Now this comment came from an American, addressing the US ultrasound education and employment. And there are significant differences between the American system, and Canadian system (that I work in). But despite the many differences between the Canadian and American healthcare and education systems, there are commonalities that both are suffering from.
Problems with the North American Healthcare system
Wages are most certainly not being proportionally adjusted to match inflation. For example my last raise was 1.75%. But you can bet that what I pay for rent, gasoline, car insurance, groceries, prescription medication, and pretty much everything else has gone up by more than that in the last year. However, this is also occurring almost everywhere in the world, it is not unique to North America, but that doesn’t make it any easier to balance a budget.
The value in sonography
Sonographers are often the first to find invasive cancers, complex interrelated abnormalities, and genetic aberrations in unborn babies. It requires not only excellent concentration, memory and recall, but also hand-eye coordination and the interpersonal skills to be able to both assess and document pathologies, all while keeping patients calm and relaxed. Not to mention keeping yourself calm when seeing an advanced cancer in a sweet and cheerful patient who is chatting away with no idea that her life is about to be transformed by chemotherapy and surgery.
How sonography is done in the rest of the world
In most of the rest of the world however, the ultrasound technologist profession does not exist. Doctors (Sonologist or Radiologist), themselves perform sonography exams. The amount of knowledge, skill and regular upgrading of medical knowledge necessary to be a successful sonographer is massive, and very close to the knowledge needed to be a doctor in these specific fields. So much so, that most European and Asian countries didn’t see the benefit of training separate sonography techs for those roles. These countries require ultrasound exams to be done exclusively by physicians. (At a doctor’s salary.)
The reality is that for the complexity of our role, the financial compensation that we get is lacking. The healthcare profession in North America as a whole, is underfunded. In a time when doctors may only spend 3 minutes per patient, and prescription medicine profits investors more than the actual healing of disease, healthcare is something that we’re currently doing more for the good of humanity, than for the great salary.
So, yes, ultrasound techs do need all that education and experience, because peoples lives are on the line, but we should be compensated more. Based on my estimates, both healthcare workers in general, and sonography in particular, should be compensated 2-4x the amount that they’re currently receiving.
So, after learning all of this, why should anyone bother with becoming a sonographer?
My reasons for being a sonographer, despite all that
1. Ultrasound training is significantly shorter than becoming a medical doctor, while still being a career that saves lives, lets you spend one-on-one time with patients and cooperates with many other healthcare aspects in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. You can be constantly engaged in interesting work in a field that is highly valued in the medical system.
2. Sonography allows you to continue learning, and can be used as a doorway to other careers such as management. It also provides a way to travel and work in other countries where skills and responsibilities can be expanded (such as in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, the Caymen Islands or England) or just for the fun of traveling somewhere new. Specialization can be done in specific fields (such as cardiac, vascular, musculoskeletal, obstetrical), and into teaching (both in the clinical environment and formal educational institutions) as well as into research positions and technology careers as Application Specialists for the developers of ultrasound machines.
3. Ultrasound is still a very stable job in an economy with massive automation and uncertainty ahead. For example, the looming arrival of self-driving trucks will decimate the jobs of long distance truckers – 2 million drivers will lose their jobs in the US, and compared to that sonography looks great. Our population is aging and living longer than ever before. Healthcare and medicine will be in demand and will be full of innovation and growth.
The truth is, there are pros and cons to being a sonographer. Just as there are with Every. Single. Other. Career. But If you are aware of that and feel that the pros outweigh the cons, then you’ll have a great, though slightly imperfect, career ahead of you.
If you agree or disagree with me on any part of this article I would love to hear your viewpoint. Leave me a comment below.