Meet a Real Sonographer
Name: Ruben Martinez
Education: Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences, Associate of Science degree in diagnostic medical sonography
The Job: After working at Florida Hospital as a professional sonographer, Ruben began teaching cardiovascular ultrasound at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences. So he’s found his degree to be quite flexible.While working in the hospital, Ruben took eight to 10 sonographs a day for a variety of patients, including outpatients, intensive-care unit patients, and emergency room patients.Then Ruben had to analyze the images for signs of abnormality and discuss them with the doctor. Afterward the doctor would make a diagnosis.Taking sonographs that impacted a patient’s life was demanding, and Ruben has found the classroom no less challenging. Now, instead of interacting directly with patients, Ruben is teaching students how they can be accomplished sonographers.Just as he dealt with a wide range of patients, he now works with everyone from the experienced medical professional earning an extra degree to the 18-year-old student straight out of high school.
Words to Live by “Being a Christian makes a complete difference in how I treat patients and how I teach students. In the health-care field, if you don’t have hope, it’s hard to give hope to others.”
Sonography for you?
Consider Sonography as a college major if you're crazy about:
•compassion (health care is not for those who just want the money)
•physiology (take a different perspective on the human body!)
•patience (you’ll be in contact with all sorts of personalities)
•technical equipment (these are cutting-edge machines)
Avoid Sonography as a college major if you get nauseated by:
•the hospital setting (there’s no getting away from this)
•contact with blood and fluids (it’s not usual, but certainly a possibility)
•redundancy (there may be days when you’re sick of taking sonographs)
•hiding your reactions (you might be surprised by what you see on the sonography screen)
|"Right there," said my friend Mike, pointing to a photocopy of his wife’s ultrasound. “That’s where his head is.”
“There?” I asked. I touched a whirl of white that could possibly be the head of a fetus. “Is that it?”
“No, that’s his leg.”
“His leg?” I squinted my eyes. I was perplexed at the notion of strange white waves representing a human being.
But Mike, who’s a fellow writer and has no background in medicine, was quite adept at interpreting the hazy film. Perhaps when the ultrasound is of your own son, it’s easier to read.
“You see,” Mike tried to explain again. “This is actually just a slice of the baby.”
Fortunately, for those of us who are visually impaired when it comes to reading people by the slice, there are specially trained diagnostic medical sonographers.
Sonography is a noninvasive (this means nothing gets poked under your skin) method of visualizing soft structures in the body. Using special camera equipment, high-frequency sound waves called ultrasound are sent into the body. The waves that are bounced back produce an image—one slice of the area at a time.
Sound amazing? Well, it really is. And while most everyone’s heard of sonography being used for tracking the well-being of a fetus, not everyone realizes that sonography is used in more medical areas than just obstetrics. Sonography is used to study organs and can detect all sorts of abnormalities in the body, including tumors and blood clots.
So why am I pontificating on the wonders of diagnostic medical sonography? Well, surprise—it’s a college major. And for those of you who aren’t too keen on long, drawn-out degrees, this one requires only two years of education before you begin a rewarding career.
Meet Cindie Moncrief, a second-year diagnostic medical sonography student at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences in Orlando, Florida. She’s almost finished with her degree, and she has nothing but cheers for her major.
On Course: How did you decide this was something you wanted to go into?
Cindie: Actually, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I asked a friend for advice. She mentioned sonography, so I checked into it. And the more I checked into it, the more it seemed like a good field.
OC: What was it that caught your eye?
Cindie: I’m a people person. And in this career you deal with people every day. You serve the patients—you not only take the tests for them, but help them feel comfortable.
There’s a reason the patients are having the test done. So they’re scared, because something may be wrong. The patients always have a lot of questions about what I’m doing and what we’re looking at. As a sonographer, I calm them by explaining the process.
OC: Can you explain what sonographers do?
Cindie: Sonographers take exams of different parts of the body. At my school there are two divisions in sonography: OB-GYN/abdominal and cardiovascular. I’m specialized in the cardiovascular division. So it’s my job to get a picture—a reflected image—of whatever the transducer, a hand-held instrument, is going over. We then use these images to see if everything is functioning correctly.
Since the pictures I take are actually a video, we watch it like a movie. We can see if the blood is flowing correctly through the heart valves or whether there’s plaque buildup in a vessel or a clot in a vein.
OC: Were the sonographs hard to read at first?
Cindie: Yes. People think of the heart in a different way than it really is. It sits at an angle, and everyone’s heart lies in their body differently—lower, higher, vertical, horizontal. So it’s challenging to learn how to turn the probe to get the best picture. But once you figure out the anatomy, it’s a lot easier.
OC: Are your classes real hands-on and practical?
Cindie: We have classes twice a week, and the rest of the time we go to clinical sites and do sonographs under supervision.
As for my classroom courses, we study anatomy. For example, I took an echocardiography class. All we did was go over the heart—the anatomy, blood flow, vessels, diseases. Then I took a vascular class; it deals with the veins, the arteries, where they are, and what causes diseases.
OC: After two years of study, do you have to have any additional schooling?
Cindie: When you graduate with your associate degree, you’re eligible to take the registry (the national examination offered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers), which is like taking boards for nurses and doctors. All you have to do is pass it once, and then you’re certified and good to go.
Being registered isn’t required at all places, but more hospitals and doctors’ offices are expecting it. When I get out of school, I already have a job, but I have to take my registry within the next year.
OC: So the rumors I hear about sonographers being in demand must be true.
Cindie: I know there are plenty of jobs. Sonographers are always needed in hospitals and doctors’ offices.
OC: What kinds of subjects should a person considering sonography be good at?
Cindie: It’s a science degree, so there is some science involved. You’re expected to take a general physics class to help you understand how the sonography machine works. But you’re not expected to know that beforehand.
Also, you learn a lot of anatomy, so you’d better be OK with it. There are some other prerequisites for getting into the program, such as college algebra, biology, and English.
OC: What characteristics are ideal for sonography majors?
Cindie: You just have to be real compassionate. Your job is to not only take the pictures, but to make the patient feel at ease. I’ve seen everyone from elderly women to macho sports guys come in for a sonograph, and they’re all nervous. You have to be willing to go the extra mile to make them feel comfortable.
Also, you have to learn to have a poker face. While you’re giving the exam, the patients are looking at you to see if there’s something wrong. For example, if I see a tumor, I can’t tell the patient about it or let my face show that I see an abnormality. I’m allowed to only point out the anatomy of what we’re looking at. An actual diagnosis must be made by the doctor.
OC: Is there anything you dread about being a sonography major?
Cindie: The only bad thing is that it’s so intense. There’s so much studying to do that you can’t work while you’re in the program. But it’s for only two years in the span of your life, and it’s worth it.
OC: Do you see a relationship between your career choice and your spiritual life?
Cindie: I do. Because I see myself as a servant to these patients; it’s more than just a mundane job. And I believe that being a servant is a big part of what God asks us to do.
Personally, I feel called to this job. I asked God to show me what I should do, and the doors just opened in this direction. I stepped in, and it’s been great.