University of South Carolina

School of Medicine leading way in ultrasound education

It’s been called the stethoscope for the 21st century.

Ultrasound is a valuable tool that allows doctors to diagnose and treat patients quickly and accurately. It’s been around for decades, but there has been revolutionary change in the technology in recent years, making the machines smaller, cheaper and smarter.

The University of South Carolina School of Medicine is making its own mark with ultrasound. It’s the only medical school in the country using ultrasound as part of the curriculum during all four years of medical school. Medical students at USC are trained to use ultrasound to learn, to diagnose and to treat patients.

“There is no question in my mind that ultrasound is changing how we teach and how we practice medicine,” said Dr. Richard Hoppmann, dean of the medical school. “It’s a tremendous educational and teaching tool. It helps the students understand and learn anatomy, physiology, pathology -- all areas of medicine.”

Because of the university’s leading role in ultrasound education, medical schools around the country have visited USC to learn more about ultrasound and physician training. From April 29 - May 1, the USC School of Medicine will host the first World Congress of Ultrasound in Medical Education, bringing medical students, physicians and healthcare professionals from around the world to Columbia.

While ultrasound was once used primarily in the fields of radiology and obstetrics, ultrasound machines are now in use everywhere, from anatomy classrooms to cardiac labs to trauma rooms. Students with basic ultrasound training are able to quickly pinpoint and diagnose problems, often faster and more accurately than experienced physicians doing a standard physical exam. Gallstones can be easily seen; an aortic aneurysm can be detected; there is less guessing and more accuracy when finding an entry location for a blood vessel.

“When you look at the advances in the technology of ultrasound, it’s been tremendous in the last five to 10 years,” Hoppmann said.

One USC medical student who quickly learned the importance of ultrasound technology is Christine Lawrence, whose own thyroid condition was detected during a practice ultrasound screening in class.

As a first-year medical student, Lawrence was the “patient” being scanned in ultrasound class. As the doctor guided the ultrasound equipment, he found a lesion on her thyroid. After a biopsy, Lawrence learned she had thyroid cancer on New Year’s Eve, 2009. In January 2010 she had her thyroid removed and had follow-up procedures over spring break and the winter holidays, timed so she wouldn’t have to miss class.

Now the second-year medical student from Liberty takes thyroid medication every day. And she truly understands the value of ultrasound.

“I was a believer in ultrasound anyway, but this definitely demonstrated the importance of it,” Lawrence said. “You can see something a lot easier than feeling for it. If I hadn’t had the ultrasound, I’m not sure when it would have been found.”

Lawrence plans a career in family medicine, where she plans to use ultrasound as part of her practice.

“You can sit there and look at something and not have to send a patient somewhere else where it will be more expensive, it will take more time and the patient will be less likely to do it,” she said.

Because ultrasound is portable, inexpensive and easy to use, it’s also the perfect diagnostic tool in rural areas or developing countries, Hoppmann said. It can be used by primary-care physicians or nurse practitioners, particularly in rural areas where there are not many specialists.

Hoppmann is also president of the Society of Ultrasound in Medical Education, an organization created to bring medical educators and practitioners together to help direct this revolutionary change in medicine. He said the World Congress will showcase the USC School of Medicine’s work in ultrasound and the city of Columbia. GE Healthcare is the corporate benefactor for the event.

“It’s truly going to be a world congress,” Hoppmann said. “We’ve had commitments from all over the world – Germany, Italy, India, Bulgaria, Australia. Having this platform for the School of Medicine and the University of South Carolina and the Columbia community is wonderful. This is a huge opportunity for us.”

By Office of Media Relations

Posted: 01/19/11 @ 1:55 PM | Updated: 01/19/11 @ 6:22 PM | Permalink