specialists
Current salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that sonographers currently average around $66,000 per year. As previously stated, this hardly seems low given the educational requirements needed to qualify. Nuclear medicine techs average around $71,000 and MRI and CT techs come in at $67,000 and $65,000 respectively.
Currently there are no plans to place higher educational requirements on sonogram techs. This may change in the near future as more and more professionals in the field jump on the bandwagon of requiring at least an associates degree. You can follow developments by joining the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) or American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) as their members are some are the more vocal advocates of establishing prerequisites. In the meantime sonogram technician salary levels remain, on average, close to those of other imaging specialists. And given the investment of time and schooling required, this profession remains a great investment for those interested in a career in medical diagnostic imaging.