The Expeditious Evolution of Emergency Ultrasound Fellowships

RJG Photo 2

Access to the internet was dial up through AOL, Bill Clinton was President, and ultrasound machines were big, clunky, and new to the emergency department. It was 1999 and I was in Long Island as a resident. As a resident, I saw the ultrasound machine lurking around the emergency department, but very few faculty seemed to know how to use it. A search of fellowships in emergency ultrasound found a single listed fellowship in Chicago, so I organized a rotation to see what ultrasound was all about.

Emergency ultrasound fellowships in the early 2000s were disconnected, isolated, and in many ways under the radar. As the ultrasound interest group president in SAEM (soon to become the Academy of Emergency Ultrasound) I heard firsthand how difficult it was for fellows to find ultrasound fellowships and how difficult it was for fellowship directors to find applicants. Partnered with Pat Hunt, we started EUSFellowships.com as a platform for fellows and programs to meet. Ultrasound became more mainstream as ACEP, SAEM, and CORD fought to have ultrasound integrated into residency training and general emergency medicine.

Eventually EUSFellowships.com evolved into the Society of Clinical Ultrasound Fellowships as a more robust organization focused on advanced training for bedside ultrasound. The first couple of emergency ultrasound fellowships started around 1997. Within 5 years there were 12 fellowships, and within 10 years there were 27. Today there are over 100 emergency ultrasound fellowships graduating more than 70 fellows each year. There are more ultrasound fellows graduating each year than in toxicology and EMS combined.

Emergency ultrasound fellows today join a large vibrant group of specialists across the United States and the world. Physicians use ultrasound to diagnose, monitor, and guide procedures everywhere from the African savannah to the neighborhoods in New York City. The initial meetings in the 1990s involved small groups getting together to discuss cutting-edge research and new applications. Now ultrasound meetings in emergency medicine involve hundreds of people discussing topics such as board certification or ultrasound program management. Research has evolved from single “we can do it too” projects to multi-center collaboratives. The change in ultrasound over the last 20 years is mind blowing.

When I interview medical students now, I ask them why they went into medicine. What do they want to achieve? One of the best answers I hear is that they want to make a difference in medicine and improve care for all patients. I feel that I have been lucky enough to witness the birth of a new subspecialty that will improve how patients are cared for in the future.

 

What was your initial experience with ultrasound education? Where did you learn your ultrasound skills? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Romolo Gaspari, MSc, MD, PhD, FACEP, is the Executive Vice Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UMASS Memorial Medical Center. He has also served as the president of a number of Emergency Ultrasound Societies including what is now the Academy of Emergency Ultrasound and the Society of Clinical Ultrasound Fellowships.

Flying Samaritans, the Seed to Pediatric Point-of-Care Ultrasound

There are some experiences in life that seem to have a tremendous impact on the person you become, and the career path you decide to take. When I started working with the Flying Samaritans in medical school, little did I know that it would change the trajectory of my career.

Kids from El Testerazo Mexico

The kids I fell in love with in El Testerazo, holding the pictures I had taken and shared with them. They came by even if they weren’t sick. Of note, they are now in their 20s with families of their own.

Since the UC Irvine School of Medicine was so close to the USA-Mexico border, the UC Irvine Flying Samaritans chapter was actually a driving chapter. Each month we drove down to El Testerazo, Mexico, to give medical care and medications to an underserved community. I immediately fell in love with the community and the children of El Testerazo, Mexico. They would all laugh at my then broken high school-level Spanish, but would appreciate my trying. There was also something about the group of undergraduates (who ran the clinic), medical students, residents, and attending physicians who volunteered their time there that brought back the humanity to medicine. The experience was challenging and rewarding at the same time—to work with limited resources, but to become a trusted member of their community was priceless. Each time I went to the “Flying Sams” clinic, I remembered why I went into medicine in the first place.

During my time with the “Flying Sams,” I worked with a then Emergency Medicine resident, Chris Fox. When he told me he was going to Chicago to do a 1-year Emergency Ultrasound fellowship, I thought he was crazy.

Old ultrasound machine

The ancient beast of an ultrasound machine that we had in the “Flying Sams” clinic.

Not only was he leaving sunny Southern California, but he was going to spend a year looking at ultrasounds? When I looked at ultrasounds, I could barely make out structures; images looked like the old tube TV’s from the 1980s. When Fox returned, he said, “Steph, the next big thing will be pediatric ultrasound.” Again, I thought he was crazy. But slowly, by seeing how ultrasound impacted the management of our patients in El Testerazo, I realized the brilliance in this craziness. Chris Fox’s enthusiasm and “sonoevangelism” was infectious. I think nearly everyone in the “Flying Sams” ended up eventually doing an ultrasound fellowship. Even though the ultrasound machine in the clinic was old, and images were of limited quality, we were still able to impact the medical care of this community that became near and dear to my heart.

And so it began…my passion for emergency ultrasound (now referred to as point-of-care ultrasound) and for Global Health. My initial goal was to become good at performing ultrasounds. As I quickly realized, I was one of the only people who had experience in pediatric point-of-care ultrasound. I felt a tremendous responsibility to become as knowledgeable and skilled as possible, if I were going to teach others this powerful tool. After 4 years of undergraduate education, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of a Pediatrics residency, and 3 years of a Pediatric Emergency Medicine fellowship, I decided to do an additional 1-year fellowship in Emergency Ultrasound. With medical school loans looming and so many years without a “real job,” I was reluctant to do this. This California girl moved from sunny Southern California, to Manhattan to embark on a 1-year Emergency Ultrasound fellowship. This was a move far outside of my comfort zone for so many reasons. And that was one of the reasons why it ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It has been a privilege to be a part of this growing community… to take better care of the most vulnerable of patients… and to give this tool to other doctors around the world. I certainly would have never had these experiences or opportunities if it weren’t for the “Flying Sams” and Chris Fox; to both I am forever grateful.

 

 Are you involved in global medical education? If so, what led to your decision to go into the field? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Stephanie J. Doniger, MD, RDMS, FAAP, FACEP is the Editor of the first pediatric point-of-care ultrasound textbook “Pediatric Emergency and Critical Care Ultrasound,” and is currently practicing Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Point-of-Care Ultrasound in New York. She has additional training in Tropical Medicine and is in charge of Pediatric POCUS education for WINFOCUS Latinamerica.

Interest in Interest Groups

Ultrasound in medical education is a powerful idea whose time has come. With its value in the clinical setting being increasingly recognized, leaders of a point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) movement are making a strong case for introducing ultrasound early in medical training. Not only is it a useful educational tool to illustrate living anatomy and physiology, but it is also an important clinical skill- guiding procedure, improving diagnostic accuracy, and facilitating radiation-free disease monitoring. As the list of POCUS applications grows exponentially across specialties, I believe that to maximize the potential impact, it is vital to introduce this skillset early during the pleuripotent stem cell phase of a young doctor’s career.

Wagner

Looking around, there are signs this movement is here to stay. Ten years after the first medical schools began integrating ultrasound into the curriculum, an AAMC report of US and Canadian schools stated that at least 101 offered some form of ultrasound education, with the majority including it into the first 2 years of the curriculum. If one visits the AIUM medical education portal (http://meded.aium.org/home), 77 medical schools list a faculty contact person involved with ultrasound curriculum development and integration.

It should be noted that the depth of content varies from school to school, as not all institutions value ultrasound to the same degree. Recommendations on core clinical ultrasound milestones for medical students have been published and results from a forthcoming international consensus conference will help improve standardization, though there will likely be much variability until it is required by LCME or included on board exams.

It is during this time of transition that the importance of ultrasound interest groups (USIGs) cannot be understated. USIGs provide a wider degree of flexibility often not possible within a formal curriculum, quickly adapting for changes not only for meeting times and group sizes but also topics and teaching strategies. Indeed, for schools without a formal ultrasound curriculum it is often how one gets started. For ultrasound faculty, USIGs provide fertile ground for experimenting with new teaching ideas and cultivating both student and faculty enthusiasm for POCUS at one’s institution. For senior students, USIGs can provide opportunities to participate in research projects, serve as near-peer instructors, and participate at regional and international meetings. The spread of local, student-run Ultrafest symposiums is a testament to the power ultrasound has to draw people in and the impact students can have beyond their own institution. The AIUM National USIG (http://www.nationalusig.com/) provides a nice resource for further collaboration while student competitions like AIUM’s Sonoslam or SUSME’s Ultrasound World Cup showcase ultrasound talent and teamwork in an anti-burnout, fun environment. I have no doubt that some of these exceptionally motivated students will become future leaders in the field, as some already have (http://www.sonomojo.org/).

While many of these students will pursue and jumpstart their careers in Emergency and Critical Care Medicine, students from varying backgrounds and interests are needed in USIGs. The frontier of Primary Care ultrasound is wide open and may become crucial as we see more emphasis on population medicine and cost containment as opposed to fee-for-service models. With the exception of in the ER, the utilization of pediatric ultrasound has been surprisingly lagging and more POCUS champions are certainly needed here. In addition, the early exposure to POCUS can increase comfort with ultrasound and help drive novel developments by future specialists. Some lesser known potential examples include advancing work already underway: gastric ultrasound for aspiration risk by anesthesiologists, sinusitis and tonsillar abscess drainage for ENTs, diagnosing and setting fractures for orthopedists, noninvasively measuring intracranial pressure by ophthalmologists and neurologists, and detecting melanoma metastasis by dermatologists. Until it is more widespread, a skillset in POCUS can be a helpful way to distinguish oneself in an application process and provides an excellent academic niche. After medical school, some USIG students will go on to form ultrasound interest groups in their specialty organizations, going beyond carving out a special area of interest for themselves and helping to advance the field and shape future policies.

Similar to other enriching things like viewing art and discussing philosophy, I believe all students should be exposed to ultrasound and given the opportunity to learn this skill. While I feel strongly that ultrasound should be a mandatory component of an undergraduate curriculum, I also recognize that not all will enjoy and excel in it, and many will settle for nothing more than the bare minimum. However, I believe the USIGs help us to motivate and empower those few individuals with the passion and grit to really help propel this movement forward and show the world what is possible. This is truly an exciting time. I hope you will join us.

Ultrafest

Are you a member of an ultrasound interest group? Has it improved your skill set? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Michael Wagner, MD, FACP, RDMS, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Columbia. There he serves as the Director of Internal Medicine Ultrasound Education for the residency program, Assistant Director of Physical Diagnosis for the undergraduate curriculum, and faculty advisor to the student ultrasound interest group. You can view his 2017 talk for the USCSOM USIG here (https://youtu.be/FfO7SXRwjLY) and an AIUM webinar with Janice Boughton on a pocket ultrasound physical exam here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywuIeoEfG1I).

 

Back to Academia

“How long have you been practicing?! And you went back to do an ultrasound fellowship? That’s amazing! I could never do that.” This was pretty much how the conversation went when people found out about my ultrasound background. You see, after my residency training, I practiced for 2 years as a Locum Tenens physician, then an additional 5 years in a community emergency department (ED), before going back for an ultrasound (US) fellowship. Sure, it is an unconventional path, but I believe if you want it badly enough, you can do it, too.

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Kristine S. Robinson, MD

To me, the biggest challenge was the salary cut. Many US fellows make somewhere around $50–70,000 annually. For most of us working in a community ED, that is a fourth or a fifth of what we could typically earn in a year. It all depends on your situation: Do you have kids? Car payments? Other significant bills? Is your mortgage reasonable? Do you have an emergency fund to fall back on? Does your spouse make a decent living? I recommend creating a realistic monthly budget. Be honest with yourself and decide what you can and cannot live without: cable with all the trimmings, the monthly wine and beer clubs, frequent international travel, the latest trend in fashion, the newest must-have gadget, and weekly trips to your favorite restaurants. If money is still tight, check to see if there is an option to moonlight.

The second challenge was going back to student mode. The assigned readings, coursework, podcasts, and post-chapter exams were time-consuming, but not daunting. Although, in the beginning, physics was giving me a bit of heartburn. I think the major adjustment I encountered was interacting with attending physicians and US faculty who were younger than me. There was also the research requirement, which most community-based emergency physicians (EPs) happily abandoned. As for the mandatory clinical hours (scanning and ED shifts), many full-time EPs would experience a reduction of 2–3 shifts per month. However, as a fellow, you have additional labor-intensive responsibilities, which include research, helping with the US quality assurance process, weekly US conferences, medical student US labs, EM resident US lectures and labs, US teaching shifts, and so forth.

Another challenge I grappled with was work-related musculoskeletal complaints from repetitive motion. In addition to our US teaching load, we were expected to perform about 4 to 6 9-hour scanning shifts a month, averaging about 22 to 28 scans a shift. Perhaps it was my age, but after a full day of scanning, I often had mild to moderate wrist, hip, and back pains. To be frank, I did not exactly practice good US ergonomic techniques, which in general is not often taught in EM US fellowship programs. Luckily, these were minor complaints and never progressed to anything serious.

With these challenges, you might wonder if it was all worth it. I absolutely believe so. In fact, I have often said that it was the best career decision that I had made so far. Before I even finished my fellowship, I was presented with 3 lucrative job offers. I instantly became a more competitive and coveted applicant. I had carved a niche for myself, and I knew that I would be vital to any ED I join. With my US experience, I improved my diagnostic and procedural skills. Not to mention, US made my shifts more fun. Lastly, if you are still not convinced, most US fellowships are only a year long, and time goes by fast.

 

Have you returned to school to gain more training in ultrasound? What was your experience? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Kristine S. Robinson is an Assistant Professor and Ultrasound faculty at West Virginia University (WVU) Department of Emergency Medicine in Morgantown, WV. She finished her Emergency Medicine residency at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA, in 2008. Afterward, she worked for 2 years as a Locum Tenens physician and 5 years in a community hospital before returning to WVU to complete an Ultrasound fellowship in 2016.

Pediatric Emergency Ultrasound: We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

My first rotation as a pediatric emergency medicine (PEM) fellow was on the adult trauma service. It was 2006 and in West Philadelphia there was no shortage of patients with gun shot wounds, stabbings, and motor vehicle crashes. The trauma surgeons were hard on the surgery trainees, and generally nice to the PEM fellows. We weren’t training to be surgeons on the front line after all. One attending, however, was indiscriminate in his wrath and unbiased in his intent to humiliate.

dreamstime_xs_59669332A few days into the rotation, during a trauma alert, he chose me: “Jennifer, the FAST, do the FAST!” I was completely puzzled and looked at him blankly. This, of course, made him angrier. “Do the FAST exam!”

Unable to admit at the time that I had never heard of the FAST exam, I remained silent. Seeking to avoid any fear, shame, or humiliation that would certainly accompany future traumas, I immediately read everything I could about it, and the surgery fellows taught me at the bedside.

I returned to the children’s hospital wanting to learn more about ultrasound. Unfortunately, at the time, no one in PEM knew much about it. In fact, none of my colleagues or mentors had any experience with it. I sought guidance from my general emergency medicine colleagues next door who welcomed me and trained me as one of their own.

In time, I proposed a research study in the pediatric emergency department: point-of-care ultrasound for pediatric soft tissue infections. At the time, the radiology faculty weren’t keen on this. They were unaware of non-radiologists using ultrasound and didn’t understand why emergency physicians would need to use it. It was a slippery slope, they argued, and might result in indiscriminate and “unregulated” usage. We compromised–I could use ultrasound in the emergency department solely for research purposes. The machine, literally under lock and key, was off limits to anyone but those involved in the study.

As I found out, my experience was not unique. Many of my PEM colleagues around the country faced similar obstacles from specialists outside of the emergency department. Point-of-care ultrasound at that time was simply not the standard of care.

Nearly a decade later, I practice in a very different climate. Point-of-care ultrasound is a mainstay in my patient care practice; and I now have the support (and collaboration) of my radiology colleagues and others outside of emergency medicine.

More broadly, PEM ultrasound is a recognized subspecialty. Notably:

  • There are approximately 10 dedicated 1-year fellowships in pediatric point-of-care ultrasound.
  • Pediatric point-of-care ultrasound is part of the American Board of Pediatrics core content for pediatric emergency medicine fellowship training, and has been incorporated into the PEM subspecialty board examination.
  • Landmark publications include the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement and Technical Report for PEM point-of-care ultrasound.
  • There is a PEM ultrasound international organization (www.p2network.com).
  • AIUM invited me to write this blog.

We certainly have come a long way.

Do you have a similar ultrasound story? What other areas have come a long way when it comes to ultrasound? What areas are poised to be next? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Jennifer R. Marin, MD, MSc, is Director of Emergency Ultrasound in the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine as well as Quality Director, Point-of-Care Ultrasound at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Simulators Role in Ultrasound Training

I believe the future of health care will involve the expanded use of diagnostic ultrasound, which will be accomplished through the use of an enhanced version of today’s handheld ultrasound scanner. I envision this “sono-scope” to be a wireless, lightweight, handheld imaging device with a long battery life and high-quality image capture that will expand the capabilities of the stethoscope.

The compact, portable ultrasoundpedersen_image scanners began entering the medical imaging marketplace around year 2000. Since then the market has grown dramatically, and the portable scanners have bifurcated into two broad groups: (i) The pocket-sized or handheld scanners (HHUS) and (ii) the larger, full-featured point-of-care ultrasound systems (POCUS).

These devices provide doctors with an extension of their senses and augment existing tools. But to be truly transformational, users need to receive ultrasound training from the beginning of their medical career, which will allow them quickly to “rule in” and “rule out” possible diagnoses and lead to earlier treatment decisions and/or more relevant further tests.

I maintain that the main barrier for making the HHUS (and POCUS) every clinician’s examination tool of choice, is not the technology, but rather the lack of opportunity to acquire and develop the needed scanning skills.

Thus, finding training strategies that enable the integration of ultrasound into medical schools is an essential step in overcoming this barrier. If the next generation of doctors had ultrasound for diagnosis and guided procedures as a vital part of their training, they would quickly develop a natural comfort with this tool and, with time, increasing sophistication. A parallel can be drawn regarding the attitude toward acquiring computer skills. As recent as 40 years ago, the operation of computers was thought to be limited to a select, carefully trained group of specialists. Today, nearly everyone is able to operate computers at some level.

Effective training in medical ultrasound requires both clinical knowledge (understanding of anatomy, physiology, and pathology) and scanning skills (psycho-motor skills, which are the integration of motion and the mental processes of recognizing anatomic structures in 3D from the 2D images). While both clinical knowledge and scanning skills are essential, the former is often emphasized at the expense of the latter because clinical knowledge can be delivered cost effectively and in flexible formats through online courses (including MOOCs), self-study, and in traditional classroom courses. Scanning skills, on the other hand, are acquired through hands-on experience, by examining patients, preferably both healthy and with symptoms, under the guidance of an experienced sonographer. Here, the medical educational enterprise does not currently have the capacity to meet this training need. There are too few scanners available for learners to use. There are too few patients or human subjects in general available for scanning. Last but not least, there are too few qualified instructors who can guide the learning.

There exists a potentially effective approach to overcoming this limitation in delivering scanning skills training: The use of ultrasound training simulators. Simulation provides a controlled and safe practice environment to promote learning. The efficacy of the simulator-based training is well-established. For example, human errors related to airline accidents have decreased in large part due to flight simulator training. Likewise, high-fidelity medical simulations have been shown to be educationally effective, as evidenced by the strong correlation between surgical simulator training and improved outcomes. Several studies have demonstrated the learning value of simulator-based training in diagnostic ultrasound.

Just as HHUS and POCUS have proliferated over the last 15 years, so have ultrasound simulator products. Some training simulators cover multiple clinical specialties, while others are designed for a specific application. Typically, the learner scans a physical manikin with a realistic-looking sham transducer, which produces an image on the display corresponding to the position and orientation of the sham transducer on the manikin, along with an anatomy display of the location of the image plane through the body.

An important component of the simulator design is the degree to which the simulator provides structured learning with guidance, interaction, and assessment. While all simulators include educational modules, only a few offer self-paced learning and competence verification. All in all, today’s ultrasound simulators are sophisticated devices that are capable of meeting training needs on basic and even intermediate levels. However, because the purchase price is sufficiently high (from $10K to more than $100K) sonography programs and simulation centers at larger hospitals are typically the only facilities able to acquire this technology.

When the medical community is ready to embrace ultrasound as an imaging modality of first choice for doctors from all specialties, I am convinced that technological innovation will lead to affordable, yet customizable and realistic training simulators. In particular, what is needed are portable and lightweight simulators that run on ordinary, modern PC/laptops, making personal ownership of a simulator possible as well as allowing medical schools to purchase such simulators in large quantities. For individualized training, it is essential that the simulator be task-based and able to verify the acquired skills level. To deliver the best realism, the image material should preferably be acquired directly from human subjects, and to provide the optimal development and assessment of psychomotor skills, the scanning practice on the simulator should resemble actual patient scanning as closely as possible. Such low-cost training simulators can lay the groundwork for building up such ultrasound skills both among practicing specialists and students enrolled in medical schools.

Have you/do you use simulators in your ultrasound training? What are the advantages or disadvantages? What would make simulation training better? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Peder C. Pedersen is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.