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.

My Chilean Experience

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to Chile to present at the 18th Congress of Medical Technology meeting in Santiago. It was an amazing experience that I will never forget! The total travel time was about 14 hours, which began in Orlando with a flight delay and an emergency change to an earlier flight that had one seat left and was just about to
close its doors!Chile

Sonographers, as well as other allied health professionals, begin their education in the Colegio de Tecnologos Medicos (College of Medical Technologies); and the Capitulo de Ecografia (Sonography Chapter) is an arm of the College.  It is estimated that there are about 300 sonographers in the country of Chile. I was invited to speak at the meeting of the congress and the preconference, which was the inaugural meeting of the Sonography Chapter.

The evening before the preconference, I was invited to meet with a group of sonographers at a reception to discuss professional issues, certification, and education. The reception was hosted by the President of the College of Medical Technologies, Veronica Rosales, and the President of the Sonography Chapter and AIUM member, Mario Gonzalez Quiroz. At the reception, I was introduced to Fernando Lopez, known as the first sonographer in Chile with about 30 years of experience. I found the sonographers of Chile to be very welcoming and gracious, as well as curious about the role of sonographers in the U.S. They are also eager for educational opportunities to expand their knowledge and expertise.

I gave a total of 6 lectures during the 2 meetings on a variety of topics, including point-of-care, acute abdomen, obstetrical pathology, and pediatric sonography. Oh…did I mention that I don’t speak Spanish? I had synchronous translation of my lectures, and then I was able to enjoy other lectures that were then translated into English for me. As I was developing my lectures, I learned that with asynchronous translation, presentations should be shorter and you need to speak slowly. For me, that meant I had to reduce my typical image-heavy 100-120 slide presentation down to 70-80 slides. Luckily that worked within the time I was given.

This was my first time having lectures translated, my first international lectures, and my first time in Chile (actually my first time in South America)…lots of firsts! It was a true honor to present at this meeting and to meet the sonographers of Chile. I feel like I have made lifelong friendships, expanded my professional family, and experienced the beauty of a new country.

Have you given talks to an international audience? What was your experience? How can U.S.-based physicians and sonographers support their counterparts in other countries? Share your thoughts and ideas here and on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Charlotte Henningsen, MS, RT(R), RDMS, RVT, is the Chair & Professor of the Sonography Department at Adventist University of Health Sciences and the Director of the Center for Advanced Ultrasound Education. She currently serves as the AIUM 2nd Vice President.

A Word of Encouragement

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

Wake Course 5

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

centuries.”

I am not one of those scientists.

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

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

So how did I get here?

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

Things now got interesting.

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

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

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

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

How did I finally get here?

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

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

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

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

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

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.