I was recently working on a post answering FAQ for new grads and it hit me — I have never shared about my first year as a sonographer. The first year out of school comes with SO many lessons, trials, triumphs, mountain highs and valley lows, or at least it did for me. Honestly, my first year out of school / as a working sonographer was probably one of the most challenging years ever, and today I want to share about it with you for multiple reasons: to encourage anyone who might be in this same spot, to prepare students for what could lie ahead, and lastly, just to be brutally honest with you guys about what all comes with being new to this field. I am super passionate about keeping it real on here. I don’t ever want it to come across like school was a breeze, work came easy, and being a sonographer is easy and fun all the time. So with that, let’s dive in.
My first job came about from the craziest set of circumstances. Rewind to about 3 months prior to even starting the sonography program at Platt. I overheard my mom say she was going in for an ultrasound of her abdomen. I wanted to go with her to see if there was any possibility I could somehow ask the songrapher that would be doing her exam some of my questions. So, I went with her, and God truly set up the most perfect opportunity. The tech doing the scan allowed me to come back (which is crazy to think about now, seeing as though we don’t usually allow anyone but translators & caregivers in the room!) and sit in on the exam with my mom. The technologist was someone who was so excited to talk to a prospective student like me and answer my questions. She and I had thee best conversation all while she scanned my mom. At the end of my mom’s exam, the technologist actually gave me her contact information and told me to reach out to her during my time in the the program if I EVER had any questions, needed advice, or just wanted to share cool pathology cases. Sure enough, she and I kept in contact, and even met up once or twice while I was a student to talk about the SPI, clinicals, etc. About a month before graduating, I had been offered a per diem job at my clincial site when I got a text from this tech, asking if I would be interested in the full time position that just became available at her work. HALLELUJIAH! I took the job and was SOA excited.
I started working a little less than a month before graduating, so I was very “green”. I was fresh off of clincials, hadn’t even taken a board exam yet, and of course, thought I knew everything 😉 I truly did think that once I graduated, I was done with the hard part. I thought I knew SO much, and really, I didn’t. I mean, I knew what I needed to know. I knew my protocols and what was normal and abnormal. But I didn’t understand the importance behind many things. I didn’t truly understand WHY we measured certain things – IE: What’s the importance of putting color on the endometrium in a pelvic exam? I knew I had to put color on it. But I didn’t know that it was to look for vascularity… and if I found vascularity.. what that could be a sign of, etc.
Once I began working, I found that the radiologist was having a difficult time with my exams. Like most radiologists, she is tough. Most radiologists are tough on their techs because they need to trust them. I was new to her and I hardly any experience, so she had zero reason to trust me back then. I was a new grad, couldn’t answer a lot of the questions she’d have, and I was making a lot of mistakes… which really wasn’t helping with gaining her trust. She is different than most in that she really knows ultrasound and really cares about the quality of it. Because of this, she has high standards for the ultrasound techs. Often times, my images did not meet the standard she had. They didn’t answer the questions she’d have. For example, and like I said earlier, if I did a TV on a patient for irregular bleeding, and they had a thickened endometrium, I would put color on it. But, if a feeding vessel lit up, I wouldn’t doppler it (because I didn’t know you have to prove an arterial feeding vessel to prove an endometrial polyp). So she began having me recall my patients to re-do their studies or take more images to prove what I was trying to convey in my images. This was happening every single week and at one point I had seven patients that needed to be redone that week alone. I felt defeated, incapable & completely overwhelmed. I went from feeling like I had landed my dream job, to wondering if I even got into the right field. I cried weekly. I would call my husband, my parents, or whoever on the way home from work and just vent. I was extremely discouraged.
It took a LOT of trial and error for me before things started to get better. I had to redo a lot of studies and truly learn from my mistakes, and learn from embarrassment of that, honestly. There were countless conversations with my rad in which I had to go into the office to answer her questions, ask what I did wrong (thats always humbling) and what she needed me to prove/take additional images of. It was an extremely humbling year but I can honestly say it truly shaped me as a sonographer. I graduated feeling on top of the world, so excited about the field, and feeling like I learned all I needed to know in school/clinicals…#ignorant lol. But that first year truly knocked me to my knees and humbled me like no other. I re-learned protocols, pathology, scanning tips, ergonomics, everything. Even though it was a very stressful season full of doubt, I wouldn’t change it. I can now stand on my own two feet and answer questions asked by my radiologists, confident in my answers. I also can humbly admit when I don’t have the answers to their questions but know exactly what I need to do to figure them out, should I have to recall a patient. I have learned that you never stop learning in this field and there’s always something you can learn from your fellow techs or radiologists. I just want to encourage anyone who might be in their first year, or maybe it’s their third or sixth but its just been a year of learning: you are not alone and you will walk out on the other side as a better sonographer because of it. 🙂