Sonography and the Seeds of Education in Underserved Rural Clinics

How many of us began our sonography journey thinking about the number of callbacks that we would log per shift, the number of patients that we would scan in an 8-hour day, or, even worse, the number of career-ending ailments that we would amass? Zero; we didn’t. tammySterns_2017

We saw ultrasound as a way to contribute to something bigger than ourselves.

The complex, yet simplistic, science of sound drew us to the field. Looking at the screen and seeing the images come to life was fascinating, and being the first to see presenting pathology while shedding light on the diagnosis mesmerized us. The thought that even after 20 or 30 years in the profession we would encounter images of structures that we’d never seen before was enticing, and the opportunity to be a life-long leaner was thrilling.

Patient interaction and our role in their medical experience appealed to us. Not too much, not too little, but just the right amount of patient care time that allowed us to interact with them and leave a positive imprint on their journey. We imagined we would sit by their bedsides, walk them casually back to the exam rooms, and listen as they shared.

Our patients would come first.

Instead, too often, we found ourselves in the middle of a never-ending battle between cost-effectiveness and patient satisfaction reports. We logged more hours of callbacks than we ever thought possible, sometimes having difficulty even finding the correct key to open the ultrasound office door. We strived to create the profession that we had imagined within the confines of the variables that we’d been given. We did the best that we could, often to the detriment of our own bodies.

And, somewhere along the way, we forgot the wonder of our profession.

About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in my first overseas medical trip. A group of physicians and a few sonographers, with portable machines strapped in backpacks, were intent on sharing sonography with some of our peers an ocean away. It was during this trip that I saw the purest form of ultrasound come to life. We had one of the simplest of machines and the most basic of lectures and yet they came from miles to learn. The patients sat all day in the heat waiting for the opportunity to have an ultrasound scan. I witnessed ultrasound identifying and explaining pain that had existed for years. I saw tears of relief, joy, and despair as people received answers that changed their lives.

A few years later, I was able to return to the same place. I fully expected to find that they had not utilized our lessons on sonography to their fullest. Instead, our previous pupils greeted us with dog-eared textbooks, mastered skills, and the desire to know more! The seeds of education that we had planted had flourished as they realized the potential ultrasound held for their rural clinics. It offered the ability to quickly investigate and diagnose and you could see the wonder of ultrasound that we had once experienced reflected in their eyes.

Seven years ago, my family and I had the opportunity to move to a developing country. Living in the second-poorest country in the western hemisphere with limited medical availability, I now see every day the wonder of our profession come to life. All the benefits of ultrasound that we learned as students, that are often taken for granted, are the benefits that allow lives to be changed every day.

Portability – I can scan in a makeshift clinic, under a tree in a field, or in someone’s handmade shelter while they lay on the floor.

Inexpensive – Portable machines are relatively inexpensive and diagnostically sound, making them perfect for short-term trips or as gifts to native physicians.

Quick – Within minutes, we can scan and find answers to problems that have hindered the livelihood of those who are sick and in pain. One of my first patients was an OB patient who had been in labor for several days without any progress. A quick scan revealed placenta previa.

Relatively Safe – Without the worry of radiation and chemicals, ultrasound, when utilized by those who are qualified, provides a safe method of imaging.

True, my exam room isn’t exactly ergonomically correct and there are times that chickens and roosters run underfoot. I’ve had to prop the machine on a rock and scan in the brightest sun of the day. But I’ve also witnessed a mother’s face when she sees her baby for the very first time without me having to operate under the time constraints of efficiency. I’ve held a father’s hand as he realized that the pain he’s had for years isn’t the cancer he so greatly feared but a simple fix. I’ve scanned at the bedside of a daughter who lay dying without any medical options, and I fall more and more in love with our profession every single day.

Experience the wonder of ultrasound again.

If given the opportunity, I encourage you to participate in a medically related trip or volunteer opportunity. You will see firsthand how our profession and our images impact the world one life and one scan at a time. You don’t have to move permanently as we did to a developing country. Opportunities also abound in your local community from volunteering your time as a clinical instructor to scanning for local centers. Expand your horizons and allow yourself to experience the wonder of ultrasound again.

 

How have you seen ultrasound incorporated into medical care in other nations? Do you have an ultrasound story to tell? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

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Tammy Stearns, MS, RT(R), RDMS, RVT, FSDMS, is Director of Women’s Ministry and Sonographer for Project H.O.P.E. in Managua, Nicaragua. She is also the President of the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography and an adjunct professor of Diagnostic Medical Sonography at Adventist University in Orlando, Florida, and a sonographer consultant for Heartbeat International.  She is also the author of “Know Hope” and “Living Worthy”.

POCUS in Pediatrics

Do you work in a children’s hospital? Do you perform POCUS? Do you ever wonder if other divisions in your hospital are using POCUS as well?

Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) is growing quickly across all medical specialties, including pediatrics. Within pediatrics, POCUS is being utilized in the emergency department, intensive care unit, operating room, clinic as well as on the inpatient floor. While the scope of practice may differ across sub-specialties, the issues pertaining to education, training, credentialing, equipment procurement, and workflow solutions are universal.A Abo

At Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC) in Washington, DC, we have established a hospital-wide oversight committee for POCUS, which is a multi-disciplinary effort throughout the institution. Our aim is to standardize the use of POCUS across the hospital with respect to
1) education/training/credentialing,
2) documentation/image archival, and
3) maximizing the financial benefit.

Education, Training, and Credentialing

Each division who uses POCUS should have a champion who is responsible for the education and training of both trainees and faculty within the division. Many faculty in pediatrics, and pediatric sub-specialties, were not trained in POCUS as part of their residencies and fellowships; therefore, the opportunity to learn POCUS as a faculty member is incredibly important. Once competent in POCUS, faculty should have the ability to become credentialed in POCUS. A hospital-wide POCUS initiative can promote POCUS education across divisions through collaboration. Divisions can share POCUS curriculums with one another in addition to sharing resources. For example, divisions can bring their resources together and host a hospital-wide POCUS course. Furthermore, at CNMC, we recently received a grant to establish an ultrasound simulation program, which will be incorporated into our hospital-wide simulation program.

Documentation and Image Archival

Divisions that are using point-of-care ultrasound for medical decision making or procedural guidance should be documenting their findings in the medical record and archiving the appropriate images. In an ideal world, the ultrasound images would be accessible in the medical record, along with the documentation. The ability to view the POCUS images, by all clinicians providing care, improves the flow of knowledge among clinicians and in turn, improves patient care. From a workflow standpoint, the ability to archive the images in a centralized location, with the ability to connect the images to the electronic medical record, may be better accomplished as a hospital-wide initiative.

Maximizing the Financial Benefit

Collaboration among the divisions using point-of-care ultrasound can have a financial impact as well. For instance, when purchasing ultrasound equipment, the cost per machine is lowered when purchased in bulk. Furthermore, once the infrastructure is in place with respect to credentialing as well as the ability to document and store ultrasound images, clinicians may have the ability to bill for their services.

In order to accomplish the aforementioned aims, it is crucial to have hospital-wide support. To that end, we have strong partnerships with other clinical divisions, such as Radiology and Cardiology, who share their ultrasound expertise with the POCUS community. Furthermore, we have established relationships with other groups as well, such as information technology, purchasing, legal, biomed, and credentialing.

Are you interested in doing something similar at your institution? Wondering where to start? One suggestion is to send out a survey to all the division chiefs to better understand if POCUS is currently being used (or will be used in the future) in their respective divisions. Be sure to ask if the division has a POCUS champion. From there, plan a meeting with all the champions and start a discussion on how to improve POCUS at your institution. For a resource, check out the following reference.

Strony R, Marin JR, Bailitz J, et al. Systemwide clinical ultrasound program development: an expert consensus model. West J Emerg Med. 2018; 19:649–653.

 

Do you work in a children’s hospital? Do you perform POCUS? Do you ever wonder if other divisions in your hospital are using POCUS as well? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

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Alyssa Abo, MD, FAAP, FACEP, is Director of Clinical Ultrasound in Emergency Medicine, and Chair of the Hospital Oversight Committee for Point-of-Care Ultrasound at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC, as well as Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Emergency Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, DC.

Women in Ultrasound Leadership: Seeing the Future

At first, I was excited for the opportunity to write a piece for The Scan on Women in Ultrasound Leadership. I love ultrasound and I love trying to advocate for women in medicine, especially women in medicine leadership. Sounds great, right? Then my efforts quickly became like the purgatory on a page of my personal statement for internal medicine residency application. Next came a hard-core resurgence of the “Impostor Syndrome” I’ve been working pretty hard to quell, with the support of some great colleagues and friends. In case you’re one of the few people who have never experienced this, Impostor Syndrome is defined by Dr Google as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” So, how do you write for yourself and try to encourage others to keep waging and winning these internal AND external battles? Especially when you so very acutely remember all those doubts (and *may* have had to take propranolol for near panic over giving a Meet the Professor session on POCUS at the American College of Physicians convention last year)?! Here’s how: You look at the numbers, get fired up, think about yourself in the past—plus all of the other women out there—and get down to it.Renee

Since you’re probably wondering who in the heck I am, and why I am qualified to write about women in ultrasound leadership, let me introduce myself. I am a lifelong Oregonian outside of 3 years in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital for my internal medicine residency. During my residency, I fell in love, first with simulation as an educational method, and later with point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). I felt these methods could do so much to advance the care of medical patients beyond the ED, where POCUS was most common. Then, I returned home to my first attending role in the Division of Hospital Medicine at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). My passion for ultrasound developed further as I learned additional clinical uses and saw just how much you could use ultrasound to teach residents and students in the foundational sciences and beyond.

With the knowledge, support, and sponsorship of my former provost, Dr Jeanette Mladenovic, I started my ultrasound leadership journey. My first experience with the incredibly welcoming national POCUS community was when the World Congress of Ultrasound in Medical Education came to OHSU in October of 2014. With Dr Mladenovic’s encouragement, I helped out with logistics, including scheduling and faculty, room, and machine assignments, and did a bit of teaching. But mostly I fan-girled over my POCUS heroes, learned, and connected. There were probably only 10–15 other internists that year, but I was so inspired by their work and the POCUS community in general that I will forever fondly remember that meeting.

Since then, via connections, friends, mentors, and sponsors made at that meeting, I have been able to teach at national internal medicine (IM) pre-courses, give lectures, webinars, and podcasts, and create and deliver local, regional, and national/international POCUS curricula at OHSU, including for the AIUM (where I now also serve on the Board of Governors).

It’s been a wild ride, and I’d like to take a quick pause to define and highlight the concept of sponsorship, and what it has done for me. “The Real Benefit of Finding a Sponsor” in Harvard Business Review (HBR) asserted:

“The Sponsor Effect” defines a sponsor as someone who uses chips on his or her protégé’s behalf and advocates for his or her next promotion as well as doing at least two of the following: expanding the perception of what the protégé can do; making connections to senior leaders; promoting his or her visibility; opening up career opportunities; offering advice on appearance and executive presence; making connections outside the company; and giving advice. Mentors proffer friendly advice. Sponsors pull you up to the next level.

Another HBR piece I love highlights the importance of women supporting each other, instead of responding to inequality in the workplace by holding down other women. The article describes sponsorship as “connecting a protégé with opportunities and contacts and advocating on their behalf, as opposed to the more advice-focused role of mentorship.”

Setting aside the actual promotion piece of sponsorship (given the rather structured, CV-driven nature of the academic promotion process) in my mind really drills down to someone with influence going above and beyond suggesting high-yield activities and relationships for a mentee. Instead, a sponsor makes those connections for them, putting their name up there for that national committee, speaking role, suggesting them for that multi-site study, etc.

So why am I telling you all this? Because we NEED TO ACT. Across the spectrum, there are profound discrepancies between the two sexes: woman are paid less, promoted less, funded less, published less, and finally, invited to speak & peer review less (https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k5232).

I want to acknowledge that both men and women in the POCUS and ultrasound communities have supported me, but we all have more to do. The ultrasound community is not immune to the “manel.”

“Conceptually, the reason why a panel would be organized in the first place, whether at a conference, on cable news, or as part of a legislative session, is to ensure a diversity of opinions and perspectives are brought to the issue up for discussion…The term manel has, like its predecessors, become a useful way to take note of a circumstance in which men may not realize that something they’re involved in has the effect of marginalizing women.”

Once we acknowledge that there is gender inequality, we can all play an active role in addressing it. Here are a few places to start:

  • Don’t wait for women to come to you. Step up and volunteer to be a sponsor without being asked.
  • Nominate a female colleague for an award.
  • If you find yourself on a planning committee, make sure speaker suggestions include women as well.
  • Be fair in your authorship, and make sure if you suggest peer reviewers you suggest women and In fact, being inclusive of women can translate to all aspects of your life!

Finally, my message to junior female colleagues: Focus on your strengths and what you have to give. Don’t be like me and be petrified by your lack of formal training, supplemental degrees or certificates, being the only woman or internist or sonographer in the room. No one knows everything. Own what you don’t, be honest, and do NOT let obsession with limitations or perfection be the enemy of good. Take it from me. And if you don’t have one, get out there & find yourself a sponsor. Okay, actually that was my message to all female colleagues!

In closing, I am thankful for the ultrasound community and all of the opportunities I have had to contribute to the AIUM mission and ultrasound use in general. I am honored to be on the Board of Governors for an organization with a female CEO. I am proud to be on faculty at a university with a female Dean, Provost, Chief Medical Officer, and Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education. Finally, I am thrilled to contribute my love of POCUS as both an educational & diagnostic tool, along with my love of “gab” & connections to help promote and bring this community closer together in any way I might.

 

Do you know of a woman whose career advanced with the help of a sponsor? Have you been a sponsor? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

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Renee Dversdal, MD, FACP, is Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of OHSU Point of Care Ultrasound as well as General Medicine Ultrasound Fellowship Director at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Oregon.

The Democratization of Point-of-Care Ultrasound

The subtle sound of a distant explosion rang out. We barely flinched, numb to the sound that was a near-daily occurrence at our remote outpost in war-torn Afghanistan in 2005. Minutes later, a fast-approaching Humvee suggested that this time, something was amiss. The sight of a bloodied soldier draped over the vehicle’s hood provided confirmation.

CPT Jonathan Monti, left, and Lt. Col. Robert Craig, in the army physical training shirt, treat a trauma casualty at Forward Operating Base Ripley in 20005.

As we scrambled to prepare our dusty, sparsely equipped treatment tent, casualties poured through the door. A young Afghan man, triaged as minimally injured, lay in front of me, peppered from head to toe with small shrapnel wounds. His wounds were indeed benign-appearing, as his triage category suggested, but penetrating wounds can be deceptive. I struggled to gauge whether his lack of responsiveness to my questions was due to our language barrier, or something more sinister like blunt or penetrating head trauma. His primary survey was otherwise unremarkable…nosignificant external hemorrhage, airway intact without labored breathing. His blood pressure was borderline low, not an uncommon finding in the thin/healthy. 

I dusted off the nearby SonoSite 180, now widely considered to be the first portable ultrasound device of its kind. Most of its knobs were still foreign to me, and my inexperienced eyes struggled to interpret the grainy images. His belly and lungs appeared unremarkable, but scanning through his subxiphoid region, the black stripe encircling his heart jumped out at me, inconsistent with my already-anchoring bias of a traumatic brain injury, but consistent with the images I had only seen in Ma and Mateer’s landmark text.

I quickly called the surgeon, whose experience with the device barely surpassed my own. After a quick look at both the machine and text, he commanded his team to prep the operating suite, an equally dusty, adjacent tent. Minutes later, the surgeon’s skillful incision of the patient’s pericardium evacuated the now-tamponading bloody effusion, revealing the tiny piece of shrapnel embedded within the patient’s right ventricular wall and saving the patient’s life.

On that day, the humbling and lifesaving power of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) was revealed to me. As a junior clinician with limited trauma experience, I had no formal ultrasound training, mentorship, or experience. Yet this machine, when coupled with only a book, and the desire to learn, allowed me the opportunity to overcome the shortcomings of my physical exam skills, my resource constraints, and my cognitive bias, and the mistriage of another, to ensure a patient received the timely and definitive care he deserved. In the decade or so since, I have been fortunate to serve my patients while under the tutelage of several POCUS experts whose altruistic and thoughtful mentorship allowed me the opportunity to cultivate my passion for this powerful tool, while also imparting the nuances and limitations of POCUS, frequently leading me back to a common question:

How can we best harness the full power of POCUS?”

There is a rapidly growing body of evidence that suggests that clinicians of various skill levels can effectively employ focused POCUS applications with minimal training. Though not without risk, POCUS is no different from other clinical skills; performed with variable competency regardless of profession, specialty, or scope of practice. Some will evoke the mantra of “a fool with a tool is still a fool,” which may certainly be true, but it is unfair to assume that foolhardiness is necessarily bound by profession, experience, or even breadth/depth of training.  

The notion that POCUS can/should only be monolithically employed by a limited number of broadly/extensively trained physicians may be yet another example of the monoculture of thought that continues to plague our healthcare system. Certainly, any diagnostic testing should be performed thoughtfully; but do we limit who can use the stethoscope, or order a CBC, based upon title or his/her knowledge of Bayesian principles, Fagan’s nomogram, or pre/post-test probabilities and test-characteristics? Do all successful clinicians adhere to these principles with each and every test they order? Are there other factors to consider when ordering diagnostic testing, particularly in the resource-constrained areas where POCUS can have the greatest impact?

Until POCUS is adaptably and appropriately employed by all those who provide care, regardless of practice setting and scope, its full benefit and potential, especially to those living in medically underserved areas, cannot be realized. Some will inevitably oppose this concept, citing concerns with expertise, patient safety, documentation, reimbursement, etc. Ironically, it is these same arguments that emergency physicians faced 2 decades ago before successfully overcoming significant resistance to fully integrate POCUS into emergency medicine practice.

POCUS leaders are uniquely poised to best mitigate the risks associated with POCUS use through the provision of expanded training opportunities that are well-crafted, appropriately focused, and variably commensurate with clinicians’ skills, cognition, practice setting, and scope. Some of our most innovative POCUS educators are already doing so, whether by incorporating POCUS into the physical exam, or training nurses to perform diagnostic ultrasound, or training medics to employ ultrasound in austere locations. The rise of artificial intelligence/machine learning is already reducing the training burden traditionally associated with POCUS.

POCUS is a rare technological tool; one that is portable, versatile, and liked by both patients and clinicians alike. It can expedite diagnosis and care, improve the accuracy of our physical exam, and help us overcome our own anchoring bias while reducing the risk of procedural error, healthcare cost, and iatrogenic radiation exposure. Though it may not impact a majority of patients, for those it does, that impact is often significant. But the most uniquely promising characteristic of POCUS that we should all embrace is its ability to bring better-informed clinicians of any ilk, back to the bedside where they belong, wherever those in need of care may be.


Do you believe the democratization of point-of-care ultrasound can enhance patient care? Share with us your thoughts or your efforts to do so: comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

Dedicated to the memory of CPT Jeremy A. Chandler, 1st BN, 3rd Special Forces Group, whose life was lost while bravely serving his country on that fateful day, August11th, 2005, in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan.
https://www.greenberetfoundation.org/memorial/jeremy-a-chandler/

Jonathan Monti, PA-C, RDMS, is an Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine PA Studies at Baylor University and president of the Society of Point-of-Care Ultrasound (SPOCUS). He is currently conducting research on the unconventional employment of ultrasound in the U.S. Armed Forces as an employee of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine.

Teaching Point-of-Care Ultrasound

Ultrasonography (US) is now used in some fashion by most specialties, and in graduate medical education, performing a US examination is now a routine expectation in the fields of emergency medicine, surgical critical care, diagnostic radiology, pulmonology, and gynecology. The American Medical Association has confirmed that physician‐performed US is within the scope of practice of appropriately trained physicians and recommend that training and education standards be developed by individual medical specialties.

In light of its clinical and education utility, it is reasonable to expect that US would be taught during medical school. Some national and international bodies, including the AIUM, have proposed curricula for medical students. While its level of use is variable, several schools have described integrated US into undergraduate medical education. Several studies have shown that students are able to and want to learn point-of-care US (POCUS) in medical school. Let’s review some tips for engaging medical students while teaching POCUS.

1. Hands-on time

Allow the medical student to have hands on the probe as much as possible. Limit lecture time to only that which must be done in lecture format. Make sure group learning time is done in small groups with maximal time for each student to use the probe. Give them time to work through different positions and views to help identify windows and quality images. Use your verbal commands to direct them instead of taking the probe. If you are going to take the probe, put your hand over theirs.

2. Engage the student

Find a use for ultrasound that is relevant to the student’s specialty of choice. Most specialties now have some use for ultrasound. IF you cannot identify a use for ultrasound in the specialty of choice, consider teaching general skills like US-guided IV insertion. Describe how US was or would have been useful during residency.

3. Make it fun

Use simulation liberally. Consider having a game or competition (see Sono-games, SonoSlam, or other similar competitions for potential ideas). Multiple homemade procedural models have been described and are inexpensive. Medical students, in general, love practicing procedures and are mostly competitive by nature. There are several ways for the more experienced student to improve their US skills in a fun manner. Some ideas include identifying inanimate objects blindly that are immersed in water, a competition like fastest FAST exam, or making a procedural simulation competition.

4. Short and sweet

Keep sessions engaging by spreading practice out over time. Again, keep lectures as brief and need-to-know as possible. Most medical students will only need a brief physics review and do not, for example, need to know the Nyquist limit. They need to know how to answer focused questions with ultrasound. Students will lose interest if doing the same exam over many hours. Consider spreading sessions, especially image review sessions, out to 1 hour or less over several days. Intersperse different types of ultrasound (e.g., abdominal, cardiac, pulmonary, vascular) within the same session to keep students engaged.

5. Start early

Expose students to US early on in medical school. Consider adding it to anatomy or physiology classes while students are still in their pre-clinical years. If you do not have the swing to add a formal session to preclinical years, consider having voluntary “anatomy review” sessions using US. Try to get enough interest to start an interest group for students that is student-run. This will allow them to take some of the responsibility for scheduling and promoting events and you can focus on what you do best, teaching US.

Ultrasonography is coming to medical education and will continue to grow in use. While students going into specialties like radiology and emergency medicine may instantly be engaged in US teaching, consider ways to engage other students. There is a role for US in nearly every specialty.

Sonographers can and should play a key role in teaching medical students techniques for US. Sonographers perform these exams every day for many years. They have tricks for obtaining quality images and many sonographers are also quite good at interpreting exams, as well.

Embrace medical students and engage them with your passion for ultrasound. Show them how it will be helpful to them in the future. Take an active role in medical student education and watch the use of ultrasonography in medical practice continue to grow.



Do you have suggestions for teaching POCUS to medical students? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

Joshua J Davis, MD, is an Emergency Medicine Resident at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Why Teach Ultrasound?

Sonosorority on ultrasound teaching rounds: (left to right) Michelle Nasal, Grace Rodriguez, Jessica Everett, Erin Wendell, and Tatiana Thema, with Creagh T. Boulger, MD.

Early in my career, I recall my choice to pursue my academicniche in ultrasound and more specifically ultrasound education being questioned. “Why would you do that?” “How are you going to get promoted?” “This is just a fad!”. For a moment I paused wondering if I should heed this advice. Was I making a mistake? I am happy I did not dwell on that moment because I would not be where I am, I would not have gotten promoted, I would not have touched so many learners, met so many amazing people, and helped so many patients.

One of my first patients as a doctor illustrates why I teach ultrasound. I was a brand-new doctor maybe 10 days under my belt. I walked in the room of my patient. They were in clear discomfort, I was nervous. I pushed on their abdomen. Unsure, I walked out to my supervisors and said: “I think I have an acute abdomen in bed 10.” We paged surgery and were ordering other imaging when my now-mentor, Dave Bahner, suggested we do a FAST exam. This was before the ultrasound invasion in medical school and my only exposure to ultrasound was limited and in OB and the trauma bay. He immediately noted significant free fluid and presumed rupture of a neobladder. The patient went promptly to the OR. This opened my eyes and sparked the passion for ultrasound that has fueled my career. I could use this machine to look inside and help patients on the outside.

So why teach ultrasound and who should you teach?

I teach ultrasound because…

It enables me to bring 2-dimensional anatomy to life. One of my greatest joys is showing a new medical student, undergrad, or high school student their own heart beating right in front of them and see the awe in their eyes.

It makes complicated concepts simple. I recall the challenge in medical school of the preclinical years 1 and 2. Understanding systole, diastole, cardiac valves, and flow. On paper, these are complicated and merely rote memorization. Watching these events occur on ultrasound in real time and how they are altered by simple maneuvers such as Valsalva or squatting truly aids in full understanding of the concepts.

Ultrasound is always relevant. One of my favorite courses to teach is ‘The Approach to Undifferentiated Shock’. This is attended by all fourth-year medical students. By the fourth year in medical school, many students are distracted by interviews and matching and have already chosen their respective fields. I love this course because as a teacher, I get one last chance to show them the light, or rather sound, and how it could help them if they encounter a patient in shock. I ask each of them their field of choice and if they see ultrasound having a role in their career. Many will nod affirmatively to appease me but by the end of the course, they are asking if we can teach them more ultrasound before they graduate. Ultrasound helps me connect and let them know how we use ultrasound to understand the causes of shock and how to manage these patients. This ability to break down silos and demonstrate how useful it can be across many specialties that care for patients is one of my favorite aspects of teaching bedside ultrasound.

Innovation

Ultrasound is such an exciting new tool and developed into a new field. New probes, technology, and applications are always evolving and changing how we use it to care for patients.

Ultrasound education is equally as exciting and dynamic. Because of challenges such as limited curricular time and tight budgets we have gotten creative to teach ultrasound. Ultrasound education has led the way with new concepts such as remote instruction, flipped classroom, near-peer training, learning through modeling, and gaming.

Mentorship

I have been fortunate to be blessed with amazing mentors who have given me amazing opportunities. The ultrasound community is small and welcoming, as well as young, fresh, and innovative. One of the greatest joys of teaching ultrasound has been the relationships I have made. I have found wonderful mentors but also been able to be a mentor. To watch my students turn into fellowship directors, division heads, and national speakers has been one of the greatest rewards. I have seen that hard work, loving what you do, and helping others learn ultrasound is a winning strategy for me and possibly you too.

Clinical Excellence

I make myself endlessly available to my learners and that offer does not end at graduation. More so than any award I have ever gotten, the greatest accomplishments of my career are the notes, emails, and texts saying thank you: ultrasound saved my patient last night. Those clinical wins where a patient benefits from a bedside ultrasound make every late night of lecture prep worth it.

So, why teach ultrasound? Ultrasound is the future of medicine and medical education. Get involved!

Why do you teach ultrasound? What do you value most about teaching the next generation of ultrasound users? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community. 

Creagh Boulger, MD, RDMS, FACEP, is Assistant Professor, Assistant Director of Ultrasound, and Assistant Fellowship Director of Emergency Ultrasound at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Training and Integrating Sonographers via Dedicated Preceptors

Hiring new staff members is risky business. Despite all the resources invested in identifying and evaluating qualified candidates, there’s no guarantee they’ll be a good long-term fit for the department. As new staff members begin to settle into a new job, there are a variety of reasons why they might ultimately leave the position. Many of these reasons can be traced back to deficiencies in orientation and training programs. With this in mind, it is of the utmost importance to invest appropriately in the onboarding process. A successful onboarding and training program provides benefits to the candidate and the organization.IMG_2125

My experience with these processes comes primarily from my current position as the Ultrasound Educator at St. David’s North Austin Medical Center in Austin, Texas. A huge portion of our sonographers are hired and contracted to maternal-fetal medicine (MFM) clinics around the Austin area; working for Austin Maternal-Fetal Medicine. Expectations for these sonographers are high. They perform all ultrasound examinations common to maternal-fetal medicine practice, including fetal echocardiography and diagnostic 3D/4D techniques. The scarcity of qualified candidates means that we often hire candidates from out of state, and integration to the department and community are among our primary concerns; having a structured training program helps with that.

New employees spend their first 2 days on the job attending facility orientation. Their third day of work is their first day in the MFM department. They’ll meet with leaders and physicians, and tour all relevant areas. In addition, I spend some time with them reviewing the training process and setting expectations. At this time, we pair them with a Sonographer Preceptor. The preceptor/trainee assignment is, of course, subject to change, but we try to limit this as part of the goal is to provide some stability and consistency during the training period.

The standard training period is 3 months in duration, although, we have extended training in some cases up to 6 months. This period may look different for various candidates based on their prior experience level. However, there are several characteristics that remain fixed:

1. One-on-one work with a preceptor

The Sonographer Preceptor is expected to directly observe while offering real-time feedback, every part of the trainees workday. This level of intensity may only be reduced after consultation with the Ultrasound Educator.

2. Weekly preceptor feedback report

This weekly report is filled out by the Preceptor and reviewed with the trainee. They review things that are working well and also plan which tasks need additional focus for the following week.

3. Image review with the Ultrasound Educator

On a weekly or biweekly basis, the trainee will meet with the Ultrasound Educator to review the Preceptor feedback report and review a selection of examinations from the prior week.

4. Didactic and written material for review

Each candidate is supplied with protocols, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM) guidelines, review articles, and some pre-recorded lectures that cover essential quality standards and approaches for the department.

This high-touch training period helps to ensure that we have a strong understanding of the progress being achieved and can quickly adjust if we do not see steady growth.

Many people will recognize that it takes years to develop strong, comprehensive skills, in the performance of MFM ultrasound examinations. So what can we expect to accomplish in only 3 to 6 months? Upon completion of the training period, the sonographer should be able to:

  1. Complete normal fetal anatomic surveys, fetal echocardiograms, and other examinations in non-obese patients, demonstrating an understanding of proper technique, measurements, and optimization.
  2. Exercise professional discernment by getting help when their own efforts do not produce the answers or quality they expect.

These two goals may initially appear to be overly simplistic, but they work together beautifully in the transition out of the training period and into independent performance. Completion of normal (relatively easy) examinations proves that they understand the target. They understand what normal looks like and the essential techniques involved. The second point is key as it gives department leadership the confidence to allow them to work independently, because we know that they understand what good enough is, and we know that they have the resources they need in order to help them when they cannot meet expectations on their own. This is an important skill that never expires. This is relevant for sonographers, physicians, and other health care practitioners throughout their careers. Knowing when you’ve hit your limit and when to seek additional counsel is key to providing the best care to our patients (regardless of one’s particular level of expertise).

These two benchmarks, along with ongoing quality assurance efforts, help give us confidence in our team even as they continue to grow their individual skills and proficiencies over the coming years.

A note on Preceptor selection

Key to the success of this process is the selection of Sonographer Preceptors. These team members fill two distinct (individually important) roles: technical trainer and social integrator. With that in mind, selection of the individuals who fill this role is very important. Social characteristics we look for are warmth, kindness, extraversion, and the tendency to be inclusive. Technical expertise is evaluated based on history, quality assurance, physician feedback, and ability to evaluate and explain abnormal cases.

Full-time training in a one-on-one environment for 3 months or more at a time can be emotionally and mentally exhausting (even if rewarding). With this in mind, we try to maintain several Preceptors on our team so that these sonographers are able to work independently for extended periods between training new employees.

The social and integrative aspects of our Preceptor Program are not formally defined, yet the benefits are clearly evident. We see that our new employees make strong connections with their preceptors and other team members, frequently having lunch together and engaging in other extracurricular activities during time off.

It is important to point out that preceptors should typically be individual team members—not leads, supervisors, or managers. These formal leaders have other administrative duties that will inevitably get in the way of the one-on-one, full-time training involved in a preceptorship. Of course, leads, supervisors, and educators, may set aside time for some training of new hires, and this is certainly beneficial. For example, in our departments, I frequently set aside time to work with new hires or existing employees on specific skills such as 3D/4D, fetal echocardiography, or abnormal cases. Sonographers enjoy these sessions and benefit from them, but that does not replace the benefit of having a dedicated preceptor.

People don’t stay in jobs where they feel disconnected from the culture and community. This training program, with assigned preceptors, helps to meet the human need for connection in addition to building and verifying technical skills that are necessary for success.

For additional reading:
https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2017/09/21/seven-ways-to-integrate-new-hires-and-make-them-feel-welcome-from-the-first-day/#1282eff640f6
https://www.thebalancecareers.com/employee-orientation-keeping-new-employees-on-board-1919035
https://trainingindustry.com/blog/performance-management/dont-ignore-training-when-onboarding-new-employees/

Does your practice have a mentor program for sonographers? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

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Will Lindsley, RDMS (FE, OBGYN, AB), RVT, is an Ultrasound Educator in Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Fetal Echocardiography in Austin, TX.