Being an Ultrasound Sonographer is fun!....Or is it?

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April 11, 2016

“You just look at babies all day, right?”

Ah, the question every sonographer gets asked at least one million times throughout their career. Don’t let my title confuse you, the field of sonography (known to many people as ultrasound) has a lot of awesome and yes, even fun aspects to it. But there is so much more to this career than waving a “wand” around and telling people the gender of their baby. Ultrasound is a highly advanced and extremely challenging career that involves looking at pretty much all other parts of the human body besides just babies! The schooling involved in becoming a trained sonographer is far from easy as it involves a lot of physics, anatomy, physiology, and to be honest, a full understanding of the human body and all of the things that can go wrong with it.

“Do you actually know what you are looking at on the screen?”

Another famous question we are often asked by our patients. And yes, we do know what we are looking at on the screen. We are required to know what all the normal anatomy looks like as well as what anything abnormal looks like. However, legally we cannot tell you what our thoughts are on your diagnosis. And I can assure you, after 9 years of being a registered sonographer, I’ve heard every possible attempt at convincing me to tell my patients what I think their outcome is going to be….and I still refuse to tell them. Why do I refuse? Because despite how I may have made it sound so far, the field of sonography is truly one of the most rewarding careers on the planet and that makes me want to do anything and everything I can to keep my credentials! Only the ordering physician can give you results and advice on treatment.

So what else do we look at using ultrasound?

As a registered sonographer who has gone through a typical general sonography program, I can tell you that as an ultrasound student you must acquire a complete and thorough understanding of all the different organs throughout the human body. You must also learn how to obtain very clear images of these organs and how to manipulate all those crazy looking buttons on that giant ultrasound machine! The typical organs you learn to image includes but is not limited to: carotid arteries, the thyroid gland, the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, spleen, kidneys, bile ducts, aorta, inferior vena cava, uterus, ovaries, appendix, breast, scrotum (yes! I said scrotum!), prostate, all the veins and arteries of the arms and legs, pediatric hips, spine and brain, the list goes on and on! You can also get trained in how to scan the heart (echocardiography) and even the muscles of the body as well. You must become an expert on said organs and know how to find even the tiniest bit of pathology that can be found with each of them.

When compared to all other imaging modalities like X-ray, CT, MRI, ultrasound is the most user dependent. What does that mean? That means you really must know your stuff! We must know how to find anything and everything that can go wrong with the area of the body we are instructed to look at and be able to take a very clear image of it. If we don’t take a picture of something (like a cancer for example), or it’s not a perfectly clear image based on a thorough understanding of the physics of how the machine works, the doctors may never even know it is there.

Do you find cancers [using ultrasound]?

Yes, we find cancers (Although, I must add that the only way to prove something is a cancer is by having a biopsy done). We also find all sorts of other life-threatening conditions like blood clots in the arms and legs (Deep Vein Thrombosis), aneurysms, placental abruptions (where the placenta becomes detached from the wall of the uterus), arterial blockages, the list goes on. It sounds like it would be a very depressing career. Yes, some days are particularly rough. Especially the days when you place your ultrasound probe down on a mother’s belly and see that the baby’s heart is no longer beating, or that something is wrong with the baby’s brain, or when that sweet elderly woman is going on and on about her precious grandchildren you are sitting there documenting what appears to be an aggressive cancer in her breast. Those days come more often than we as sonographers like to talk about, but that’s the reality of our job.

So, what is the rewarding part [of being a sonographer]?

For me it is knowing that I caught someone’s cancer before it was too late, or that I found an aortic aneurysm before it got to the point of rupturing- therefore saving that patient’s life. For me it is seeing that smile on a mother’s face when you get to tell her the gender of her baby after she suffered from multiple miscarriages. The biggest reward for me is all the patients over my career who have told me I touched their life in one way or another. Whether it was by saving their life or simply by cheering them up with funny stories while performing their study during a time that was very scary for them. So, while ultrasound is a very intense field with a lot of responsibility, yes, there are days where it is definitely fun! But most importantly it is a job that will give you a sense of pride like you have never felt before. You will literally save lives daily! Just please, never insult a sonographer by saying what an “easy” or “fun” job they must have by just looking at babies all day. There is definitely more to it than that.

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Colorado Springs, CO 80934-6240
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