The Evolving World of Sonography: Is it for you?
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see with sound? The sonography profession requires a special skillset and passion. You bring the passion and the instructors at Stautzenberger will help you develop the skillset through hands-on experience both in-house and in clinicals. Our community outreach coordinator sat down with the program directors Dr. Renato Agustin to find out more about what it takes to succeed in the sonography profession.
Q1: The program at Stautzenberger is a 2-year associate degree. What kind of characteristics does a good sonography student have?
P: They are willing to put in the time to study and have excitement for learning something new. I think when they come in excited, it makes it easier to instruct them.
A: They should be able to prioritize certain things in their lives, and understand that studying is more important than other things. They must be dedicated. They need to be resilient and persistent.
We’re in a medical hub here in the Cleveland-Akron area, and we’re always building relationships with local hospitals and various medical centers. Where do students complete their clinicals now?
A: As far as DMS -- Because of competencies the students need to have, the clinicals are rotating. For abdominal clinicals, our students go to University Hospitals, Lake Health and Mercy. For obstetrics, students can get experience with Summa Hospitals plus a couple mobile units.
P: University health systems, Summa health systems, Lake Health systems. We also have Aultman in Canton and Mercy Medical Center in Canton. Then we also have a few doctors’ offices in Lake County.
Q2: Our lab has several types of ultrasound machines so that our students are prepared for any kind of machine in the field. How much hands-on practice do students have before getting into clinicals?
P: Students start their lab in quarter three and they will have a lab class for three quarters. Every quarter they will have a lab class which consists of four hours per week. So that’s quite a bit of hands-on experience. Then we have open lab where they can come in and practice on Saturdays or throughout the week when the lab is not in use. They can come in and scan. Before the student starts the externship, they are evaluated to make sure that they have the skills to go out there and be confident in the field as a sonographer. We do have final scan-outs where they’re graded to the point of whether you have the skills needed to be a sonographer. Then we’ll send you out on your externships.
A: Same for DMS, they have three quarters that include lab scanning. They are require to do four and half hours of lab ever week. This should be enough lab hours for students to feel comfortable in clinicals.
Q3: Does anything ever come out of an externship or clinical for students?
P: When UH has an opening in the cardiac wing, the manager calls me to ask if students who have worked there for an externship have been hired anywhere yet. Because they know them and they like them. So when opportunities arise they do look back at their externs and see who they liked.
A: That is why whatever the students do at the clinicals is very important in getting a job. Even if you pass all of your exams and get straight A’s, I am not going to hire you if I don’t enjoy working with you. I can hire someone who is average and train him or her. At the other schools where I worked, we had a goal of 20% to get students jobs at the externship sites. I think this is a good goal to have.
Q4: If you look on bls.gov, you’ll see that the sonography field is trending 17% for approximately the next decade. Would you say it’s hard to find a job in sonography?
A: Overall, it depends. It can be easy, it can be hard… it depends on the student. So we tell them to practice all the time so that when they get an interview they pass with flying colors, they pass their registry. I tell my students: the first job you get, pick it up. That will keep you in practice and give you experience. You can always look for another job while you are working. You can start looking while in school, too. There is no licensure required to practice sonography. There is nothing preventing them from getting the job. When they are done with school, they must be prepared to do everything that they can possibly do to get ahead in the market. They should pass the registry. They should have the skills, and be willing to work anywhere… not just Cleveland or Ohio.
P: I also think that something that is key is getting registered as soon as you can. Because that will give you a leg up on the competition. The opportunities outside of Cleveland are better, but there are still opportunities here. Students may start out at a part-time or PRN, a couple PRNs (as needed) to kind of get their foot in the door and work their way up to a full-time position. What I tell students is: if you do that, you are making a better wage than you would be making at your old job. So that makes up for having a smaller amount of hours. It’s not impossible to find a job here. And our students can work with career services at the college, too. You get what you put into it. I think that is key. The ones that want to work and want to succeed, those are the ones that do. The ones that want to sit back and wait for a job to fall in their lap, they’re probably still waiting.
Q5: Most people know that you can take an ultrasound of a baby in utero, but not everyone knows that they can also scan virtually every organ in the human body. Is there anything that can’t be scanned through ultrasound?
A: Bones. And we can’t scan the brain. Well, we can scan a baby’s brain but not an adult’s.
P: We can scan the vasculatures of the brain with the trans-cranial Doppler where we can see the blood flow in the brain. But as far as brain tissue, we don’t scan that. As far as organs, we can scan all except the brain. Even now with muscular-skeletal ultrasound, we’ll scan muscles, tendons and ligaments.
A: The technology is improving every year. There were organs we couldn’t scan before, and now we can – like the appendix.
P: I’ve seen some studies where they’re scanning nerve bundles.
A: Yes. And diagnostic sonography is now being used for therapeutic applications also.
P: Right, it’s just at a different frequency.
Q6: What’s a question that you get a lot as a program director, and how do you answer it?
P: Sometimes I get the question, “what does cardiac ultrasound do?” So I explain the different types of testing we do and what’s covered in our program. I think cardiac ultrasound is not as well-known as general. Most people have had ultrasounds if they’ve had babies. Not many people have had ultrasounds of their heart unless they’ve had issues. I get a lot of people who are interested in my program because they went with a loved one to get this test and they saw what it was about and now they’re interested in it. When I get a student like that, when I know that they have a true passion for this, those are the ones who turn out to be the best students.
Another question I get every time is, “are there more opportunities for a diagnostic medical sonographer or cardiovascular sonographer?” And the answer is: no, they are the same. We just work in different areas. We all can work in hospital. Dr. Agustin’s students can work in OBGYNs’ offices, where my students can work in cardiologists’ offices. We can work as an EKG-tech, or a vascular tech… so the number of opportunities are the same, they’re just different. They pay relatively the same. So really it comes down to what your passion is and what you will be excited to learn about.
Q7: We know that sonography is gaining popularity because it’s non-invasive, cost-efficient and does not emit radiation. What is something you would tell someone who is considering sonography as a career?
A: They cannot go wrong with sonography. Just go to the website and do some research. Sonography is a technology that is continuously evolving and growing. The better the technology, the more applications. Sonography is expanding to so many areas right now. This job is never boring.
P: Just because you graduate, you never stop learning in this field. You’re going to need to keep up with new technologies and studies that are going on, that can change how we diagnose. I like that about sonography. There is always something new… an interesting article, a case study. It’s something that you continuously learn.
A: Think about 30 years ago. The pay rate has gone up since then, and it’s because sonographers have more responsibilities. The programs have become longer, from 6 months to an associate degree. And it’s because they have to know more. You cannot go wrong with sonography if you like to work in the medical field. It’s never boring.
With new technology emerging annually, one could speculate that the possibilities on what the future holds for sonography capabilities is virtually endless. If you are passionate about exciting new technology, interacting with patients, and the medical field, sonography may be a career to consider. Contact Stautzenberger College’s Brecksville Campus to set up a tour of the lab and to meet with the program director of your choice at 440-838-1999.
*https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm (retrieved 3/18/2019)
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