Where are all the Animal Ultrasound Technicians?
Using the correct terminology to describe the work that we perform when scanning animals is important. For most AUA members, this will be mainly or even exclusively pregnancy scans of animals like dogs, cats, goats, sheep and cows. First of all, using the correct terminology is integral to being respected and recognised by the veterinary profession, and therefore to being able to continue to scan. If you are lucky enough to live in a country (like the United Kingdom) where we are allowed to scan for other people, it’s important for legal reasons, so that we do not get taken to court for practicing veterinary medicine without a license or have our insurance invalidated because we’ve made false claims (however unintentional) about our qualifications. Above all, it’s vital to setting the correct expectations for clients about what we are and are not trained to use ultrasound for.
Most pet scanners know that the word “sonographer” is out of bounds. A sonographer is somebody who holds a degree or equivalent in medical ultrasound, and will be a member of some kind of professional body. This will have meant going through a lengthy accreditation process which would have involved written examinations, submitting a clinically supervised logbook with full reports (usually of around 250 cases), passing a practical exam, and submitting video cases for examination. Given that there is currently no such animal ultrasound accreditation for non-vets in the UK, you can be certain that (unless you are a veterinarian and have gone through an accreditation process), you are not a sonographer. Referring to yourself as one could get you into a lot of legal trouble very quickly. Indeed, those who do continue to advertise themselves as a “canine and feline sonographer” mark themselves out as poorly trained ‘newbies’ instantly, and one can only hope that the general public do not fall victim.
This does not make you any less ‘qualified’ to do what you do than a sonographer, though. The overwhelming majority of sonographers work in the human world, but with the odd exceptions (such as myself, Yvette Lovis, and currently one other AUA member), and very few make the crossover into animal scanning. It takes a special sort of insanity to work all week in the NHS, and then stick your arm up the backside of cows for fun on a Saturday in November.
Above: Yvette preparing to scan some cows last week in Kent.
Just because you may not be able to use the label ‘sonographer’, this does not mean that you are not the best at what you do. If you have invested in your education and training, use the best equipment you can afford, have extensive experience in scanning and possibly even related fields such as breeding, you are the most qualified professional to do the job that you do. Even a veterinarian would not question this fact, just as a human cardiologist or gynaecologist would not question that a sonographer is invariably best placed to perform a heart or pregnancy scan on their patient.
So if the majority of us are not animal sonographers, what are we? A search on the internet for ‘Animal Ultrasound Technician’ brings back a handful of articles of nonsensical fluff written for the benefit of search engine robots rather than human beings, with all sorts of vague passages about the temperament you will need to become one, that you’ll need training (from where?), and that you’ll need skills and experience (really helpful, thanks). The only websites which are remotely relevant address beef carcass scanning, which is a big thing in the United States, as I recently discovered on a trip to Iowa. It’s also about the only thing a non-veterinarian can do commercially with ultrasound on animals in the USA, unless they work in conjunction with a veterinarian or under the umbrella of a local vet practice. Performing pregnancy scans on other people’s pets is not allowed throughout the vast majority of the United States and Canada.
From the UK, however, there are no results at all for this term.
Becoming an Animal Ultrasound Technician
In my mind, an ultrasound technician is somebody working in a highly specialised support role. It’s not a standalone profession; it’s someone who is a member of a diagnostic team. This is widespread within the NHS in the United Kingdom, but does not exist – or has a much more limited role – in many other countries around the world. In the United States, China and Brazil, for example, ultrasound technicians are permitted in some specialities, but cannot sign off their scans or write their own reports. Their job is purely to take the pictures. In some areas, such as cardiology, no non-cardiologist may perform an ultrasound scan on the heart at all. In other words, it’s a very similar situation in the human world in those countries as it is in the veterinary world in the UK.
These areas of medicine are missing out. Skilled ultrasound technicians are invaluable. No doctor or veterinarian can be a master at everything, nor have time to do everything. A thorough ultrasound examination can take anywhere from 15 up to 45 minutes, depending on the question to be answered. The doctor or veterinarian’s time is better spent treating the patient, if a specialist is on hand to perform the diagnostic imaging.
There are now many people who have been scanning animals for pregnancy for many years. They have more pregnancy scanning experience than a vet will ever be able to get, and they probably have more scanning hours than the majority of vets will ever be able to get, because this is their speciality. The Animal Ultrasound Association is working hard on its accreditation process. Full members are requested to upload scan images to their profiles as their digital logbook, which allows the Association to maintain a level of quality. As we reflect on the work we have done this year and look forward to 2019, it is my hope that ‘animal ultrasound technician’ is a role we can create – with both academic and practical training, and a stringent accreditation process – and a profession that we can champion here at home in the United Kingdom, and further afield.
Words do matter, but PETA’s “Stop Using Anti-Animal Language” post probably takes it a little too far.
March 08, 2021
April 09, 2020