Diagnostic medical sonographers visually reveal the inner workings of the human body. To create a sonogram, the sonographer places a transducer -- a device that converts one form of energy into another -- on the relevant body part of the patient. This transducer then fires high-frequency pulses of sound through the body, which bounce off organs, bones and muscles. The transducer then converts these "echoes" into a visual image of the internal body parts. Sonographers do not make diagnoses themselves; they supply physicians, surgeons and other medical personnel with the images -- either as hard copies or video images -- so that they can detect medical problems.
With wage data supplied by over 53,000 sonographers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was able to calculate the mean annual salary for the occupation -- $63,900, as of May 2010. This means an hourly wage of $31.20. Individuals within the highest-earning 10 percent achieve salaries of over $88,490, while their colleagues in the bottom 10 percent earn less than $44,900. The University of Utah states that the average yearly wage for an experienced sonographer is between $60,000 and $70,000.
A cross section of information from a variety of educational institutions offering training in diagnostic medical sonography reveals a general consensus on entry-level salaries for the role. For qualified practitioners with little or no experience, the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit quotes an average wage of $53,000, while Houston Community College put it at between $37,000 and $43,000. The Community College of Rhode Island puts the rate slightly higher, at between $54,000 and $60,000 per year, while Montgomery College in Maryland quotes figures of between $35,000 and $40,000.
Salary by Industry
Sonographers work across a wide variety of medical settings. The largest numbers, according to the bureau’s review, work in general medical and surgical hospitals. Practitioners within this sector receive a mean salary of $65,010. The second most populous sector is the offices of physicians, which have a reported annual mean of $64,750, while individuals engaged by medical and diagnostic laboratories earn a mean of $62,160. Higher salaries are available within academia -- colleges, universities and professional schools -- and outpatient care centers. These establishments are listed with respective yearly means of $72,570 and $70,440.
Salary by Location
The place in which a sonographer practices her profession will also affect the salary she receives. The bureau reports that, across all employment areas of the industry, a sonographer is likely to earn the best wages in Massachusetts, which has a mean of $80,000. Oregon is the nearest competitor, with a mean of $79,740, while Colorado and California, the next best-paying locations, have similar pay rates, at $77,880 and $77,260, respectively. At the opposite end of the scale, South Dakota is reported at $51,330, while Alabama has an annual mean of just $50,870.
Diagnostic medical sonography is a rapidly evolving technology that is increasingly being chosen by health care providers as their preferred method of internal imaging. This rise in application will be the main reason for employment growth for sonographers -- around 18 percent over the decade from 2008 to 2018, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates. Furthermore, a large number of practitioners are expected to retire in the coming years, and their positions will need to be filled. As a result, the bureau expects a favorable job market for qualified candidates, with demand outstripping supply. Hence, wage levels should stay very competitive, particularly for those sonographers willing to relocate in search of the best opportunities.
- University of Utah: Sonographer
- Montgomery College: Career Information Related to Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Community College of Rhode Island: Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Houston Community College: About Diagnostic Medical Sonography
- Bureau of Labor Statistics; Diagnostic Medical Sonographers; June 16, 2010
- Bureau of Labor Statistics; Occupational Employment and Wages – Diagnostic Medical Sonographers; May, 2010
- Henry Ford Hospital: Diagnostic Medical Sonography School
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