At present, very few states require sonographers to be licensed. According to the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS), only New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Oregon have mandatory licensing for sonographers. With the lack of legal requirement for licensure in most states, most employers look to a sonographer’s certifications for hiring qualified, knowledgeable individuals, and a certification from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography ® (ARDMS ®) can help you stand out as more committed, more knowledgeable, and more highly skilled than the competition (and may even earn you higher compensation!). In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about how to earn your ARDMS ® certification, including important information about the ARDMS ® SPI exam, and how to complete the ARDMS ® renewal process to maintain your credentials.
Let’s get you started!
- What is ARDMS® certification, anyway?
- How to Get Your ARDMS® Certification
- The Application
- The ARDMS® SPI Exam
- How many questions are on the ARDMS® SPI exam?
- How much does the ARDMS® exam cost?
- How many times can you take the SPI exam?
- How can I study for the SPI Exam?
- ARDMS® Renewal
- ARDMS® Continuing Medical Education (CME)
- How many CMEs do I need for ARMDS® renewal?
- What if I don’t earn the required CMEs on time?
- Wrapping Up!
What is ARDMS ® certification, anyway?
ARDMS ® certification is awarded to sonographers who pass the ARDMS ® SPI exam and the corresponding specialty exam for the credential they are seeking. ARDMS ® is the premier credentialing body for sonography, recognized the world over. Their credentialing programs are accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17024 Standards for certifying bodies. In other words, in the world of sonography certifications, ARDMS ® is top-notch.
Only some 100,000 sonographers across the world hold ARDMS ® certification, and joining those ranks requires rigorous study, dedication, and ongoing commitment to excellence in practice and personal and professional conduct.
Is it really worth it to become ARDMS ®-certified?
Yes! Just as with NMTCB ® certification (link) and ARRT ® certification (link), ARDMS ® certification provides a host of benefits to certificants. At minimum, your ARDMS ® certification and credentials convey to colleagues, patients, and employers that you are an expert in sonography and you possess the skills, knowledge, ethics, and commitment to provide high-quality care to patients and safeguard their best interests. Not only that, but holding an ARDMS ® certification may increase your opportunities for advancing your career and even earn you better pay (according to a survey conducted in 2018 by the SDMS). If you’re already a sonographer or on your way to becoming one, earning ARDMS ® certification is a no-brainer.
How to Get Your ARDMS ® Certification
- Choose the credential you are aiming for and meet ARDMS ® prerequisite requirements
- Submit your application and payment
- Submit the required documentation
- Take and pass the 2 required ARDMS ® exams within 5 years of each other (Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) Exam + a specialty exam)
Choosing Your Prerequisite
If this is your first time applying for ARDMS ® certification, you need to choose and meet a prerequisite that matches your education and clinical background for the credential you’re aiming to earn. You can do this by using the handy Prerequisite Tool offered by the ARDMS ® on their website, or you can check out their General Prerequisites Guide. The General Prerequisites Guide will describe education and clinical experience requirements, and list the required documentation for your particular case. Check out the sample page from the the guide below for a better idea of how ARDMS ® prerequisites work.
Note that if you are intending to apply for the Registered Musculoskeletal ™ Sonographer (RMSKS ™) credential, it has its own unique prerequisites. You can check them out on page 3 of this RMSKS ™ prerequisite guide (page 3).
ARDMS ® Credentials
- Registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer ® (RDMS ®)
- Registered Diagnostic Cardiac Sonographer ® (RDCS ®)
- Registered Vascular Technologist ® (RVT ®)
- Registered Musculoskeletal™ Sonographer ™ (RMSKS ™)
Each credential requires you to take and pass 2 exams: the SPI exam, and a corresponding specialty exam. You can take the 2 exams in any order, but to earn your credential, you must take your second exam and pass it within 5 years of passing the first exam. The ARDMS ® refers to this as the Five-Year Rule. The diagram below indicates which exams are required for each credential.
Compliance Policies and Eligibility
Whether you’re applying for ARDMS ® certification, or completing your annual ARDMS ® renewal process, you must adhere to the ARDMS ® Compliance Policies in order to be eligible for certification. The Compliance Policies are mandatory standards of conduct, and they are enforceable. Essentially, you are required to report specific types of of violations (for example, criminal convictions or disciplinary actions by regulatory bodies) to the ARDMS ® at the time of your application (or within 14 their occurrence, if you’re already ARDMS ®-certified).
If you have violations you are required to report, and you are worried about how these may affect your eligibility, you may wish to use the Compliance Pre-determination Application process before complete your standard application. This Compliance Pre-determination Application is intended for those who have not yet applied for an ARDMS ® exam and are thinking about becoming a sonographer or enrolling in a sonography education program.
If you’ve already started your sonography education, finished your program, or are otherwise ready to apply for ARDMS ® certification, you should just answer the compliance-related questions on the standard application and provide any requested documentation.
For a more in depth look at this process, check out the ARDMS ® Compliance Pre-Determination Application Process webpage.
- Create an account on ardms.org, login, and select Apply Online
- Choose the exam for which you’d like to apply (either a specialty exam or the SPI exam)
- Agree to the the following:
- Confidentiality agreement (this basically says that you won’t share test questions with anyone, in any form, ever)
- Application Agreement
- ARDMS ® Compliance Policies
- Fill in the required information on the application (including the prerequisite under which you’re applying (e.g., Prerequisite 3B)
- Pay the fees (the SPI exam costs $225 dollars; all specialty exams cost $250)
- Upload your required documentation to your ARMDS ® account (these were listed in the Prerequisite Guide and in the Application Submission Checklist) within 21 days of submitting your online application.
The review process for applications takes about 5 business days from the day the ARDMS ® receives your supporting documentation. If you are determined to be eligible to take the exam, the ARDMS ® will email you an Examination Confirmation Letter. Once you receive your confirmation letter, you can go ahead and schedule your exam with Pearson VUE during the eligibility window indicated in your Examination Confirmation Letter.
Once you take and pass your 2 exams, you’ll be awarded your credential. You’ll be able to look up your credential details and information in the ARDMS ® Directory of Registrants, print out your Status Verification Letter from your ARDMS ® account online, and if you need one, you can print out an ARDMS ® Temporary ID Card.
You’ll also receive an ARDMS ® Welcome Package about a month or so later. The Welcome Package will include your official certificate and information about your newly acquired credential. You’ll get an email, too, with instructions for how to claim the digital version of your credential, called a digital badge. This digital badge can be shared on your socials, your resume, even in your email signature (because you just earned your ARDMS ® certification, and you’re gonna want to show that off!).
What if I’m found ineligible to take the exam?
If the ARDMS ® determines that you don’t meet their eligibility requirements, you’ll be informed by mail of why you were deemed ineligible, and you’ll receive a partial refund for your application (the ARDMS ® keeps the $100 processing fee, and gives you back the difference). The ARDMS ® will also send your original documents back to you in the mail.
The ARDMS ® Credentials How to Apply Guide is extremely useful as an overview of the application process, as well. You may want to keep that handy, too.
The ARDMS ® SPI Exam
Each of the 4 ARDMS ® credentials—RDMS ®, RDCS ®, RVT ®, and RMSKS ™—require you to sit for the same exam: the ARDMS ® SPI exam. The SPI exam measures your knowledge, skills, and competencies in the essential physical principles and instrumentation of sonography. Once you have passed the SPI exam and a corresponding specialty exam and earned your initial ARDMS ® certification, you can earn other ARDMS ® credentials without retaking the SPI exam, so long as you’ve kept your credentials active.
Below we cover some of the most commonly asked questions about the SPI exam.
How many questions are on the ARDMS ® SPI exam?
The SPI exam has roughly 110 multiple-choice questions (on September 28, 2020, the ARMDS ® removed the Semi-Interactive Console (SIC) questions). The exam is two hours long, including 5 minutes for a survey.
Scores for the SPI exam run from 300 to 700. To pass, you need to score at least a 555. For more information about how exams are scored, you can check out the ARDMS ® page on exam scoring.
How much does the ARDMS ® exam cost?
How many times can you take the SPI exam?
If you don’t pass the SPI exam on the first try, it’s okay: you can take the test again and again. You just have to wait for at least 60 days before you can sit for SPI exam again. But, you can reapply in a little as 3 days after received a failing score. Just follow the same procedures listed above and pay the fee again. You’ll automatically receive approval to retake the exam, and you can schedule your exam date within one day.
If you don’t pass the exam the first time, don’t get discouraged. According to the ARDMS ® SPI exam statistics, in 2020, only 76% of applicants passed the SPI exam on their first try. Study hard, and try, try again.
How can I study for the SPI Exam?
There are a few ways you can study for the SPI exam that are recommended by the ARDMS ®, in addition to third-party study materials (none of which are endorsed by the ARDMS ®).
- First, review the SPI Exam Content Outline. This will give you a clear idea of what content areas will be addressed, and what topics are covered within those content areas.
- You can also register for a practice test through your ARMDS ® account. It costs $35 dollars per practice test, and once you pay, you need to take the practice test within 7 days.
- The practice exam is designed to help you get a feel for the types of questions you’ll see and the format of the exam.
- Review Advanced Item Type questions
- Familiarize yourself with Advanced Item Type (AIT) questions
ARDMS ® Renewal
Just as with ARRT ® Renewal (link) and NMTCB ® Renewal (link), the ARDMS ® has an annual renewal process intended to ensure that sonographers keep their knowledge and clinical practice up-to-date in order to ensure the best possible care for patients. The ARDMS ® refers to this as Maintenance of Certification (MOC).
- Pay your annual ARDMS ® renewal fee by December 31st of every year – $85 for RDMS ®, RDCS ®, RVT ®, RMSKS ™
- Attestation (here you attest that you have and will continue to follow ARDMS ® rules and Compliance Policies and will earn your required CMEs on time)
- Earn the minimum required number of CMEs for your credential within your 3-year CME period
If you fail to complete your annual ARDMS ® renewal process on time, your credentials may be revoked. You’ll have to follow the ARDMS ® reinstatement process to return them to active status.
ARDMS ® Continuing Medical Education (CME)
As part of MOC for ARDMS ® renewal, each ARDMS ® registrant is required to earn a specific number of continuing medical education (CME) credits within their 3-year CME period. You can check your CME period and the number of CMEs you’ve gotten so far by going to your account of ardms.org.
How many CMEs do I need for ARMDS ® renewal?
|Credential(s) Held||Number of CMEs Required Every Three Years|
|RDMS ® and/or RDCS ® and/or RVT ®||30|
|RMSKS ™ + RDMS ® and/or RDCS ® and/or RVT ®||30 (10 in musculoskeletal ultrasound + 20 in any specialty)|
|RMSKS ™||30 (10 in musculoskeletal ultrasound + 20 in any specialty)|
In order for the CMEs you earn to be accepted by the ARDMS ®, they must be approved by one of the organizations listed as an ARDMS ® Accepted Continuing Education Evaluation Model System (AACEEMS). The American Society of Radiologic Technologists (ASRT), is an approved AACEEMS, for example. You can check the full list here.
You can also get 15 CMEs waived off your total required CMEs by earning a new credential or passing a new ARDMS ® specialty exam for a credential you already have.
Each year the ARDMS ® conducts a CME audit. Certificants are selected at random for this audit. Make sure you hang on to your CME certificates for at least 4 years, just in case you are randomly selected. If you’re selected for a random CME audit, the ARDMS ® will notify you by mail, and you’ll have to submit your CME documentation within a month.
What if I don’t earn the required CMEs on time?
As part of your annual ARDMS ® renewal, you attested that not only would you earn the required number of CMEs, but that if you did not earn them, you would follow the CME Audit Reinstatement process to reinstate your credentials. If you fail to complete this process and pay the $150 reinstatement fee by the deadline indicated, your credentials will be revoked permanently.
We hope this article has provided you with everything you need to get started on your ARDMS ® certification journey or helped you with the key parts of the ARDMS ® renewal process to maintain those impressive credentials. Medical Professionals is proud to serve sonographers like you at all stages of your professional career, with articles such as this to answer important career questions and with CME courses to support you in meeting your various state, ARRT ®, and ARMDS ® continuing education requirements.
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