Ultrasound isn’t a new technology. First used in 1956, it’s become a household term that conjures an image of its equipment—handheld transducer, computer and gel. But, despite that familiarity, few clinicians are trained to acquire and interpret ultrasound images.
That’s not the case, though, at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, where medical students benefit from a modern, robust curriculum. They’re trained early in their first year to harness the power of ultrasound, giving them measurable advantages, particularly in emergent situations.
“It helps our students better master the first-year content, integrating anatomy and physiology, and learning it dynamically in real time,” says Creagh Boulger, MD, associate ultrasound director and an associate professor of Emergency Medicine. “They get early exposure to clinical skills and spend one-on-one time with practicing physicians so that they begin to apply clinical skills and think like doctors earlier.”
More than 4,000 students have completed the program, and about 800 students learn ultrasound techniques every year through an integrated, mandatory curriculum. An elective, extra curriculum that’s student-led but faculty-monitored exposes them to more clinical applications. They can dive deep into their chosen areas, receiving a personalized curriculum.
“The reason this has all been a success, though, is the medical students,” says David Bahner, MD, director of Ohio State’s Ultrasound Division and professor of Emergency Medicine. “We first invested in first-year med students in 1999. These students turn into interns, residents and faculty, and they learn that they’re head-and-shoulders above their peers.”
As residents, they become much more comfortable making vital diagnoses because they have ultrasound in their toolbelts. Bedside, or point-of-care, ultrasound gives health care providers the opportunity to quickly identify fluid buildup, internal trauma, soft tissue infections, extrauterine/ectopic pregnancy and other life-threatening conditions before they advance, giving patients a better chance of survival.
For example, when they see a patient in the emergency department with unexplained low blood pressure, ultrasound skills allow a physician to better recognize fluid around a patient’s heart or lungs and treat it as quickly as needed to save someone’s life.
“It builds phenomenal residents,” Dr. Boulger says. “I’ve watched our students enter residency with a solid foundation and clinical acumen because they’ve been exposed early to ultrasound in clinical scenarios. They hit the ground running.”
A frequency above
Over the course of 25 years at Ohio State, Dr. Bahner has created a collaborative, enthusiastic ecosystem of ultrasound training, providing comprehensive education and hands-on experiences for medical students, residents, fellows and attendings in every specialty—not just radiology.
Today, an active Ultrasound Interest Group and Ultrasound Research Interest Group created by Ohio State medical students help lead technological adoption as well as educational advances, which are published regularly in medical journals. The Division of Ultrasound’s faculty are active in national and international meetings, giving lectures, participating in national ultrasound competitions and traveling the world to teach point-of-care ultrasound to clinical providers.
An educational role model
Third-year medical student Alexandra Allman describes Ohio State’s ultrasound training as one of her most formative experiences in medical school.
“Even as a first-year medical student, I was able to start finding images on ultrasound and begin to interpret what I was seeing,” Allman says. “The course not only prepared me to evaluate a broad range of possible diseases, but also gave me confidence to use point-of-care ultrasound to answer questions at the bedside and provide accurate care to my patients—a game-changer for how I will practice medicine.”
These students, Dr. Bahner says, have a secret. “Getting trained in ultrasound in a program that embeds it early in their education. They’re able to use that training throughout their careers.”