Fall, 2015

Through my job at BGSM, I got to know the sales reps and applications specialists for the companies and I met physicians in NC that came through the course. Occasionally a company would need applications work for a new installation and I would work per diem for the company to help the users learn their new instrument. This gave me the idea, when my husband and I decided to start a family, that perhaps I could do occasional per diem work for manufacturers and provide as-needed scanning services for physicians in their own office. That way I could keep my skills honed and stay home with my child. Great idea! That is how my contract business started, more or less. I have worked as a self-employed/contract sonographer now for 25+ years. Initially, I started out as a sole proprietor, but now my business is incorporated which provides more tax advantages. I started slowly through the years working ½ day per week to a couple of days to 5 days per week, if needed. My main advertisement was word of mouth, filling in for sonographers on vacation, maternity and sick leave. When I decided to work more steadily, I reached out to other sonographers to find offices looking for help. Attending the NCUS meetings were (and still are) a great opportunity for networking.

Sometimes I would cold call an office and speak to the office manager or physician to see if they needed sonography service. Being self-employed is like being a salesperson because you are selling yourself and your skills. You get rejected more than you get hired. In the early days, the contracts weren’t always written; sometimes they were agreements by a handshake or gentleman’s agreement. Not so much anymore. My last contract was over 30 pages!

Working as a contractor has some great advantages but also disadvantages. Advantages include: flexibility in scheduling/time off when needed, potential higher income, and some tax benefits. Disadvantages: no work=no pay, self-pay insurances like health and disability or malpractice insurance, and no matching funds for retirement account. Owning a business also requires professional tax and legal services, which is another expense. It can be stressful going into an office for the first time: not having an established work routine, learning the office procedures, and working with people you’ve just met. It requires being confident in your skillset and being professional.

It’s critical that you meet your client’s needs week-in and week-out. If you aren’t able to do the scans they need you to do, they will look elsewhere for coverage. Which brings up another point: a client can end your contract at any time. You have to be on top of your game and approach every work day like it’s a performance review day. Although many of the qualities I just listed (skillset confidence, professionalism, reliability, flexibility, etc.) are important whether you’re a contractor or not, I feel more responsibility for my work because it is a direct reflection (no pun intended) of my business. Although your work should always reflect your abilities as a sonographer, it somehow feels more critical when you work for yourself.

With changes in healthcare and more physician practices being owned by corporations, I find it is becoming increasingly difficult to find practices that utilize contract sonographers. There are approximately 2,000 registered sonographers in NC and new sonographers are continually graduating from the eight sonography programs in our state. The job market is already tight for full-time employment with many of the new graduates having to take prn or part-time jobs. Contract Sonography is best suited for someone with experience, not just in years but in different work environments and with the ability to work with a level of uncertainty. For the right person, contracting can be a breath of fresh air; creating opportunities to meet new colleagues, expand your technical skillset, and earn a higher income.