Ultrasound in Medical Education: How Far We’ve Come

Point of care ultrasound was an obscure elective during my medical school years, a poorly-attended vacation elective to fill the free time between the match and the first day of residency. At the time, the 2 Emergency Medicine attendings directing the course volunteered an expertise, which endured widespread disregard; their craft persisted, unappreciated by the department and hospital. These faculty had a unique passion, a vision of a paradigm shift in medicine that would save more lives, make better decisions, and improve overall care.

I was initially skeptical of that vision. When they expressed excitement over our new, $50,000 Micromaxx (considered a bargain at the time), it sounded to me like the typical exorbitant medical expense with marginal benefit, peddled by savvy sales rmorrow_image1eps. Then we caught our first tamponade in cardiac arrest during a pulse check and I was hooked: POCUS didn’t belong as one of those obscure hobbies limited to the especially nerdy, but was a vital diagnostic and procedural tool, to be learned and disseminated. I went through residency clearly enamored with the technology. To my dismay, early in my internship, we lost our ultrasound director. It was then that I found mentors in podcasts and through the Free and Open Access Medical Education (FOAMed) community.

By my final year of residency, nurses and attendings were calling on me to pause my work in my assigned pod to travel to theirs to help with US-guided procedures. Having identified the need, I started teaching residents and nurses US-guided procedures. The barriers to education were high-quality simulation phantoms, machine access, and educational time. Time we could volunteer, and for machines we begged and borrowed, but for phantoms, we hit a wall. I searched for answers in the young community of FOAMed but found few workable alternatives to the hundred-to-thousand-dollar commercial phantoms. It was at this impasse that I found inspiration from Mythbusters’ use of ballistics gel. I experimented with ballistics gel to create my own phantom and found it morrow_dsf8521to be an effective and practical alternative to the commercial phantoms. I was approached by several companies aiming to turn this into a money-making opportunity, but I felt this information needed to be shared. This skill was too critical to keep it locked up behind a patent. Instead, with the whole-hearted spirit of FOAMed, I published guides and answered questions and gave cooking classes.

I’ve continued to follow the vision of bringing bedside ultrasound to widespread use, from residency to fellowship, and now into my role as Emergency Ultrasound Director and Director of Ultrasound Education at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. The future is bright: the FOAMed community is large and growing; US technology is being integrated into earlier stages of medical education; and pocket machines are bringing US in closer reach of the busy clinician. Ultrasound is moving into the hands of clinicians at the bedside and becoming an extension of our physical exam, and there is a growing literature base to support this trend. Someday ultrasound will take its rightful place next to the stethoscope, and my job as an “ultrasound director” will seem as foreign a concept as “director of auscultation.” The complementary forces of FOAMed and formal medical education will bring us to this future of safer procedures and greater diagnostic accuracy, and I am excited to be a part of it.

How have you seen ultrasound medical education change? What are your favorite FOAMed resources? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

Dustin Stephen Morrow, MD, RDMS, is Ultrasound Director at Greenville Health System Emergency Medicine, as well as Director of Ultrasound Education at University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville. He can be found on Twitter: @pocusmaverick.