Medical College of Georgia student Kristine Martin squirted gel onto Judy Waldrop’s bare midsection and then positioned the transducer of the portable ultrasound on her skin.
“I’m just looking for your aorta, as we talked about,” Martin said, staring at the tablet in the other hand.
“That’s okay,” Waldrop said. “I hope you find it.”
“I’m sure it is in there,” Martin said.
As a third-year medical student at MCG at Augusta University, Martin is just beginning her rotation through various clinics and is starting off in Family Medicine. She is also among the first MCG students to take a portable ultrasound with her into the clinic. Integrating ultrasound technology into medical student education has been evolving over the last several years and this latest step to make it part of the clinical rotations probably puts MCG among the leaders in that regard, said Dr. Paul Wallach, vice dean for academic affairs at MCG.
Out of 139 U.S. and Canadian medical schools, 81 have ultrasound education in the first year and 61 include it in the second year but only 51 have it as part of the third year curriculum, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.
MCG has begun to make what Wallach calls “point of care ultrasound” part of residency training as well. For instance, those entering a residency at MCG must demonstrate that they can use ultrasound to place a central IV line correctly before they are allowed to put one in a patient, he said.
Ultrasound equipment will likely evolve much as computers have, Wallach said.
“The size of the equipment is getting smaller and the cost is going down and the quality is going up,” he said. Not long from now, “that handheld ultrasound is going to be as commonly found in the pocket of health care providers as is a stethoscope,” Wallach said. “I felt, if that was our near future, it was important for us to engage educationally so that we are preparing our graduates for the health care system within which they are going to be practicing.”
MCG students got a lot of exposure to ultrasound in their first two years. For instance, students would study something in anatomy, learn about how to diagnose, and then see images on ultrasound to reinforce that, Wallach said. That experience helped, Martin said.
“I feel pretty comfortable with ultrasound,” she said. But it does take practice to read the screens and know what you are seeing, Martin added.
“You have to know the orientation of the patient and how that relates to what you are seeing on the screen,” she said. “I think that takes a lot of practice, which is what we’ve been learning in first and second year.”
While the portable unit was new it took “maybe 15 minutes” to get trained on it, Martin said. To make sure students are viewing the right structures and getting good images to read, those images are being uploaded to the school’s Center for Ultrasound Education for feedback to ensure the students are doing them correctly, Wallach said.
In Waldrop’s case, she is being screened for abdominal aortic aneurysm, a ballooning out of a major blood vessel wall that can be deadly if it bursts. It took a few minutes but Martin has located and captured the image she wants and thinks it appears fine.
“That looks pretty normal to me,” said Dr. David Kriegel, looking at the image. It hits him how far the technology has come in just a short time.
“Something like that would have been amazing 10 years ago on a full-size device,” Kriegel said.