The role of a Sonographer

Today we mark the start of a month focusing on the critical work our imaging team carry out when treating pets in our care.


Our lead ultrasonographer Natasha Dickinson previously worked at various NHS hospitals and GP practices throughout the UK before joining us.


In this blog, Natasha talks us through the role of the sonographer…


With more than 20 years’ experience in medical imaging, I wanted to highlight the role and provide some insight into ultrasound and radiographic Imaging and what our day-to-day duties actually encompass.


The role of diagnostic medical sonographer can often result in a fast-paced day with each day bringing new surprises.


We play an important role in the lives of patients, from showing a foetal heartbeat for the first time, guiding nervous patients for their first ultrasound or providing a follow up ultrasound for cancer remission. We provide physicians with diagnostics reports and proof to help diagnose and treat disease and are critically important for planning treatment, helping clinicians make accurate diagnoses. This is all while providing help and support in what can be very emotional circumstances.


Also of topical interest is the sonographer’s role within the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some departments, sonographers are providing lung ultrasounds working alongside physicians within emergency departments, reducing the pressure on other imaging modalities, identifying early lung COVID-19 not detected on chest X-rays.

Cave veterinary specialists team members training


My training initially followed the traditional postgraduate route, starting from a BSc in diagnostic radiography, then further study involving a postgraduate diploma in medical ultrasound. These courses provide essential core knowledge on cross-sectional anatomy, physiology, pathology and ultrasound physics. Clinical placement is also required to gain a wide range of hands-on scanning experience working with qualified sonographers.


There are many areas of specialisation within the ultrasound field for the ultrasonographer and other healthcare professionals.


Sonographers cover a wide range of examinations while other healthcare professionals perform a focused area within their scope of practice, for example, focused assessment for sonography with trauma (FAST), focused bladder scans and aortic assessment, to name but a few.


The main ultrasound duties include obstetrics and gynaecology, monitoring the health of a foetus and mother while detecting abnormalities in the foetus or reproductive system. This may involve performing invasive examinations such as transvaginal ultrasounds (TVS), which are often used in early pregnancy to confirm an intrauterine gestation and exclude the life-threatening condition of the ectopic pregnancy.


Cave veterinary hospital trainingTVS is also used to detect the number of intrauterine gestations, molar/hydatidiform mole gestations (a growth of abnormal cells within the uterus in place of a healthy foetus) and unfortunately, early miscarriage.


Sonographers also aid the screening of foetal syndromes by producing nuchal translucency measurements. Ovarian pathology can also be determined to exclude benign or malignant pathologies as well as follicle tracking of the ovarian stroma often used in fertility.


We also perform abdominal and small parts (thyroid and testes) ultrasound diagnosing, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, renal and bladder conditions. Also, vascular studies such as doppler ultrasound, confirming the presence of thrombosis which may prove fatal if not detected.


Additional duties may involve breast ultrasound and musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSK), detecting abnormalities within the joints, tendons and ligaments.


Interventional procedures

Once competent, later specialisation can include interventional or minimally-invasive procedures for diagnostic treatment or therapeutic purposes, from ultrasound-guided surgeries to biopsies and amniocentesis to treating MSK injuries.


Ultrasound is an ever-evolving modality with technology breakthroughs revolutionising the way healthcare is being delivered.


Ultrasonographers have a high degree of responsibility due to the levels of decisional latitude involved in the diagnostic process. They need to use independent judgement and work with flexibility when addressing difficult or unusual situations.


During my career, I have been lucky enough to work with some exciting and innovative individuals providing televised ultrasound data, and now I’m venturing into the animal field.


I am truly very glad of this exciting opportunity and recognise how fortunate I am to have such a fascinating and rewarding career.


I appreciate there are many challenges ahead, but with the help and support of veterinary clinicians and veterinary nurses, we will formulate a new exciting venture to enable the animal world to have a voice. I wonder what the next chapter will hold!