Cardiac sonographers capture images of the heart and its chambers. These images are then passed on to doctors who analyze them in order to potentially diagnose the patient involved. Cardiac sonographers work a typical 40-hour workweek where they are responsible for maintaining equipment and working closely with patients to produce images. Professionals may have to work extended hours as well as weekends and some holidays if they work in an emergency setting. Other work settings for cardiac sonographers include hospitals, clinics, and even universities. Individuals who are interested in pursuing a career in cardiac sonography should at minimum seek an associate's degree. In order to gain a competitive edge individuals can also earn their bachelor's degree, which would help to prepare them for above-entry level positions within the field.
Associate degree programs in cardiac sonography can be pursued at community colleges, universities, and vocational schools. These programs typically take students two years to complete and require 60-credit hours of coursework. Required hours are comprised of classes like cardiovascular concepts, human anatomy and physiology, advanced ultrasound physics, and patient care for the imaging professional. Students may also be required to participate in general education courses such as college-level algebra and public speaking.
In order to seek admission to this level of program, individuals must have earned either a high school diploma or a GED certificate. SAT or ACT test scores are also generally required. College transcripts will also be required of students who have previously attended other college programs; transfer credits will be reviewed and accepted on a case-by-case basis.
Most cardiac sonography associate degree programs will also require that applicants have previously taken prerequisite courses including medical terminology and psychology.
Graduates of an associate level program may be able to go on to work as cardiac sonographers where they will work under the supervision of a physician. The average cost of annual tuition students can expect to pay ranges between $5,280 and $17,090.
Most bachelor degree programs in cardiac sonography are offered as degree completion programs; thus individuals who are interested must already hold an associate degree earned from an accredited institution. Some programs may also require that their applicants have work experience as certified sonographers. Completion programs can be completed in one to two years based on program content and full time or part time enrollment.
Although completion programs are commonplace, four-year bachelor's degree programs are also available for which applicants need to have a high school diploma or GED in order to be eligible for admission. Key coursework includes general sonography, nuclear medicine, invasive cardiology, magnetic resonance imaging, and healthcare management. These key courses often comprise 60 to 120 credit hours. Students may also be required to complete a clinical externship during the course of their studies. With the knowledge and skills gained through a bachelor's degree program graduates may be prepared for advanced positions such as department manager. The total cost of these degree programs averages from $13,620 to $24,575.
Individuals who have already earned an associate degree or higher may be eligible to enroll in certificate programs, which can usually be completed in one to two years. During the admissions process, applicants will need to turn in all transcripts earned from other accredited institutions. It is also important to note that prerequisite courses may be required of the applicants. Examples of such prerequisites include college algebra and medical terminology. A résumé outlining the applicant's professional experience along with references will also be needed during the application process.
Once enrolled, students will take courses such as advanced ultrasound physics, cardiovascular concepts, EKG patterns, emergency protocols, and echocardiographic evaluation of pathology. During the course of their studies, students may also be expected to complete an externship in order to gain hands-on experience. Upon graduation individuals may be prepared to hold positions as cardiac sonographers in a number of different settings including clinical and emergency. The average expense for certificate programs is $3,885.
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is an organization that specifically accredits health science programs including cardiac sonography. CAAHEP conducts reviews on different programmatic elements such as student resources and testing procedures in order to ensure that the program meets the standards of the industry. Accreditation helps to ensure that students are taught knowledge and skills that are relevant to their professional tasks within the field.
Accreditation also plays an important role for applicants who are in need of financial assistance. Federal financial aid is only granted to programs that are currently accredited. Lastly, it may prove to be beneficial in the hiring process, as many employers prefer their employees to come from accredited educational backgrounds. All of these factors can have significant impacts on the outcome of the individual's career and thus accreditation should always be carefully considered prior to enrolling in any post secondary program. Individuals who are interested in attending a program accredited by CAAHEP can search for programs directly on their website.
Only two states, Oregon and New Mexico, require by law that cardiac sonographers be certified. However, sonographers in the remaining 48 states will find that certification may make them more competitive among their peers. Certification can be sought through organizations such as the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). Qualifications to sit for one of the exams offered at CCI will vary but most will require at minimum an associate degree and a letter of reference indicating clinical experience.
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