Hospital News

‘There’s a lot more to it than babies’


When it comes to the dozen or so sonographers employed at UPMC Western Maryland, a common answer is returned when they are asked what they wish people knew about their job.

“There’s a lot more to it than babies,” sonographer Julie Hartman said. “We probably do 50 different types of ultrasounds, including ones on location in the operating room, in recovery rooms, portables (when the machine goes to the patient) on newborn babies and in areas like the Intensive Care Unit.”

Technically speaking, an ultrasound is a picture made with soundwaves. The gel that is applied directs the soundwaves into the body, as they will not travel through air. Next, the radiologist will read the results of the ultrasound and send them to the patient’s doctor, who will then determine the next step.

“People just don’t understand all that is involved with the job,” sonographer Marla Niland said. “We are the doctor’s eyes.” Beyond ultrasounds, sonographers also assist with procedures like biopsies on masses and during breast exams, abscess and other drainages and examinations of things like nodules. They also can see how much fluid a patient has and how much needs to be drained and where.

Julie, who has worked as a sonographer for 33 years (the last six at UPMC Western Maryland) has been trained and registered in six specialty areas and currently works in ultrasound. “We are constantly learning,” she said. “As much as you think you know, you can know so much more. Every day you learn something new, and because advancements in technology are allowing us to see more, we are expected to keep up on that and be able to find more from our tests every day.”

New machinery is constantly being added to the fleet of equipment at UPMC Western Maryland and every time a machine is improved or updated, it allows the sonographers to see more than they could before. In fact, 3D and 4D readings are now possible depending on the test and the patient. For example, women with dense breasts are able to have a 3D scan that will show previously undetectable cancer hidden by dense breast tissue.

With these new possibilities come an increase in responsibility. “A lot is expected of us,” Julie said. “We are unlike other facilities I’ve worked at because we do everything. Most facilities are separated. We don’t have that here. That has helped me stay sharp in all my areas.”

Julie, Marla and their coworkers embrace the challenges they face and have enjoyed some amazing experiences with their patients over the years. Marla, who has been at UPMC Western Maryland for 19 years, enjoys her one-on-one time with the patients, especially the expectant mothers. “You have conversations and you get to know them, especially if patients come back for multiple visits. We are the first ones to see what is going on with them.”

Even though there is a lot more to their jobs than those little moments with moms-to-be, Julie agreed that also is her favorite thing about her job. “There’s a special bond with the patient and it’s amazing being the first person to learn things about the baby. I love what I do, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”