Make a difference today for someone who’s fighting for their tomorrow. ~Hall of Fame Quarterback Jim Kelly
One of the most rewarding things in life is being able to make a difference in the lives of other people, especially in the lives of young children facing life-threatening health conditions. For pediatric cardiac sonographers, every day at work is a chance to change the course of life for an infant or child.
One of the scariest times in a parent’s life is finding out that his or her child has a significant medical issue, especially an issue with the heart. For some children, heart defects and conditions are present before birth, while others develop heart issues later in childhood as a result of a significant illness or injury. A pediatric cardiac sonographer is often one of the most important professionals on the healthcare team of a child with a heart condition.
What is a Pediatric Cardiac Sonographer?
Pediatric cardiac sonographers are essential in the diagnostic and treatment procedures for infants and children with heart disease. These professionals are responsible for performing echocardiograms, which are ultrasounds that are used to investigate the anatomy of the heart and blood vessels. In newborns, this might mean performing echocardiograms on a heart the size of a walnut!
Today’s cardiac sonographers are adept at using new technological advances, such as three-dimensional echocardiography. As technology continues to become far more advanced, cardiac sonographers continue to learn to use these new modalities.
Following the echocardiogram, the sonographer carefully documents his or her findings and then presents those findings to the patient’s doctor or other essential members of the care team. It is essential that the findings are presented clearly and accurately—after all, it is these findings that form the basis for developing the life-saving treatment that the young patient needs.
Cardiac sonographers work in a variety of settings, including clinics and hospitals. Most large children’s hospitals staff pediatric cardiac sonographers, while smaller institutions may contract with larger hospitals to have the sonographer travel to the smaller or more rural clinics. Today’s technological advances also mean that some pediatric cardiac sonographers play essential roles in catheterization laboratories and operating rooms.
What Skills are Needed to Become a Pediatric Cardiac Sonographer?
The Mayo Clinic describes the ideal cardiac sonographer as someone who is very organized and can work independently. They must also work well with other people, with the ability to communicate empathically and sensitively with patients and their caregivers who might be anxious or scared. Excellent documentation skills are also a necessity. Because the field of cardiac sonography is always advancing, professionals must be flexible and willing to learn to use new technology and techniques, so enthusiasm for learning is a must. Finally, because cardiac sonographers work with patients who may have frail or weak hearts, basic life support training is an essential part of being prepared for cardiac emergencies.
How to Become a Pediatric Cardiac Sonographer
Training to become a pediatric cardiac sonographer can begin in high school with choosing courses in math, anatomy and physiology, and advanced life sciences. Those interested in pursuing cardiac sonography as a career in most cases then complete a two-year training program in basic sonography with a focus on cardiac sonography.
Once the basic sonography training program is complete, the student is then eligible to sit for the national certification exams that are required to become registered sonographers through organizations such as the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Credentialing International. Following registration, sonographers are eligible for specialization in pediatric cardiac sonography following two years as a registered sonographer or by completing additional training in pediatric sonography.
In Oregon, cardiac sonographers also are required to complete additional steps for licensure, which is something not required or available in other states.
How to Choose the Best Training Program
The American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) recommends that anyone interested in becoming a cardiac sonographer first complete a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), which is part of both the Joint Review Committee In Cardiovascular Technology and the Joint Review Committee in Diagnostic Medical Sonography and Cardiovascular Technology. After this initial program is complete, sonographers should pursue additional training in pediatric cardiac sonography from those considered to be the top experts in the field.
In addition to learning from experts, is important that training programs feature opportunities to get hands-on training in working in the pediatric population, both on live models and using simulations. Small faculty-student ratios can ensure that students receive one-on-one attention and more time practicing the skills necessary to be successful.
The best training programs also offer convenient and affordable options for busy professionals, especially for current sonographers hoping to become qualified to work with infants and children. Today, the field of education and career training is rapidly changing, shifting to online and global campuses that allow for completing training at home or through blended (online and in-person) courses. Students who wish to learn more about careers in pediatric cardiac sonography and what program might be the best for his or her situation might consider training programs with online components, including webinars, online courses, training videos, registry examination preparation and review materials, and hybrid courses that utilize online coursework and hands-on workshops. Individuals who already work as physicians or sonographers might find online and hybrid coursework to be the most convenient way to earn their pediatric sonography credentials while also continuing to work with their current caseload.
Pediatric cardiac sonography can be a rewarding career option that truly makes a difference in the lives of infants and children, as well as their families. As one of the first specialists young patients with heart disease meet, a cardiac sonographer can be a source of comfort to the family while providing physicians with the information necessary to successfully treat the child. When training programs are taught by experts in the field, maintaining low faculty-student ratios, providing abundant hands-on opportunities and classes taught at times and in ways that are convenient to access, students have a higher likelihood of passing their board exams on the first try and finishing their training programs with the skills necessary to make a difference in the lives of the youngest patients who are fighting for their own lives.