In my primary specialty of occupational medicine there is a need for practical education in musculoskeletal ultrasound for both diagnostic evaluation and therapeutic interventional guidance. Incorporation of this into education has begun recently and is continuing in the specialty. A wide variety of specialties are represented in occupational medicine, including many specialists who move into the field after a mid-career transition.
Interestingly, over the last few years clinicians have approached me and asked me to help them learn musculoskeletal ultrasound from many different disciplines outside of occupational medicine. These have included emergency medicine, orthopedics, rheumatology, sports medicine, family medicine, radiology, palliative care, and physical medicine and rehabilitation. When inquiring into why these clinicians are seeking training in this modality it seems that the consistent answer is that medical students are graduating and insisting on using ultrasound in their residency training. It would seem that many of our medical students are learning ultrasound at a rate that will outpace attending physician knowledge, exposure, and experience. Indeed, when teaching ultrasound to many of the medical students at West Virginia University as part of their medical education, I was astounded to see how proficient they were at using the machine, the transducer, and correctly identifying both normal and pathologic anatomy. It’s my understanding that many universities have included medical ultrasound into the academic curricula as a bridge to their respective gross anatomy courses and in their general clinical medical education.
Ultrasound is a modality utilized by many medical specialties for various indications. Several specialties outside of radiology, including the ones above, utilize ultrasound. Increasingly, residency programs are integrating ultrasound into their ACGME-accredited curriculum and, importantly, medical students are also learning the benefits of using the modality. It seems clear that despite the number of pitfalls, hurdles, and difficulties using ultrasound, the modality has proven to be an asset in clinical settings and has become a permanent fixture in hospital and clinical settings. The benefits of utilizing ultrasound have been well documented across many academic medical journals. I believe that medicine, as a whole, has done well to embrace the modality, however, there seems to be another vital step to take in the education arena to more fully integrate the modality into our patient’s care.
Currently, most education models for teaching ultrasound, whether it is for residents or medical students, involves grouping like kind together. Emergency residents learn it in the emergency medicine didactics. Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) residents learn it from demonstrations in their own didactics, and so on. Perhaps approaching the curriculum from a more inclusive perspective, however, would be more beneficial for residents and fellows. I, personally, had experience teaching an integrated musculoskeletal course at West Virginia University. The idea, admittedly, was born out of necessity. Physicians experienced in ultrasound from sports medicine, emergency medicine and occupational medicine created and executed a curriculum to teach musculoskeletal ultrasound and invited residents from other specialties. The interest we were able to garner quite frankly surprised me. Although the curriculum was targeted to occupational medicine residents the interest in using musculoskeletal ultrasound was widespread. Residents from specialties like emergency medicine, radiology, family medicine, internal medicine, and orthopedics attended our sessions.
While the course was a success, introducing an integrated curriculum across medical specialties posed a new set of challenges. My specialty was able to use dedicated didactic time for the education but many other specialties have disparate educational time. Many residents could not make all of the sessions and many more could not make any sessions because of fixed residency schedules. This makes coordination very difficult. As I have pondered this over the last few months I believe that educational leaders should begin to form structured educational collaborative time for activities like education in musculoskeletal ultrasound. Each discipline will be able to contribute to teaching to ensure high quality evidence-based curriculum for residents learning ultrasound. Each discipline has their individual strengths and collaboration ensures coordination and even learning amongst instructors. Integrating medicine has been a goal of thought leaders in medicine at the very highest levels and can be replicated for the instruction and training of our resident physicians.
Another option is to allow residents to attend the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine’s annual conference where interdisciplinary education in ultrasound occurs. This conference even has a day for collegial competition among medical students and schools. In fact, the courses are created to encourage engagement in the education and training of clinicians at all levels of training. The overall goal is to advance the education and training in this modality and hope that education leaders begin to encourage collaboration in a much larger scale thus achieving integrated medical care that provides a building block to lead to high quality evidence-based medical care for our patients, families, and communities.
What other areas of ultrasound education have room to grow? How would you recommend making changes? Do you have any stories from your own education to share? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.
Yusef Sayeed, MD, MPH, MEng, CPH, is a Fellow at Deuk Spine Institute, Melbourne, FL.