What does a cardiac sonographer do?
Cardiac sonographers, also known as echocardiographers, are healthcare professionals specially trained to use imaging technology to help physicians diagnose heart problems in patients.
They operate ultrasound equipment that provides moving 2-D or 3-D images of the heart and its chambers. This test they perform is called an echocardiogram.
A career in cardiac sonography can be very rewarding. The results of the echocardiogram will give cardiologists a look inside the patient’s heart, allowing them to be able to give a diagnosis and come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Individuals who are interested in meaningful, fast-paced, patient-centered work may enjoy a career in cardiac sonography.
Scope of practice
Cardiac sonographers work with doctors to assess a patient’s heart condition through the detailed images taken during an echocardiogram.
Common responsibilities and duties of a cardiac sonographer include:
- Performing echocardiogram tests to obtain important data about patients
- Looking at blood flow, valve function, and chamber size to determine the overall condition of the heart
- Assisting physicians in the diagnosis of patients with heart conditions
- Accurately recording patient data and test results
- Helping with administrative duties such as scheduling appointments or cleaning equipment
Hospitals are the primary employer of cardiac sonographers; however, additional opportunities exist in doctors’ offices, medical clinics, and diagnostic imaging centers. Their work hours may include weekends, evenings, holidays, and on-call coverage.
In the hospital setting, cardiac sonographers work in a fast-paced environment with an unpredictable schedule. Their tasks for the day may drastically change as patient load fluctuates.
In the clinic setting, however, patients often schedule their echocardiograms in advance, allowing the schedule for the day to be more regular.
Cardiac sonography is great for someone who likes to stay active on the job and work with patients, rather than working from behind a desk. From walking with patients to exam rooms, to completing the echocardiogram test, to recording patient results and consulting with physicians, the cardiac sonographer is highly involved with patients and members of their care team.
Becoming a cardiac sonographer
Those who have an interest in anatomy and how the heart works in relation to the rest of the body mixed with a passion for patient care, will excel as a cardiac sonographer.
Higher education requirements
The minimum requirement to become a cardiac sonographer is to obtain a high school diploma (or equivalent). However, most hospitals and organizations do require additional education. The typical pathway involves:
- Completion of an associate degree or bachelor's degree
- Completion of a cardiac sonographer or echocardiography certificate program
- Obtaining a license to practice as a cardiac sonographer, though not all states require one.
Certification for a cardiac sonographer
Most organizations will prefer cardiac sonographers to be certified. The registry exams are offered through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography to become credentialed as a Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), or the registry exam through the Cardiovascular Credentialing International to become credentialed as a Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS).
As with most careers in health care, once certified, continuing education is required in order to maintain certification.
Career outlook for a cardiac sonographer
Cardiac sonographers can expect a median salary of $77,740. Job openings for cardiac sonographers in the U.S. are expected to grow faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the population ages, the elderly have a higher rate of heart disease. Career opportunities will expand as advances in echocardiography reduce the need for more costly and invasive procedures.
With additional training and experience, some cardiac sonographers can move into training and supervisory positions.
By the numbers
Cardiac sonographer (echocardiographer) programs at Mayo Clinic
- Echocardiography Internship (Florida)
- Echocardiography Program (Arizona and Minnesota)
- Advanced Cardiovascular Sonography Program (Minnesota)