What does it take to become a great small animal ultrasonographer?
What are the most common beginner mistakes?
How long does it take for all that “grey mush” to start making sense?
I sat down with Improve International’s resident ultrasound expert, Dr Sue Ramoo BVSc (hons) MANZCVS (internal medicine), to find out and to create an action plan for becoming a great ultrasonographer…
STEP 1: Brush up on your anatomy, physiology and internal medicine.
Before you even pick up the probe, ensure you have a good understanding of anatomy, physiology and internal medicine.
According to Sue, being a good ultrasonographer comprises 50% technical skills (i.e. hand-eye coordination, understanding machine settings, etc.) and 50% interpretation skills (i.e. recognising what you’re tracing, knowing what finding an abnormality means, if anything at all, etc.).
“Many people don’t realise there’s a whole ‘interpretation thing’ that goes hand-in-hand with the technical skills of ultrasound.”
This “interpretation thing” is where a good knowledge of anatomy, physiology and internal medicine comes in.
STEP 2: Set yourself a weekly ultrasound goal.
Set yourself a weekly goal of performing a number of normal ultrasounds. Try to pick “non-diseased” or well patients.
The number of scans you set is entirely up to you and what you can realistically achieve in day-to-day practice, but be sure to set aside enough time for each scan (e.g. 30 minutes per patient).
“It’s a good idea to do partial focused scans and progress in stages, for example, do the left lateral abdomen for the first month then progress to the right.”
STEP 3: Set yourself a timeframe to become proficient.
Consider how much time you can dedicate to weekly practice and set yourself a realistic timeframe to become proficient. For instance, if you’re doing 1 hour of practice a week, you can expect to become comfortable within 6-9 months.
“Perhaps the biggest mistake I see beginners make is getting frustrated with themselves when they struggle to obtain a good image. They’ve seen a professional ultrasonographer or radiologist performing an ultrasound and think it looks easy… Little do they realise it’s taken us years to achieve those skills — and even we are still learning!”
Setting yourself a realistic timeframe promotes patience, and counteracts that tendency to become frustrated with yourself in the early stages.
STEP 4: Ask an experienced ultrasonographer to double-check your findings.
When starting out, ask an experienced ultrasonographer to double-check your findings.
If you’re currently using an external radiologist or referring to a specialist, attempt the scan yourself first (remembering to allow enough time to do this), then follow up with the specialist on their scanning findings. Ideally, try to create opportunities for watching and being involved in specialist ultrasounds.
“This is how I learnt, and it is amazing how quickly you can learn this way.”
STEP 5: Invest in yourself.
Whether you’re just starting out or have a few years under your ultrasonographer’s belt, taking a well-structured and reputed ultrasound course is a great way to develop your skills and knowledge.
“The old axiom is true… You don’t know what you don’t know. Even a short weekend course can patch holes in your knowledge — holes you didn’t even realise you had.”