Accredited Online Diagnostic Medical Sonography Schools
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For aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers, it may come as a surprise that there’s a growing number of distance-based schools available in the field. In fact, an online degree in diagnostic medical sonography may be ideal for those who live in rural regions, have parenting responsibilities, want to keep their jobs, or have other conditions which prevent them from attending a traditional, on-campus program. It’s important to note that all aspiring medical sonographers will have some in-person component to their training due to the essentially hands-on nature of the discipline; that said, online medical sonography schools offer a variety of approved preceptor sites to accommodate students’ unique geographic, professional, and familial considerations.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) gives an elegant summary of the responsibilities in this healthcare profession: in short, diagnostic medical sonographers “operate special imaging equipment to create images or conduct tests,” which “help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions.” This equipment uses high-frequency sound waves (i.e., ultrasound) to produce images of internal organs, blood flow, and other physiological phenomena.
The BLS adds this is a fast-growing and lucrative profession. As proof of point, the BLS (Dec. 2015) reported that openings for diagnostic medical sonographers would swell 26 percent nationwide between 2014 and 2024, much more robust than the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that same decade (6.5 percent). Furthermore, the BLS (May 2016) reported that the 65,790 working sonographers in the US made an average annual salary of $71,750, substantially more than other occupations at a similar education level and credentialing. These skilled workers typically have at least an associate’s degree and professional certification through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS) or another organization prior to beginning work.
This guide explores what to expect from an online diagnostic sonography program, including the expected coursework, featured distance-based schools, and accreditation information.
What to Expect from an Online Diagnostic Medical Sonography Program
There are various factors to consider before applying to an online medical sonography program. First, online programs lack the traditional structure found within a classroom. As such, online students must be self-motivated as they do not have continual oversight from professors and other staff and may have little direct interaction with fellow students, apart from in virtual places. For some, this may prove a difficult environment in which to work; for others, however—especially those who are self-starting and effective autodidacts—an online program may be the best choice.
Furthermore, an online program may, in reality, be the only option for certain people. For example, those who have full-time employment or childcare responsibilities or those who don’t live close enough to a campus that offers classroom-based diagnostic medical sonography courses may find a flexible distance-based program better-suited to their needs.
Admissions Requirements – Online Diagnostic Medical Sonography Programs
Online diagnostic medical sonography programs, sometimes referred to as online DMS programs, have similar admissions procedures to on-campus programs and ask applicants to submit the following:
- Official transcripts from high school (or associate degree program) with proof of specific coursework
- A competitive GPA (e.g. >3.0)
- Test scores (e.g., TOEFL, SAT, ACT)
- Personal statement (500-600 words)
- Application fee
Please note that some programs may request a resume, letters of recommendation, proof of health insurance, a personal interview, or other application materials. Finally, while not common, some schools such as Washburn University require students to already possess an associate degree before being granted admission. Because admissions requirements are not the same across all schools, it is important to perform basic research and reach out to program administrators with any questions before making a final decision.
Here, it is also important to note that some schools may require students to work on the same schedule as the rest of the on-campus students, while others may allow students to complete their course work entirely on their own schedule. In addition, some programs have one or two start dates throughout the year, while others have rolling admissions allowing for students to begin working when they choose.
Curriculum & Specializations
While not all online diagnostic medical sonography programs will offer an identical curriculum, students in these programs should expect to take similar courses, regardless of their institution. To be sure, students pursuing an online degree in diagnostic medical sonography will likely take classes on the following subjects, among others:
- Ultrasound physics & instrumentation
- Human anatomy
- Sectional anatomy
- Essentials of sonography & ethics
- Ultrasound scanning & abdominal ultrasound
- Obstetrics & gynecology
Furthermore, these programs require students to complete a number of clinical hours, which allow participants to obtain valuable hands-on experience. The number of clinical hours generally depends upon the type of program; for example, those who are completing an associate or bachelor’s degree, which generally take two to four years to complete, will most certainly be required to complete 1,000+ clinical hours. Those who choose to enroll in a program that grants a certificate, however, may not be required to work in a clinic as much if they’ve already received adequate hands-on training.
Finally, aspiring students should note that in some cases, additional specializations in the field of diagnostic medical sonography may be available in areas such as echocardiography, cardiac sonography, obstetrics and gynecology, vascular sonography (i.e., vascular technology), or other related subfields.
Featured Online Diagnostic Medical Sonography Programs
For those considering an online degree or certificate in diagnostic medical sonography, it’s important to not only consider the availability of approved externship sites for clinical training, but also the accreditation status of the program. There are various accrediting organizations and in this field and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is the gold standard. While graduating from a CAAHEP-approved program isn’t necessarily required to seek employment, it can be recommended since it’s a marker of program quality and a preferred qualification for credentialing.
Jackson College is based in Jackson, MI and offers an online associate of applied science (AAS) degree in general sonography. All didactic coursework is completed online as students receive clinical training through locally approved sites. Classes include human biology; introduction to health occupations; sonographic techniques; sonographic instrumentation; abdomen & small parts sonography; and medical terminology, among others. This online CAAHEP-accredited program also includes a minimum of 1,350 supervised clinical hours. Tuition varies by residency status, number of contact hours required, and other factors. Please check out Jackson College’s Tuition & Fees Schedule for more information.
Baker College—the largest independent college in Michigan—has several campus locations and allows students complete an online AAS in diagnostic medical sonography. This 85-credit-hour program is CAAHEP-accredited and coursework includes training in the ultrasound of abdominal pathology; the ultrasound of the normal abdomen & pelvis; and superficial structures & specialty examinations, among other topics. In addition to being eligible for ARDMS credentialing exams, students who complete a degree at Baker College can participate in the school’s “Lifetime Employment Services” program, which helps alumni with job placement. Courses cost between $250 and $275 per credit hour.
Washburn University of Topeka, KS offers one- or two-year online programs in general diagnostic medical sonography and provides the opportunity to specialize in cardiac or vascular sonography. These CAAHEP-accredited certificate programs are open to those with associate degrees and include instruction in general sonography, human disease, and various clinical sessions. Notably, Washburn has delivered this program in an online program for over 11 years and all clinical education can be arranged close to the student’s home for convenience. For example, in the combined vascular and general sonography program, students are required to participate in a minimum of 252 diagnostic scans and 1,872 total clinical hours. Graduates may be eligible for credentialing from Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI) or the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS). These programs cost $367 per credit hour (2016-17).
Oregon Tech Online based in Klamath Falls allows currently registered sonographers to participate in the online program in order to advance their career. This program leads to a bachelor of science (BS) degree in diagnostic medical sonography. This program features courses such as applications of abdominal sonography; pelvic sonography; obstetrical pathology; and various externship courses for a hands-on application of fresh skills. Each online credit hour costs $227, and online courses require an additional $60 payment to reserve a virtual seat in Blackboard, the school’s online software. In other words, a typical three-credit course would cost $741 ($227 x 3 + $60).
For ARDMS-credentialed sonographers seeking a higher degree, ADU also offers an online BS degree in diagnostic medical sonography. This school has campuses in Florida and Colorado. The six-trimester (i.e., two-year) program requires the completion of 67 credit hours, which includes instruction in concepts of pathophysiology; medical terminology; legal aspects of healthcare; diagnostic imaging; pediatric sonography; and sectional anatomy, among others. Please note that students can specialize in cardiovascular sonography or complete the general program. Courses typically cost $430 per credit hour.
These are only a few of the options, including many CAAHEP-accredited online sonography schools. To learn more about this career and campus-based programs, please visit the main diagnostic sonography schools page.
Online Program Accreditation & State Authorization
As noted above, aspiring diagnostic medical sonographers are encouraged to verify their school and program accreditation status prior to enrolling. In addition to institutional accreditation—i.e., campuses with regional accreditation from entities approved by the Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)—there’s also the aforementioned Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), which has accredited several of the online programs above. Overall, accredited programs are those that have taken steps necessary to achieve recognition of their legitimacy, meeting several baseline standards of quality in terms of student outcomes, faculty, facilities, and other measures. It’s worth noting that graduating from an accredited program is required to qualify for credentialing exams through the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).
Also, prospective online students should verify the “state authorization” status of their programs prior to applying. Due to differing legislation surrounding distance-based education, students residing in one state may not be able to pursue an online degree from an institution based in another. If this information isn’t readily available on program sites, please contact program administrators to ensure eligibility.
Diagnostic Sonography Certification
Lastly, there are three main national organizations which provide credentialing to people in this career field:
- American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS)
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT)
- Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI)
As of April 2017, ARDMS—the most popular of the three—provides five specialized exams related to its main Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer (RDMS) credential: Abdomen (AB), Breast (BR), Fetal Echocardiography (FE), Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN), and Pediatric Sonography (PS). Other specialized registrations available include, Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer (RDCS), Registered Vascular Technologist (RVT), and Registered Musculoskeletal Sonographer (RMSKS), among others. Please check out the qualifications and testing information for each on ARDMS’s site. These credentials are typically valid for one year.
Please note that all credentials require continuing education (CE) to maintain and there are online CE opportunities available through the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), among other entities.
Finally, the American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT) reported that there are four states which have additional credentialing requirements for sonographers: New Mexico, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Oregon. As local legislation is continually evolving, people are encouraged to check with their local professional boards to ensure they have all necessary certifications prior to seeking work.