Ultrasound and sonography are ways to take pictures inside patients' bodies using sound waves and echoes. Ultrasound programs prepare people to operate equipment that can make pictures out of sounds. Students learn to care for patients and instruct them. They also learn to keep records.
When you think about how we use our five senses, it may seem straightforward. We use our eyes to see, our noses to smell, our tongues to taste, our ears to hear, and our sense of touch to feel things. But for those people who don't have all five senses, their use of their senses gets shuffled around. For example, instead of being able to use their eyes to see, blind people have to use their senses of touch, hearing, smell, and taste.
Technology has followed suit by using "senses" in innovative ways. Machines exist that use what they hear to see. They do this by using a special kind of sound wave called "ultrasound waves." These waves have a very high frequency and when they bounce off the surface of something – a person's heart, for example - they echo. Special machines called sonograph machines interpret the echoes of ultrasound waves and use the information they get to produce an image of the heart. "Sono-" in "sonograph" refers to sound, and "-graph" means "to write."
Probably the application of ultrasound technology most familiar to you is checking the health and growth of a fetus in a pregnant woman's womb. But you could also use this technology to see any of the organs in the body – including the eye, the heart, and the brain – and also to study muscle movement and blood flow.
Ultrasound technology is also known as diagnostic medical sonography. This is because physicians use it to check for disease, injury, or other medical abnormalities. As a sonographer, you would assist physicians by operating ultrasound equipment. You would also interact with patients to help them feel at ease and to make sure they're in the right position to get the best image. You might think of a sonographer, like an X-ray technician, as a kind of medical photographer.
About 60 schools in the U.S. offer accredited programs in ultrasound and sonography technology. You can earn a certificate, an associate degree, or a bachelor's degree. A certificate typically takes one to two years of full-time study after high school. An associate degree generally takes two to three years, and a bachelor's degree usually takes four years.