Contributor: Phoebe Yin
Hospital Heroes is an interview series that will put a spotlight on the diverse career profiles of individuals who work in hospitals. The goal is to raise awareness about diverse career paths in medicine and healthcare that contribute to improving patients’ lives. Join us as we meet these heroes and learn how they contribute to improving healthcare.
In this edition of Hospital Heroes, we interview Nicole Zhao, a sonographer at Lakeridge Health. She works at multiple hospitals in the Durham Region of Ontario.
1. Could you describe your job and what a typical day looks like for you?
My job title is diagnostic medical sonographer, but another title we commonly use is ultrasound technologist. Ultrasound is often the first step to making a diagnosis. When you go to your family doctor with any pain or discomfort from head to toe, they may refer you to a clinic or hospital to get an ultrasound first.
A typical day involves scanning 10-15 patients during an 8 hour shift. I usually have scheduled outpatients and inpatients throughout the day, as well as unscheduled emergency patients. I will check the doctor's requisition and previous exams before starting my scan, and also ask the patient about their symptoms. Many people associate ultrasound with pregnancy, but we actually perform ultrasounds for almost all body parts and purposes, from ruling out gallstones to assessing joint swelling.
2. What are your hours like?
Most hospitals offer ultrasound at all hours, so we rotate between day or night shifts. I’ve worked in hospitals where the latest shift ends at 11pm, 12am, or even 7am for an overnight shift.
Needing an ultrasound isn’t always something you plan, so it’s important that sonographers are available 24 hours per day for patients coming through the emergency room. My current hospital doesn’t schedule us for overnight shifts, but one of us is always on call at home and ready to go in whenever the doctor calls.
3. What education and training do you need to get this position?
In order to become a sonographer, you need to finish a 2-year ultrasound program including an 8-month clinical placement. Some universities offer a 4-year program that allows you to graduate with all the requirements, but the 2-year programs usually prefer that you have a Bachelor's degree of science or kinesiology first.
4. What are the best and most challenging parts of your job?
I would say that the best part of this job is that you will never be bored. You encounter something new every day and work with patients who are in need of an ultrasound for a variety of reasons.
As for the most challenging part, you may have patients who are quite difficult to scan or in a lot of pain, and you have to figure out a way to work efficiently but thoroughly. Also, since the hospital is open year-round, we take turns working during every holiday. It’s meaningful work, but you still look forward to the years where you can celebrate with your family at home.
5. What are some possible promotions for this job, if any?
A few potential promotion include becoming a senior or charge technologist, which gives you more (and better) vacation days and a little more say. The work that you do is still similar, though. If you’re interested in managing, it’s also possible to become the manager of your department.
6. Why did you choose to work in a hospital rather than a clinic?
Although clinics can be less stressful, I found that I was able to learn more by working in a hospital. We encounter rare, diverse, and interesting cases, which allows us to improve our scanning skills. In hospitals, we also have more events, whether it be educational or social, and that’s a great opportunity to get to know your coworkers in other departments. Of course, another incentive is the better pay.
7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue this career path?
Before jumping into this career, it’s a good idea to do some research. Learn the pros and cons of this profession to see if it suits you. Although your scan is not the ultimate diagnosis, there’s still a lot of pressure and responsibility, especially in hospitals. There are aspects of this job that surprised me when I first started working, even though I thought I was well-prepared.
With that being said, ultrasound is a great career path and I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested. Hospitals and clinics are always hiring more sonographers, and you’ll have opportunities to work locum as well.