Early Ultrasound Training Essential in Medical School

January 24, 2014

Ultrasounds are often an essential part of medical triage and diagnosis, and should be taught earlier in the medical curriculum.

Ultrasound training should be implemented early in medical education programs, says a paper published in the journal Global Heart.

Acute care physicians are increasingly using and relying on ultrasound imaging to diagnose their patients; particularly since ultrasound technology is getting smaller and more portable than other imaging methods. Because of this easy availability and use, the earlier ultrasound is introduced into the medical school curriculum, the more comfortable and effective clinicians will be, said the paper’s authors who are from the University of California in Irvine.

"As this new frontier of medicine continues to forge forward using this new and improving technology, we strongly believe in integrating ultrasound training earlier into the medical education curriculum," the authors wrote.

Ultrasound is helpful in triaging and diagnosing in the emergency room. For example, patients presenting with chest pain could undergo a bedside ultrasound while the usual examinations are performed and blood tests obtained. The ultrasound findings could quickly provide some useful insight before other imaging tests may be available. Patients who are in shock may be checked by ultrasound for the fluid responsiveness of the heart. And ultrasound imaging may also help determine why a patient may be short of breath.

“Through the identification of the A-lines and B-lines, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can be differentiated in a matter of moments, allowing for more accurate and efficient treatment of the presenting patient,” the authors wrote.

Point-of-care ultrasound should be and essential part of the examination, rather than an optional one, the paper continued.

The University of California, Irvine, has included ultrasound education in the first year of medical school, when students are taught the basics of ultrasound physics and image acquisition, as well as normal anatomy and physiology as seen by ultrasound. The education continues throughout the four-year program. Studies have backed up this type of training is beneficial and the authors pointed out that as these students move through the system, they can share their knowledge with other students.

"It is becoming increasingly apparent that training our medical students to use ultrasound earlier in their careers can allow them to develop diagnostic skills that far exceed the traditional exam that physicians have been taught for centuries,” the authors concluded. “Thus, it is impossible to ignore the impact ultrasound has made within medical education. Ultrasound has played an essential role in point-of-care cardiac diagnostics, and implementing ultrasound training into medical education is the next logical step to enable the progression of point-of-care ultrasonography."