Novice to Competence to Understanding Our Role as POCUS Educators

Nights at the VA medical ICU could get lonely sometimes. When the hubbub of the day had drawn down and the critical care fellows had gone home, the work in the ICUs slowed.Headshot_kevin piro

I figured that I would make use of the time that had seemingly stopped. I grabbed the ultrasound and went to scan and chat with a friendly gentleman whom I had admitted the previous night. It became readily apparent that I was still a struggling learner at this point in my training. There was something that looked like cardiac motion, but not resembling anything like the diagrams and videos I had looked at on my own. It was an uncomfortable place to be.

I imagine that is where a lot of people get frustrated and stop, especially when they don’t have someone to encourage and nurture their continued practice. I had a different luxury. Just a few weeks prior, I had received an inquiry about participating in a new general medicine POCUS fellowship at Oregon Health & Science University, and I was instantly sold on its potential. Here was a chance to carve out a new path and to invest in a skill that offered me a skillset that could improve my patient care. And I knew that I would have the benefit of POCUS experts literally holding my hand as I learned the skill. What a luxury!

So, I kept scanning in the ICU prior to my fellowship. You know what I found? Patients are much more forgiving than we might imagine them to be. Most understand that hospitals are frequently places of learning and like to be engaged in the process and, as I stumbled through my next few exams, I was reminded of my Dad’s words of encouragement, “the only difference between you and an expert is that they have done it once or twice.” So I kept at it. I was terrible the next times too. But, it got easier and I felt less intimated with each scan I performed. By the time I hit fellowship, I was already moving in the right direction.

When I started my POCUS fellowship, I was fortunate to work with all sorts of supportive colleagues that allowed me to continue to grow. Where I had struggled to build a foundation on my own, colleagues collected from internists, sonographers, and EM physicians provided me with the scaffolding. They provided me with lessons. “Remember, air is the enemy of ultrasound” and “ultrasound does not give you permission to turn your brain off. It is a problem-solving tool.” They entertained clinical application questions. They gave back when I leaned in. These colleagues were an amazing support network and would help me construct the mosaic that I teach from now.

A few months into the fellowship, I could complete a competent exam comfortably. It came together one day for me when I completed a Cardiovascular Limited Ultrasound Exam (CLUE) on a pleasantly demented older man, who had shortness of breath likely representing heart failure. As I looked at his lungs, taking stock of the bilateral B-lines and pleural effusions that confirmed his diagnosis, I discussed and showed the findings with his daughter.

“This makes so much sense now!” she remarked. The lightbulb went on for her as I democratized her father’s clinical information. The lightbulb came on for me too as I had a sense of satisfaction of both feeling confident in my diagnosis, but also being better able to teach and engage a family in their medical care. My transformation from novice to competency was mostly complete.

Now, a little more than 2 years removed from my fellowship, I have a little more perspective on the road from novice to competency, not only from my personal experience but also from my opportunity to network with an amazing group of enthusiastic (IM) POCUS educators.

These educators are largely trained by their own curiosity, their attendance at POCUS CME courses, or by latching onto experts from peripheral medical departments. In essence, these educators are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps in a time when there is a distinct scarcity of POCUS educators within Internal Medicine, which can leave the supposed “all-knowledgeable” physician in an uncomfortable place of vulnerability. They have shared the angst that POCUS is a particularly challenging skill to learn due to its humbling nature – we may not know how badly we were hearing murmurs as medical students, but I bet most learners can guess by looking at a picture how poorly they are doing when they are scanning. It was a feeling I shared back in the ICU as a resident, but our experiences diverged when I had mentors who invested in me learning this valuable skill.

But, these physicians who learned POCUS independently are now at the next, even harder, part. As new leaders, we must reach behind us and pull up the trainees, whether that be by creating the next POCUS fellowship, starting or improving a residency POCUS program, or simply training your fellow colleague. We are tasked with making new learners feel supported and encouraged, and to make this technology accessible in fields where POCUS is not the standard of care. We need to foster these learners’ growth so that they can arrive at their own lightbulb moment and so they keep scanning on the ICUs in the effort to improve the care they deliver.

 

What was your defining moment in your decision to go into ultrasound? Have you had a unique learning experience? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community to share your experience.

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Kevin M. Piro, MD, participated in and helped build a point-of-care ultrasound fellowship at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), becoming only the second general medicine-focused ultrasound fellowship in the nation. Dr Piro is now a hospitalist at OHSU.

A Model Citizen

“Lie down on your back, your elbow is about to get a lot of gel on it,” said the proctor during our most recent AIUM headquarter course. As staff, we often have to step in and assist at meetings in ways we had not planned. This moment was not any different, but we do it because we want to understand and enhance the attendee experience. Turns out I have a “beautiful” elbow and yes, some of you beginners are pressing too hard.

Parreco scan

Sonographer Haylea Weiss scanning Jamie Parreco’s ankle.

As I had my second joint scanned, I thought, what a cool experience; my body is going to help advance the safe and effective use of ultrasound. I found myself offering to volunteer any chance I could, having my elbow, ankle/foot, and shoulder scanned in the end. I listened, watched, and learned as attendees explored.

So why am I telling you this? As a program/meeting planner, it was valuable for me to see things from a model’s perspective:Parreco ankle scan

  • You really should wear comfortable clothes.
  • Gel really will get all over you.
  • Talking to the attendee can help them learn.

 

Here at the AIUM, we offer great opportunities for models to get involved at our annual meeting and courses, but for those of you who have not gotten on one of those exam beds as a model in a while, I encourage you to do so. Everyone learns on that bed; ultrasound grows on that bed; your future sonographers and physicians need you on that bed.

We have a unique opportunity to provide true hands-on experience in our field and I encourage you to support that in any way you can. Who knows, you may learn a thing or two about your body as well. #snappinganklevictim

 

Have you ever been a model for a hands-on ultrasound course? Share your experience below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

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Jamie Parreco is Director of the Events and Continuing Education Services department at the AIUM in Laurel, Maryland.

Are You Sonogenic?

Most of us who do ultrasound commonly use the disclaimer that “the study is suboptimal because of the patient’s body habitus” (we stay away from the word “limited” because this word has specific billing implications). This phrase conveys to the referring physician that we are not getting the pictures we hope to get because of something we can’t control, namely the patient’s size. No matter how we tweak the transducer frequency, adjust the time-gain compensation curve, or simply press harder we cannot achieve optimal image quality.Lev

Sometimes, however, we are either pleasantly or unpleasantly surprised. A thin individual may have soft tissues that are difficult to penetrate, leading to an image of suboptimal quality.

Conversely, a patient with high body mass index may turn out to be a breeze to scan. Clearly, there is something more than simply patient size that is at work here. After all, echoes on ultrasound are created at interfaces between tissues that differ in acoustic impedance. A larger patient with relatively homogenous subcutaneous tissues (fewer interfaces) may reflect and scatter the beam less than a patient whose tissues are composed of a more varied mixture of fat, fibrosis, and/or edema (more interfaces).

When people consistently look great in photographs, we call them “photogenic”. The implication of this word is that somehow the camera loves the subject so much that their still image “overachieves” compared to the expected output. When you think about it, that may be a subtle insult, but it is usually used as a compliment. Conversely, a person we find attractive may, for reasons that are unclear, not be at their best in photographs.

In light of the above, I would like to coin a new word, “sonogenic”. A sonogenic person is one who transmits sound so well that their ultrasound images consistently exceed expectations. A patient that frustrates us because their images are of lower quality than expected would be characterized as “non-sonogenic”.

Using this word can potentially facilitate communication. The sonographer could say to the reading physician: “Sorry for these images; the patient wasn’t sonogenic”. The physician’s reports can become shorter: “The study is suboptimal because of patient’s body habitus” becomes “the patient is not sonogenic”. The noun form would be “sonogenicity” (yes, “photogenicity is a word”). A simple grading system may even become part of the ultrasound report, i.e., sonogenicity is above average, average, or below average.

In conclusion, I hereby propose that the word “sonogenic” be added to the formal ultrasound lexicon. What do you think?

 

Would you use the term sonogenic? Do you have any other suggested new terms that could better describe an aspect of an ultrasound examination? Comment below, or, AIUM members, continue the conversation on Connect, the AIUM’s online community.

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Levon N. Nazarian, MD, FAIUM, FACR, is Professor and Vice Chairman for Education in the Department of Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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.