How To Become A Cardiac Sonographer: The Ultimate Guide
Becoming a cardiac sonographer is a decision that you will not regret making. I’ve been a cardiac sonographer for over 10 years and have not regretted the decision to become one even once during those years.
And of course, if you’re interested in knowing what the cardiac sonographer salary is, I’ll touch on how much cardiac sonographers make as well.
Learning how to become a cardiac sonographer
A career as a cardiac sonographer is a challenging yet incredibly rewarding field to become a part of. If you love working one on one with people, yet enjoy being part of a larger team, working as a cardiac sonographer might be for you.
If you enjoy being responsible for collecting and organizing important medical data that doctors will directly use to treat their patients, working a cardiac sonographer might be for you.
If you are at all a “techy” kind of person, enjoy working with computers and want to learn how to use the latest in technology, working as a cardiac sonographer might be an excellent career path for you.
And if you enjoy anatomy, physiology and learning everything there is to know about the heart, and diseases that affect the heart, becoming a cardiac sonographer might be for you.
What Is A Cardiac Sonographer?
A cardiac sonographer is a specially trained ultrasound technician that uses an ultrasound machine to record pictures and other information of a person’s heart and surrounding blood vessels.
The cardiac sonographer, or echo tech, gathers all the information from the exam and submits the echo findings to the cardiologist. It is the cardiologist that interprets the echocardiogram.
To put it in my own way, being a cardiac sonographer is essentially like being part artist and part detective. It’s your job as a sonographer to paint a picture of what’s going on inside your patients heart. Cardiac ultrasound is only as good as the person who’s controlling the ultrasound probe.
The cardiac sonographer is like a detective because not only are we the gatherer of information, but we look out for abnormalities. Then we track down the source of those abnormalities to quantify and document it for the cardiologist.
What Does A Cardiac Sonographer Do?
Still unclear exactly what a cardiac sonographer does? Keep on reading to learn about all the different things you might do as an echo tech.
A Typical Day As A Cardiac Sonographer
Do you wonder what it would be like to work as a cardiac sonographer, or as an echo tech?
A typical day as a cardiac sonographer would probably begin with reviewing all your patient’s medical history before performing the actual echo examination.
After becoming familiar with your patients medical history and reasons for having their echocardiogram done, it would be time to start the actual echo exams.
You would meet with the patient and explain to them about the echo exam and prepare them for the echo. It’s typically during this time you’ll answer any questions or concerns they might have about the echo.
As part of the echo exam, you would take the patient’s blood pressure, either before or after the exam. You might take the blood pressure manually, with a stethoscope, or by using a blood pressure machine.
On average, an echocardiogram takes about 30 minutes. Some will take longer and some will take less time.
Cardiac Sonographer In The Inpatient Setting
If you work as a cardiac sonographer in a hospital, you might push your echo machine throughout the hospital, performing echo exams at the patient’s bedside (inpatient echos). Or you might have a lab with exam rooms where you can have the hospital patients transported to where you are.
Working in this kind of setting requires interacting with doctors, nurses and other hospital staff on a regular basis, and is a great way to meet and know many different kinds of people.
The kinds of procedures you do as an inpatient cardiac sonographer also vary. As transthoracic echo is the most common, other procedures you might be involved with are inpatient treadmill stress echos, dobutamine stress echos, transesophageal echos, echo guided pericardiocentesis and open heart surgeries and neonatal echocardiograms.
Often times, when working as an echo tech in the inpatient, or hospital setting, your schedule is unknown. Some days will be very busy, while some days may be quite slow.
Echos In The Outpatient Setting
The outpatient, or clinical setting on the other hand is quite a bit different. As a cardiac sonographer that works in a clinical setting, your schedule will most likely be much more regular and predictable. In the clinic setting, patients come to you to have their echo performed and acute illnesses are typically not seen as often.
Echo Procedures done in the hospital setting are similar to those done in the hospital. Transthoracic echocardiograms are probably the most common type of echo performed. Other procedures are treadmill stress echocardiograms and dobutamine stress echocardiograms.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Cardiac Sonographer?
Knowing how long it takes to become a cardiac sonographer is an important part of planning your road map to become one. Typically, it takes between 2 and 3 years to learn how to become a cardiac sonographer. Although it will take a few additional years of being an echo tech to be comfortable.
As I stated, it usually takes people 2-3 years to become an echo tech. Please note, however, that there are other options that can take longer or shorter. Keep reading to learn more about how long it takes to become a cardiac sonographer.
How Long It Took Me To Become A Cardiac Sonographer
Not everyone that wants to be a cardiac sonographer has the ability to put life on hold for 4 years to complete a bachelor’s degree before they can start working again.
This was exactly the case with me. I was 27 and married when i decided to make a career change and become a cardiac sonographer. Since I was married and had a family, I wanted to get back into the workforce as fast as I could. So wondering how long does it take to become a cardiac sonographer was probably the biggest question on my mind.
I was pleased to find out while researching how to become an echo tech and researching echo tech education requirements, that the majority of cardiac sonographers completed their training in 2 to 3 years.
There are also many 4 year echo tech programs available. And many of these are excellent and well respected programs. What I have found to generally be the case, is that people going directly from high school to college tend to graduate from the 4 year bachelor cardiac echo programs.
While people who decide to make a career change later in life tend to graduate from the 2 year echo tech programs.
For many of us, 2 years is doable. Get in. Get out. And get back to work doing a job you love!
Echo Tech Education Requirements
The average cardiac sonographer has a 2 year associate’s degree. The fact is, there’s not really a specific education requirement to work as an echo tech, or cardiac sonographer.
However, many if not most employers have strong preferences to hire sonographers who have at least completed a 2 year degree in diagnostic medical sonography. These diagnostic ultrasound programs must also be accredited by the CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs).
Certificate programs specific to echocardiography are also available to those seeking this career, but many times students need to have a degree in a related area in order to enroll.
In addition to the certificate programs for echo and the 2 year associates degree echo tech programs, there are also bachelor’s programs for echocardiography. These 4 year echo programs cover the same material as the 2 year echo programs, but also include more business and management course work.
Classes Needed To Become A Cardiac Sonographer
If you’re needing to know what classes are required to become a cardiac sonographer, please know that the requirements vary from program to program.
With that said, below is a list of the more common classes that are needed to get into cardiac sonography programs:
- Physics. Specifically ultrasound physics.
- Algebra or applied mathematics
- Computer Technology
- English or Communications
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Psychology and Sociology
- Medical Terminology
- Narrow your choices to the 3 most probable cardiac sonography programs you will apply to.
- Once you narrow your selection down to the top 3 echo tech programs, then you can see what the admissions requirements are to each of those programs.
- First identify the classes that are the same at each echo tech school, and take those first.
- If there are many classes that are only required at one echo tech school, you might inquire to see if you can take that specific class while you are enrolled in that specific cardiac ultrasound program.
Cardiac Echo Tech Schools
There is a large number of cardiac echo tech schools in the US, including online echo tech programs. But keep in mind that while looking for a cardiac sonographer school, be sure you find one that best suits your individual needs. Research the different avenues of ultrasound and have as much of an understanding of what this career will require of you.
There is a high level of responsibility required being a cardiac sonographer. Each image that you take as a cardiac sonographer will tell a story. Take the time to chose a cardiac echo tech school that will best prepare you for that responsibility.
Given the large number of echo tech schools, I am going to list only those that I am familiar with on some level. For a complete list of accredited echo tech shcools, please visit the CAAHEP website. There you will find a complete database of accredited programs.
*Please note that many echo tech schools will call their major Cardiovascular Techonology.
1. Grossmont College in El Cajon, CA.
Associates Degree/ Cardiovascular Technology
Grossmont College is the echo tech school that I attended and to this day continue to recommend it highly to those that want to become a cardiac sonographer.
2. Spokane Community College in Spokane, WA
Associates Degree/ Cardiovascular Technology
3. Cardiac And Vascular Institute of Ultrasound in Mobile, Alabama
Certificate/ Adult Echocardiography
4. Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA
Associates Degree/ Cardiovascular Technology
5. Santa Fe College in Gainesville, FL
Associated Degree/ Cardiovascular Technology
Final Thoughts On How To Become A Cardiac Sonographer
If you are interested in becoming a cardiac sonographer, I highly recommend this career. If you have a friend or a loved one that is interested in becoming a cardiac sonographer, please, please share this post with them.
I am always available to answer any questions you or your loved ones might have regarding how to become a cardiac sonographer. Or if you have any questions about echocardiography and working as an echo tech in general. Please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or leave a comment below. I always respond.
Thanks and good luck!