So, you want to be an echocardiographer? Congratulations, you have
made a wise choice. The field is rapidly expanding with new technologies
like harmonic imaging, digital archiving, 3D echocardiography, contrast
echocardiography, and interventional ultrasound.
Even more exciting is that the skills you will obtain aren't just limited to the hospital setting.
There are opportunities for you to become a:
- Sports Medicine Specialist
- Corporate Clinical Specialist
- Clinical Instructor for Colleges and Universities
- Emergency Medical Specialist
- Interventional Cardiac Cath and EP Lab Sonographer
- Adventure Medical Specialist
- Business Owner, and even a
- NASA Mission Specialist
being adopted in every state, the field is experiencing a shortage
of qualified echocardiographers. The salaries may reach $50,000
to start based on region and the program that you attend. This makes
selecting a quality program an important step in starting your career
in echocardiography. You should know of some do's and don'ts in
selecting the best school for you.
The following steps will help you in finding the right school for
you. You should make a plan at least a year in advance in order
to have everything come together. Many schools accept applications
once or twice a year, so give yourself time to apply and to go through
the acceptance process that most schools employ.
1. Do a Self-Evaluation
Ask yourself questions like:
- Am I ready to devote the necessary
time to complete the program?
- Do I have the financial resources
to attend a program full-time?
- How will I support myself during
the training period?
- Will I be able to study and hold a part-time
job if necessary?
- Am I right for this job?
These questions should always be addressed when you decide to return to school.
local hospital or doctors office to see if you might sit in on a
procedure. Some sites do not allow non-technical personnel to be
in the exam room.
If not, you might ask them if a staff echocardiographer
could take a few minutes to show you the area and machine. This
will help you see the daily grind.
2. Choose the Locale
This step is a primary concern. You might have to relocate to attend
the program of choice, so determine how far you are willing to move.
Family matters and support are important aspects of attending school.
Discuss options with your family if they are to relocate with you.
Consider job opportunities open for any family members that will
be moving with you. Also, consider the cost of living in the area
and make budgetary adjustments.
Determine the Specialty
Formal training in the field is mostly offered in 2 categories; Cardiovascular
Technology and Diagnostic Medical Sonography.
is specialization in the area of cardiac diagnostics which includes
EKG, Holter monitoring (ambulatory monitoring), stress testing,
cardiac cath and interventions, and echocardiography.
Diagnostic Medical Sonography is specialization
in a diagnostic technique utilizing ultrasound to include training
in adbomen, small parts, OB/GYN, vascular, and cardiac sonography.
Determining your selection is based on what you find interesting
and what areas you want cross-training in.
Keep in mind where you
want to go after you graduate from your program.
Some states favor
one category over another in the practice of echocardiography depending
on the legislation in force. Choose the specialy that fits your
Develop a Budget
Create a budget for the school period. Account for school costs,
books, uniforms, computers (required in some programs), registry
and graduation expenses. Ask the program director for a complete
list of fees and information for financial aid. If you are moving
out of state, be sure to find out what the legal residency of the
state is to apply for financial aid.
Choose the School
Select a school that fits into your overall plan. Take time to visit
the school and some of their clinical sites. Note the type of equipment
they have available for training in the classroom and the clinic.
Talk to clinical instructors about the program and how they feel
about the quality of the students passing through on their clinical
rotations. A good program has a good staff and clinical instructors
that support each other.
Evaluate the program on a harmonious relationship
between the school and clinical sites.
Note the qualifications of
the clinical instructors:
- are they registered?
- What is the student:instructor
ratio? A good program has a near 1:1 ratio in the early stages of
- What credentials will you be graduating with?
Some programs qualify you to take national registry exams during
- Will you receive additional credentials like advanced
cardiac life support or basic cardiac life support instructor? Multiple
credentials make you more marketable.
Choose to evaluate 3 or 4
programs to determine the best opportunity to get quality training.
Remember: echocardiography programs, much like the nation's top
universities, have reputations, too. Attending a highly recognized
program may mean higher starting salaries.
Do a Background Check
Get the names and phone numbers of current and past students from
the program. Talk to them in person or give them a call.
the instructors, program directors and the clinical sites. Are they
satisfied with the training? Did the program prepare them for their
current position? Did the program assist in getting employment?
Would they recommend the program?
Remember, you may get a few critical
comments but evaluate the overall report, students can be "bad
apples", too. Make sure that you receive recommendations from
students, graduates, and instructors before sending in your application.
Many people have been burnt by enrolling into a program that has
no track record of successful graduates. Investigate each program
7. Make Your Application
Send in your application and background to the program director.
Include a resume and a cover letter on how your previous experience
can be a benefit to you in the field of patient care and diagnostics.
Interpersonal skills can be a benefit in patient care, so include
any skills in dealing with the public.
Also, having completed some
courses in your core curriculum makes you better prepared and cuts
down on the load that you might have. If you have not taken college
level algebra, biology, chemistry, english, and other pre-requisites,
ask the program director for recommendations in completing some
core curricula to increase your chances of being selected.
Prepare for Your Interview
Many programs require a pre-selection interview with the program
director and staff. The interview helps in determining if you qualify
for attending the program.
When contacted for an interview:
- Practice your interview skills, use family and friends to ask you interview questions to get comfortable,
- Arrive early,
- Be prepared to take adequate time off
for the meeting and a tour of the facility and
- Take time to ask prepared questions.
Follow up by mailing a thank you card to the program director and
staff for taking the time to see you.
Remember: the interview is
also for you to evaluate the program and staff. Ask plenty of questions,
it demonstrates your sincerity in making the most out of your education.
The field is lucrative and training programs are not plentiful.
Investigation is the only way you might avoid being taken by an
For example, in Orlando, FL, an ad was
placed in the newspaper about a program accepting new students.
The cost was approximately $13,000 for the 8 months.
qualified clinical sites and ties with area hospitals. The students
were allowed only to scan each other and they used older ultrasound
equipment in the strip mall location.
The students were greeted
one morning with news that their instructor was not a qualified
echocardiographer but an ex-policeman from Dade County. The ex-officer
had done the same scam in Jacksonville and St. Augustine.
was traced back and determined that it was stolen from offices and
departments in Jacksonville.
The students lost their investment
and were without recourse in getting their tuition returned. The
name of the school was surreptitiously taken from a program in Florida
that has been teaching ultrasound for 26 years.
The moral of this
story is to choose programs that have a history in the area, have
good recommendations, and have applied for accreditation where applicable.
Use these steps as a starting point to choosing a program. They
will help you make sure that you are not a victim of fraud. There
are many "fly by night" programs around so attend an accredited
program when possible.
Understand that you may have to spend a year
getting some core curriculum out of the way to better your chances
of acceptance and don't give up.
Visit websites to get information
about the program and the procedures you will be performing prior
to contacting the program director.
are links that will help you prepare for an echo program.
We hope this helps and we wish you good