As point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) rises in popularity, so does the need for POCUS instruction. Handheld imaging is often considered the modern-day stethoscope, allowing physicians to now see what they might have only heard before. As valuable as the tool is, clinicians must be thoroughly educated and trained to employ it effectively. Because of this, many medical schools have begun introducing POCUS courses into their curricula. This allows students to familiarize themselves with the modality and its many applications before entering residency. In these courses, students are able to scan each other or themselves to practice using the technology.
However, in the early spring of 2020, students experienced a dramatic shift when instruction suddenly moved online.
During our 2021 POCUS World Conference, fourth-year medical student Sean Andresen described his experience taking online classes to learn how to use bedside ultrasound. As a student learning in person and then remotely, he discovered an opportunity for growth in POCUS education. He explained that many medical school POCUS courses predominately provide a conceptual understanding of the modality rather than integrating practical knowledge as well. Scanning each other does allow students to understand probing techniques, but it isn’t a method available to online learners, and without examples of actual patients, students have no opportunity to visualize pathology and practice diagnoses.
The Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., has detailed its successful online POCUS course. Instructed by POCUS educators from 10 different specialties, students watched live demonstrations through video conferencing. They then practiced the movements of probing with their cellphones. Though the scanning demonstrations were conducted on healthy individuals throughout this course, the educators and students were pleased with the efficacy of the online teaching. One hundred forty-one students took the course, and all passed. In the course’s final survey, 91% said they felt they had gained valuable instruction.
Andresen conducted a similar study among his cohort but focused on the ability to demonstrate pathology scanning. His goal was to help his fellow students gain confidence using POCUS as a diagnostic tool. He used screenshots of visual vignettes, scans of ultrasound patients, to remotely present examples of pathology. These vignettes allowed students to compare abnormalities to scans of healthy individuals and begin gaining a deeper understanding of POCUS—without leaving their computer screen.
These innovative teaching methods filled a gap created by COVID-19 and the sudden need for online learning. They also paved the way for additional teaching techniques that may allow medical students more access to POCUS instruction and flexible learning options.
POCUS has proved to be an invaluable tool, more so than anyone imagined at the time of its inception. Every day, we learn of new creative ways to utilize handheld imaging. COVID gave educators an opportunity to be innovative and find new, more accessible ways to guide students through POCUS courses.
Online learning has empowered many to pursue continued education and acquire additional skills. This year’s POCUS World Conference will offer practitioners unique insight into modality’s boundless potential and the many opportunities it offers. Join us virtually September 16 – 17 to learn from POCUS experts around the world.