A Word of Encouragement

One excellent online teaching tool for emergency ultrasound states that “scientists have been fascinated by the mechanism of acoustics, echoes and sound waves for many

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Attendees get hands-on experience at AIUM’s Wake Forest 

centuries.”

I am not one of those scientists.

Frankly, I don’t like physics. I find it challenging to understand things I can’t see. Take gravity, for example. I know and can tell quite distinctly that it exists. The scar on my shin following a childhood attempt at flight is a faithful reminder of its existence. It still remains hard for me to understand the intricacies of this force because of its invisibility. To me, this is similar to a lot of physics concepts.

It’s therefore hilarious that I was somehow drawn to ultrasound. It must have been the enticement of being able to see more, although the ability to “see” is granted by what is unseen—ultrasound waves. The joke was definitely on me.

So how did I get here?

My journey with point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) started with a remark by a friend of mine. At the time, she was an emergency medicine resident and she told me about a trauma patient that she had performed a “FAST” on. Close to completing 3 years of Pediatric residency, I had never heard of such a thing. I remained intrigued with the idea of quick decision-making scans performed by the provider actively involved in the patient care. Who wouldn’t want this given the chance? The challenge of course lies in acquiring the knowledge.

Things now got interesting.

During my Pediatric Emergency Medicine (PEM) fellowship, I sought to learn more about POCUS. My initiation was not spectacular to say the least. The words of my instructors bounced off the surface of my brain with very little being absorbed. This would have been OK if I were an ultrasound machine. It wasn’t very good when trying to learn how to obtain and interpret ultrasound images however.

By the second and third lesson, I was convinced that I would never learn ultrasound. But as in the majority of love stories, persistence paid off.

Gradually my images changed from what resembled a 1970s television screen after midnight to recognizable structures. By the end of my PEM fellowship, I had acquired a few rudimentary skills. I took an opportunity to pursue an Emergency ultrasound fellowship immediately after my PEM fellowship and the dread of my early ultrasound learning days came upon me again. So many applications, so little understanding.

One day as I scanned a patient, “Eureka!” I finally understood the parasternal long axis. There was hope for me yet.

How did I finally get here?

  1. Persistence – The old adage holds true. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.When the words or explanation didn’t make sense, I would try a video (YouTube has some great videos). I would get models of structures to understand the anatomy and relate to them to my scans. I would seek out others to explain concepts in different ways to help my understanding.
  2. Memorization – This provided a foundation and served as the means to the end. When using POCUS, there is a lot to remember and you have to put in the necessary study time.

Finally, I was able to understand what was going on and what the picture was telling or NOT telling me. I also learned not to beat myself up for not understanding everything. That is what colleagues, mentors, online resources, and practice are for.

I now understand a lot of POCUS–more than I ever imagined or thought possible. I didn’t let my dislike of physics or the challenge of image recognition stop me. I figured if others could learn this, I should at least give it a decent shot. And that’s what I ask of those I teach or anyone interested in learning.

What would you tell someone starting to learn ultrasound? What aspect was most difficult for you? How did you overcome it? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Atim Uya, MD, is the Point of Care Ultrasound Director, Division of Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, University of California, San Diego/Rady Children’s Hospital, San Diego, California.

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