While the national average salary is a useful starting point to understanding compensation for ultrasound technicians, yearly salaries can vary widely depending on industry, education, experience, specialty and geographical location.
1. Industry Setting
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, as of 2011, general medical and surgical hospitals employed around 33,000 ultrasound technicians at an average wage of $65,870, a figure very close to both the average salary and median salary for the profession as a whole.
Sonographers working in diagnostic and medical laboratory settings earned an estimated average of $63,920, and those employed in physicians’ offices received a mean of $66,050 per year. Outpatient care centers offered a higher pay scale averaging about $72,470 per year while sonographers working in colleges, universities and professional schools including sonography educators and research sonographers received an average wage of $74,540. The corresponding average hourly salary range for these industries extends from $30.73 at the low end to a high of $35.84.
2. Education, Experience and Credentials
With a steadily rising median age, the sonography profession is enjoying consistently competitive salaries as employers strive to retain ultrasound technicians in the context of growing shortages and an anticipated retirement exodus in the near future. The majority of sonographers earning more than $65,000 annually are over the age of 50, and fewer than one third earning that amount are under age 30.
Entry-level ultrasound technicians starting in the lowest percentile with salaries averaging around $45,000 or less can expect to move up their employer pay scales relatively quickly with professional certification, experience and continuing education.
Within three to five years, many embrace administrative, teaching, sales and other roles while others are content to receive regular salary increases as practicing ultrasound technicians for their entire careers. In some specialty, teaching or administrative roles, a four-year bachelor’s degree may be essential to ultrasound tech salary and career advancement.
For many sonographers, however, the type of degree they hold has less impact on their salary than acquiring professional credentials. More than 50 percent of those with Registered Vascular Technologist certification earn in excess of $65,000 per year, and the percentages are nearly that high for sonographers with Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer and other common credentials. Furthermore, those with two or more credentials are more likely to be among the highest paid in the profession.
3. Specialty Area
The likelihood of earning a salary in excess of $65,000 is higher for some ultrasound specialties than for others. More than 65 percent of pediatric cardiac sonographers surpass that income threshold as do nearly 60 percent of neurosonology and prenatal cardiac ultrasound technicians. The number of adult heart ultrasound specialists earning more than the median also exceeds 50 percent. For vascular, abdominal, breast, and obstetric and gynecological sonography, the numbers earning above $65,000 vary between approximately 40 and 50 percent of the sonographers in each specialty.
4. Geographical Location
Salaries for ultrasound technicians who are at the same type of position vary widely based upon state and metropolitan area.
4.1. Ultrasound Technician Salary by State
Sonographers who compare salary by state or locale will find significant variations in the remuneration available. At $84,220 annual in 2012, California has the highest average salary for ultrasound technician followed by Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts and Connecticut, all with averages between $78,000 and $81,010.
According to the statistics bureau in 2012, Alabama has the lowest average sonographer wage at $47,540. Mississippi’s average is $52,960, while South Dakota, West Virginia and Louisiana follow with averages between $53,800 and $56,200.
4.2. Ultrasound Technician Salary by Metropolitan Area
Metropolitan areas within any given state tend to offer higher salaries than non-metropolitan regions. Within the top-paying state of California, sonographers in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area earn more than $107,100, and those in San Francisco area receive more than $103100. In Oakland-Fremont-Hayward area, the comparable figure is $102,850, and in Santa Rosa-Petaluma it is $95,810.
To the extent that data is available, most metropolitan areas with the lowest average wages for sonographers are in the eastern half of the U.S. Some examples include Florence, AL, at $38,980; Lake Charles, LA, at $45,430; Montgomery, AL, at $46,820 and Ocala, FL, at $48,670. Some large metropolitan areas paying an average salary between $50,000 and $52,000 include Tulsa, OK; Charleston, WV; Pensacola, FL and Birmingham, AL. Several metropolitan areas farther north such as Pittsburgh and Davenport, Iowa also have average wages just below $52,000 for ultrasound technicians.