SPACUS – Helping PAs Stay on Top of Ultrasound Technology

By Frank Norman, PA-C

Jun 16, 2016

A basic foundation of our profession is the principle that PA education is based on the medical model of education.

PA students undergo many of the same or similar courses, share lecturers, facilities and resources with their medical student colleagues as well as understand the same concepts and speak in the same vernacular.

So what happens when a new technology emerges and changes the way medicine is practiced?  What happens when medical schools depart from their traditional curriculum and embrace new concepts in teaching and learning? How do PA programs and educators respond?

In 2001, the American College of Emergency Physicians adopted the first set of point of care ultrasound (POCUS) guidelines for clinicians to use in the ER.  In 2007, the American Counsel of Graduate Medical Education mandated procedural competency for all EM residents in emergency ultrasound as it is considered a “skill integral to the practice of Emergency Medicine.”

Today, institutions such as Stanford, University of California Irvine, Ohio State, McGill and the University of South Carolina have fully integrated ultrasound into the curriculum of their medical schools.  Other medical schools have a dedicated faculty member whose purpose is to integrate ultrasound into the undergraduate medical curriculum.

Ultrasound integration means anatomy, physiology, pathology, the physical exam modules as well as the hospital practicum all have an ultrasound component which compliments the traditional learning.

How do PA programs keep pace? How do PA programs prepare students to enter the workforce armed with the tools to converse with our collaborating physicians and to give their patients the very best care?

Medicine has known for years that ultrasound is a better test for the detection of pneumonia, CHF, pneumothorax and pulmonary effusions.  It is imperative for procedural guidance/needle placement, and can safely be used for fracture management and regional anesthesia to relieve pain in almost any peripheral location in the body.

The Society of Physician Assistants in Clinical Ultrasound (SPACUS) would like to help PAs stay at the forefront of this technology.  We would like to offer students who desire the learning, but don’t have access to the education through their programs, the opportunity to develop a Student Ultrasound Interest Section (SUIS).

This is a free, extracurricular activity, where students from one program decide they want to form a SUIS. SPACUS will help them decide what applications they want to learn and assign a mentor with ultrasound experience.

The mentor will push the didactic information to the students through FOAMed, Free and Open Access Medical Education, in the form of 15-40 minute video lectures. Once the didactic information is digested, the students will begin scanning normal anatomy.

Courses available:

  • Basic Physics/Knobology
  • Basic Cardiac
  • Basic Lung
  • Basic Abdomen
  • Line Placement
  • Soft Tissue
  • DVT
  • Basic MSK/Joint
  • Leadership/US Directorship/Billing/coding

Additionally, SPACUS can help students obtain scanners. For those programs that are affiliated with a medical center, SPACUS will facilitate a request to the local ultrasound program director to borrow their machines. If this is not a practical approach, SPACUS will help the SUIS lease machines at very reasonable pricing. In fact, if the students in the SUIS would like to have personal scanners, we can facilitate this opportunity.

The SPACUS mentor will arrange for video chats to answer questions, present pathology and to guide image acquisition and interpretation technique. SPACUS may even be able to arrange for live model/cadaveric scanning sessions with the SUIS a couple times a semester.

Any student program is eligible to become a SUIS, to include PA, medical, NP, and nurse anesthetists. However, all members of the SUIS must be members of SPACUS.

SPACUS can even arrange for a “train the trainer/faculty” mini-fellowship, where the PA program’s faculty is trained so that they feel more comfortable integrating the learning in the curriculum.

Contact SPACUS for more information. It’s $50 to join – $10 if you are a student.

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