Sonographer (Diagnostic Medical Sonographer)

Diagnostic medical sonographers are medical assistants trained to operate special imaging equipment which project ultrasound sound waves into patients' bodies to assess and diagnose various medical conditions.

A transducer (skin probe), which is placed directly on the patient’s skin, emits pulses of sound that bounce back and which are processed and displayed as images.  High-frequency sound waves are transmitted from the probe through a gel into the body. The computer then uses those sound waves to create an image. The record of images may be displayed on television monitors or computer which can be used for diagnostic purposes for disease or injury on soft tissue.

The transducer is used to help diagnose the causes of pain, swelling and infection in the body’s internal organs and to examine a baby in pregnant women and the brain and hips in infants. It is also used to help guide biopsies, diagnose heart conditions, and assess damage after a heart attack. The beauty of ultrasound is that it is safe, non-invasive, and does not use ionizing radiation so there is no radiation exposure to the patient. Because ultrasound images are captured in real-time, they can show the structure and movement of the body's internal organs, as well as blood flowing through blood vessels.

Diagnostic medical sonographers work in comfortable offices or clinics, but they may need to spend long hours on their feet, greeting patients, operating ultrasound machinery and fetching the radiologist or other resident physician to make interpretations and diagnoses.

Some responsibilities of a diagnostic medical sonographer include: 

  • taking a patient’s history; receiving the patient and answering any questions about the procedure
  • preparing and maintaining imaging equipment
  • operating equipment to get diagnostic images of areas in the patient’s body
  • recognizing the difference between normal and abnormal images
  • analysing results to check for quality and adequate coverage of the area needed for diagnosis
  • recording findings and keeping track of patients’ records

The sonographic equipment can be used for the diagnosis of various types of soft tissue and internal organs including: liver, gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, bladder, uterus, ovaries, and unborn child (foetus) in pregnant patients, eyes, thyroid, scrotum (testicles), brain hips and spines in infants. Recent advancements in ultrasound technology include three-dimensional (3-D) ultrasound that interprets the sound wave data into 3-D images.

A Doppler ultrasound, is a special ultrasound technique that allows the physician to see and evaluate blood flow through arteries and veins in body and organs. An echocardiogram or ultrasound of the heart is also widely used together with this technique to check for valve problems and congestive heart failure, and to assess damage after a heart attack. The Doppler images can help the physician to see and evaluate blockages to blood flow such as clots and the arrowing of vessels, reduced or absent blood flow to various organs.

Personal Requirements

  • good health and stamina
  • able to get along well with others
  • desire to help people
  • emotionally mature and stable
  • sympathetic and understanding approach, caring nature
  • able to inspire confidence and set patients at ease
  • accurate and thorough worker
  • strong sense of responsibility
  • excellent interpersonal skills
  • strong problem-solving skills
  • able to work as part of a team

How to Enter

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course. Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science. Recommended Subjects: Life Science

What to Study

Although sonography is becoming a specialisation and recognised field on its own, in South Africa, sonography is studied under radiography degree and it caters for the four main disciplines of radiography – Diagnostic (D), Nuclear Medicine (NM), Radiotherapy (T) and Ultrasound (US).

Degree: Diagnostic Sonography is offered at the Durban University of Technology (DUT). A Bachelor of Radiography in Diagnostics is offered by the Central University of Technology (CUT). A Bachelor of Diagnostic Radiography is offered at the University of Johannesburg. A Bachelor of Radiography is offered at the Nelson Mandela University (NMMU). A Bachelor of Radiography (BRad) is offered at the University of Pretoria. A National Diploma: Radiogrpahy: Diagnostics is offered at the Tshwane University of technology.  The first year is a general one, and from the second year students may specialise in one of the following fields: Diagnostics, Radiation Therapy or Nuclear Medicine.

Postgraduate: An MTech degree is offered at DUT, NMMU and UJ. An honours degree in radiography is offered at UP. A masters degree is also available at UP.


There is a high demand for diagnostic medical sonographers and this demand is set to increase as a large segment of the population ages and the health care industry grows. This is because developments in medical imaging technology will make procedures less expensive and invasive, Work may be sought in provincial and private institutions, in South Africa, as well as in most countries abroad. Radiographers may also open their own practices in accordance with the requirements of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Diagnostic medical sonographers are medical professionals who can specialize in a variety of different areas of the body. Becoming one requires at least the completion of a degree or certificate program in the field, clinical experience, and the completion of certification.

  • hospitals and clinics (private as well as government controlled)
  • Department of Health
  • Chamber of Mines
  • South African Defence Force
  • municipalities
  • private radiological practices
  • universities and universities of technology
  • self-employment, after registration can go into private practice or partnership.

Further Information

Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to accredited qualifications and registration requirements. This information can be found in the relevant sections under the Professional Board for Radiography & Clinical Technology.

Getting Started

Contact various associations: 

The Society of Radiographers of South Africa
Unit A28
Pinelands Business Park
New Mill Road
Pinelands, 7405
Tel: (021) 531-1231

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) 
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Radiography at Tshwane University of Technology

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