DMU gives students the “stethoscope of the 21st century”

COM Dean J.D. Polk teaches students how to use an ultrasound.
COM Dean J.D. Polk introduces students to the nuances of knobology.

Ultrasound, a technology that uses high-frequency sound waves to make images of organs and structures in the body, can give health care providers in-depth insights into their patients’ conditions without using invasive procedures or ionizing radiation, as x-rays and CT scans do. Now DMU is putting this vital tool in the hands of its clinical students.

Beginning in August, students in the University’s osteopathic medicine, podiatric medicine, physician assistant and physical therapy programs are using 20 new ultrasound machines in anatomy and clinical medicine/diagnosis courses to enhance their learning of the body. They also will gain experience in interpreting ultrasound images, a core skill as the technology is increasingly prevalent, compact and transportable in health care. Nearly all medical specialties are using bedside ultrasound, and its use is constantly expanding.

“Ultrasound is rapidly moving from the radiology suite to a portable bedside diagnostic tool,” says J.D. Polk, D.O., M.S., M.M.M., CPE, FACOEP, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM). “Most programs have to fight tooth and nail to get the administration to spend this kind of capital investment on a new tool for education. We were fortunate in that our administration was enthusiastically in support of this project, knowing that it is keeping us on the cutting edge, and doing it in all three colleges.”

R. Tim Yoho, D.P.M., FACFAS, dean of the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery, calls the ultrasound project “an example of the three colleges working in a collaborative manner to benefit all clinical students.” Improvements in the technology have made it particularly important.

“This traditionally diagnostic tool has advanced to providing assistance in therapeutic applications such as ultrasound-guided injections and percutaneous debridement of diseased soft tissues,” he says. “Having students trained earlier will only advance the application of this technology, leading to improved patient outcomes in a more cost-effective manner.”

That earlier training offers students a significant advantage.

“Until now, most clinicians have had to learn these skills after graduation, but exposing students to the use and applications of ultrasound throughout their training gives our students a competitive edge, which ultimately helps them provide better care to their patients,” says Jodi Cahalan, Ph.D., M.P.H.’01, M.S.’93, PA-C’89, DFAAPA, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “We also have worked to make the ultrasound units available for faculty research projects, which provides for other potentially far-reaching effects in the use of ultrasound in modern medicine.”

At a recent ultrasound session on campus, third-year osteopathic students learned basic “knobology” — how to use the settings on the machine to capture and enhance images — and observed faculty as they maneuvered the attached probe around the torsos of student volunteers, revealing hearts, spleens, kidneys and bladders. Then the students took turns with the probe, clearly enthralled with what they were doing and seeing.

“Ultrasound is the stethoscope of the 21st century. For students to put it in their toolbox beginning in their first year is very exciting,” says Thomas Green, D.O., M.P.H., FACOEP, FACEP, COM associate dean of clinical affairs.

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