Cardiac Sonographer

Diagnostic imaging is critical for physicians to be able to diagnose and treat patients. These non-invasive procedures give doctors an inside view without subjecting patients to painful exploratory surgeries. Cardiac sonographers are essential diagnostic medical imaging staff as the images they gather inform physicians on how well, or poorly, a patient’s heart is functioning.

Performing cardiac sonograms requires training and education. To work in this field, professionals must complete a cardiac sonography education program. These programs are offered at the associate, bachelor’s, or certificate level. As part of a program, students will complete didactic coursework as well as intensive clinical rotations to gain hands-on skills. Admission to many of these programs is very competitive, so candidates will need to present robust applications with high GPAs, good recommendations, and shadowing experiences in order to stand out.

Cardiac sonographers’ job outlook is good, with an anticipated 17 percent increase in diagnostic medical sonographers’ jobs between 2019 and 2029 (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020). This increase is due in large part to an aging population with higher medical needs.

Cardiac sonographers certified by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) have the highest employability as certification demonstrates competency in this field. On average, diagnostic medical sonographers earn $73,200 per year, according to the BLS.

Below is a guide on becoming a cardiac sonographer, including top online and on-campus programs, typical job duties, and alternative careers.

Cardiac Sonographer Specializations & Degree Types

Echocardiography takes specialized education and training. Aspiring cardiac sonographers must complete a certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree in cardiac sonography or diagnostic medical sonography.

Students who complete a diagnostic medical sonography program will need additional education, clinical internships, and experience in cardiac sonography in order to move into the specialization. Certificate programs typically require candidates to have already completed an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. 

Admissions Requirements for Cardiac Sonographer Programs

Many cardiac sonography programs are competitive. Meeting the minimum admission requirements may often not be enough to gain entrance to these programs, so applicants should strive to exceed them to the best of their abilities. Typical requirements for associate degree programs include prerequisite coursework, a high school diploma, a set number of hours observing sonography in a professional setting, letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose.

Bachelor’s degrees, specifically degree completion programs, have similar requirements but may also ask students to complete all their general education coursework in addition to prerequisites prior to admission. Candidates applying to certificate programs typically must already hold a bachelor’s or associate’s in addition to having completed prerequisite coursework and sometimes work experience.

Cardiac Sonographer Program Accreditation

Ensuring a cardiac sonography program is accredited is a crucial step all students must take. Accreditation ensures that the program meets minimum standards of quality in curriculum, faculty, and facilities. Also, attending an accredited program can be the quickest path towards certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI).

The primary accrediting body for cardiac sonography programs is the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). CAAHEP accredited schools based on recommendations from the Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC-DMS). Both organizations ensure that accredited programs adhere to the highest standards of quality for cardiac sonography education.

On-Campus Cardiac Sonographer Degree Programs

Loma Linda University – School of Allied Health Professions

The certificate in cardiac sonography offered at Loma Linda University School of Allied Health Professions is an in-depth heart assessment program. Students will gain skills in patient care, normal and abnormal heart anatomy, and hemodynamics. To graduate from this program, students must pass the  ARDMS Standard Physics and Instrumentation (SPI) exam.

Given that this is a certificate program, applicants must complete a rigorous set of prerequisite coursework to enroll in this program. Applicants must already hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in any field and complete classes in anatomy, medical terminology, physics, algebra, and patient care methods in the past five years. Candidates must also have eight hours of clinical observations.

  • Location: Loma Linda, CA
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $18,390 per year

Johns Hopkins Hospital – School of Cardiac Sonography

Students in the cardiac sonography training program at the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Cardiac Sonography echocardiography program learn the necessary skills to become entry-level cardiac sonographers. In addition to didactic coursework, students will complete clinical lab experiences in the Johns Hopkins Echocardiography Lab. This program is intensive, and students are required to be in class or the lab eight hours a day, five days a week.

Upon completion of this program, graduates are eligible to sit for either the ARDMS or the CCI exam. Applicants to this program must already hold at least an associate degree in an allied health career and have completed prerequisite coursework in algebra, anatomy, medical terminology, physics, and speech. This program is very competitive, so previous patient experience, a high GPA, and shadowing experiences can improve admission chances.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: 14 months
  • Accreditation:  Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $17,500 for the entire program

Mayo Clinic – College of Medicine & Science

The echocardiography program at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine & Science can be completed in either Minnesota or Arizona. It’s offered as a stand-alone certificate or as part of a bachelor’s degree. The materials students learn in the lecture classes are immediately applied in clinical experiences and scan labs, allowing students to cement their education with practical experience. In fact, students begin working with patients just four weeks after starting their program. 

While the certificate program can be completed in 21 months, an affiliated bachelor’s degree program can take longer. If students want to earn the certificate, they must already hold an associate degree in an allied health field and have completed prerequisite coursework. For the bachelor’s program, students must concurrently enroll in a bachelor’s in health sciences at either Arizona State University, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Rochester, or the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

  • Location: Rochester, Minnesota,  Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $36,285 for the entire program

University of Oklahoma – College of Allied Health

The University of Oklahoma College of Allied Health offers a bachelor’s of science in medical imaging and radiation sciences, focusing on sonography. This comprehensive program includes neurosonography, abdominal sonography, obstetrical and pelvic sonography, echocardiography, and vascular technology. Since this program holds accreditation in general, vascular, and cardiac sonography, students can earn certification in any of these three areas. 

To earn admission to this program, students must first complete 64 semester credits in general education and prerequisites. These classes can be complete at OU or another accredited institution. Outstanding high school students can apply for early admission when applying to begin their bachelor’s degree program. They must have exceptional grades, complete an interview with a supervisor, and have over 24 hours of volunteer experience in a health care setting.

  • Location: Oklahoma City, OK 
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $512.70 per credit

University of Arkansas for Medical Science – College of Health Professions

The bachelor’s of science in diagnostic medical sonography at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science College of Health Professions can offer students more advancement and education opportunities than completing an associate’s degree. This full-time program features a small cohort of only 13 students. This intimate education setting allows students to receive frequent one-on-one help from instructors as well as develop meaningful peer relationships. 

Besides the 47 credits of prerequisite and general education courses, students must complete 70 credits of professional coursework in sonography. This program offers concentrations in either vascular sonography or adult echocardiography. For the past three years, 100 percent of the graduates who took the ARDMS adult echocardiography exam passed. Also, 100 percent of graduates have been employed in the field within 12 months of graduation in the same time period.  

  • Location: Little Rock, AR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $572 per credit

Online or Hybrid Cardiac Sonographer Degree Programs

Jackson College

Jackson College offers an online associate’s of science (AS) in cardiac sonography. Students complete online classes to develop an in-depth understanding of cardiac anatomy, hemodynamics, and physiology to obtain high-quality cardiac imaging. A total of 1,136 supervised clinical hours are required as part of this program. Students may complete these hours with an approved clinical education affiliate.

To enroll in this program, students must be admitted to Jackson College and complete prerequisite coursework in algebra, medical terminology, and biology. Most prerequisites can be completed entirely online or in a hybrid format for labs. A criminal background check and drug screen are required for admission. Only 25 students are admitted to this program each year.  

  • Location: Jackson County, MI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $326.91 per credit 

Oregon Institute of Technology

The online bachelor’s of science (BS) in echocardiography at the Oregon Institute of Technology is a degree completion program for professionals already working in sonography. This two-year program allows registered cardiac sonographers the opportunity to further their education and training without having to relocate and while still working. Earning a bachelor’s degree in echocardiography can help with advancement opportunities, job applications, graduate school admissions, and higher certifications. 

One requirement for this program is that students must be employed full-time in an echocardiography laboratory to complete the clinical externship credits.  Other admission requirements include holding a cardiac sonography certification from either ARDMS or CCI, prerequisite coursework, and a completed online application. Tuition is one low rate for all students, whether in-state or not.  

  • Location: Klamath Falls, OR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $270 per credit 

State Fair Community College

The online associate of applied science (AAS) in diagnostic medical sonography at State Fair Community College offers a cardiac specialization. This program can be completed in 22 months, and coursework is offered in a hybrid format. Most courses are offered online, but students must attend in person for scanning labs and clinical internships. This program meets the requirements for ARDMS and CCI cardiac sonography certification. 

Admission to this program is extremely competitive, so students must apply to both State Fair Community College and directly to the diagnostic medical sonography program. Admission requirements include completing observation hours in a diagnostic medical sonography clinic, an admission essay, prerequisite coursework, and all official college transcripts. 

  • Location: Sedalia, MO
  • Duration: 22 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) 
  • Tuition: $487 per credit 

Washburn University

With over 70 years of ultrasound education experience, the diagnostic medical sonography certificate with a cardiac emphasis at Washburn University is an excellent choice for aspiring cardiac sonographers. All classroom-based coursework is offered online, while clinical experiences are completed at a clinic or hospital near the student. Graduates are eligible to sit for either the ARDMS or CCI cardiac sonography certification. 

As with most sonography programs, admission to the program at Washburn is competitive. Applicants must complete an associate degree in an allied health career with a clinical rotation component as well as expensive prerequisite coursework. Other required application documents include two letters of recommendation, official transcripts, cover letter, resume, answers to the narrative questions, and an observation evaluation of a four-hour sonography shadowing. 

  • Location: Topeka, KS
  • Duration: 12 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $15,804.40 for the entire program

Misericordia University

Students can complete a hybrid bachelor’s of science (BS) in diagnostic medical sonography at Misericordia University in four years. Advanced coursework can be completed to be eligible for certification in cardiac sonography. 

The core curriculum is taught online, while sonography courses are taught primarily on select on-campus weekends. In the past three years, 100 percent of students who took the ARDMS sonography physics and instrumentation exam passed. 

The first two years of this program consist of core coursework and prerequisite classes in math, physics, anatomy, and medical terminology. The third and fourth years of this program are the professional courses in sonography and clinical rotations. Aspiring cardiac sonographers can choose cardiac-based courses for their electives. A certificate program can be completed in 18 months for students who already hold a bachelor’s, associate’s, or prerequisite coursework. 

  • Location: Dallas, PA 
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $535 per credit

How Long Does it Take to Become a Cardiac Sonographer?

Depending on which education path a cardiac sonographer chooses to complete, it can take between two to four years or more of education post-high school in order to enter this career.

How To Become a Cardiac Sonographer- Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Most cardiac sonography programs require applicants to hold at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Completing high school demonstrates a dedication to completing an educational program as well as obtaining a minimum level of education. 

Aspiring cardiac sonographers should focus on classes such as math, science, anatomy, and social sciences in order to give them the foundation they need to succeed in a cardiac sonography program. 

Step 2: Complete Cardiac Sonographer Education (Two to Five Years) 

Cardiac sonography programs are offered at the associate’s, bachelor’s, and certificate level. Associate’s degrees take two years to complete, while bachelor’s degrees typically take four years. Certificate programs generally require applicants to have completed an associate’s, bachelor’s, or extensive prerequisite coursework and can be completed in as little as a year. 

Step 3: Obtain Entry Level Cardiac Sonographer Work Experience (Optional, One to Two Years)

Upon completion of a cardiac sonography program, professionals in this field are prepared for entry-level work. Often, entry-level work can be required for certification, so cardiac sonographers should carefully document all their hours and procedures. 

Step 4: Earn a Cardiac Sonographer Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Certification as a cardiac sonographer is voluntary, albeit required by many employers and an industry standard. The two primary certification agencies for cardiac sonographers are the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). 

Step 5: Obtain a Cardiac Sonographer State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

As of early 2021, only New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon require sonographers to obtain licensure. Requirements vary by state, so candidates should check with their local board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications.

What Do Cardiac Sonographers Do?

Cardiac sonographers work primarily in hospitals, although they can also be employed in diagnostics labs, outpatient clinics, and physicians’ offices. Typical day-to-day duties include:

  • Taking patient medical history before performing a procedure
  • Explaining procedures to patients and answering any questions they may have
  • Performing cardiac sonograms per doctor’s orders
  • Maintaining sonography equipment
  • Reviewing images obtained for quality and ensuring the necessary areas are covered
  • Identifying normal and abnormal images
  • Summarizing findings and writing reports for physicians
  • Maintaining patient records

Cardiac Sonographer Certifications & Licensure

Certification for cardiac sonographers is optional, although many employers require it, and most professionals in the field hold at least some level of certification. Certification demonstrates to employers that the candidate has a high level of education, training, and competency in cardiac sonography.

The two primary certification bodies are the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). Cardiac sonographers earn the Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS) designation through the ARDMS and either the Registered Cardiac Sonographer (RCS) or the Registered Congenital Cardiac Sonographer (RCCS) through CCI. 

Cardiac sonographers are only required to obtain state licensure in New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon. Requirements vary by state but can include education, testing, background checks, and drug screening.  

For example, in New Mexico, the requirements are:

  • Submit a completed application
  • Pay a $110 application fee
  • Hold a CCI or ARDMS cardiac sonography certificate
  • Official state or federal identification

How Much Do Cardiac Sonographers Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), cardiac sonographers are classified as diagnostic medical sonographers and earn $73,200 per year on average. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $50,760
  • 25th percentile: $59,110
  • 50th percentile (median): $71,410
  • 75th percentile: $84,300
  • 90th percentile: $99,840

Cardiac Sonographer Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as a cardiac sonographer. 

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Diagnostic medical sonographers take images of patients’ bodies and organs using sonograms or ultrasound technology. They can image all parts of the body, including the abdomen, limbs, breasts, and more. Some may specialize in working with specialized patient populations such as children or the elderly. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS) or Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)

MRI Technician

MRI technicians use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology to obtain diagnostic images of patients. These images aid physicians in diagnosing the patient’s conditions. Some MRI technicians may even inject patients with dyes in order to obtain contrasting images. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT)

Nuclear Medicine Technologist

Nuclear medicine technologists administer radioactive medications for imaging and therapeutic purposes. A physician must prescribe the medication, but the nuclear medicine technologist is responsible for ensuring the proper doses are administered and monitors patients for any reactions. 

  • Typical Education: Associate’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization:  American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and the Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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