Tips: How To Choose The Right Cardiovascular School For You

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

With regulations 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.

Do Your Homework
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.

Visit your 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.

3. Determine the Specialty
Formal training in the field is mostly offered in 2 categories; Cardiovascular Technology and Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

Cardiovascular Technology 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 interests.

4. 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.

5. 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 clinical training.
  • What credentials will you be graduating with? Some programs qualify you to take national registry exams during the program.
  • 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.

6. 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.

Ask about 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 thoroughly.

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.

8. 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,
  • Dress appropriately,
  • 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 unscrupulous opportunist.

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.

It guaranteed 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.

The equipment 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.

Below are links that will help you prepare for an echo program.

Job Descriptions
Accredited Programs
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Average Salaries
Occupation Predictions
American Society of Echocardiography
News and Programs
American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonography
Cardiovascular Credentialing International
Relocation Wizard
Cost of Living Analysis
Renting Information
Homes and Apartment Listings

We hope this helps and we wish you good luck!



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