Ultrasound at the Point of Care


With the advent of compact and dependable ultrasound machines, point-of-care ultrasound has emerged as a valuable tool for clinicians in a range of settings. As a diagnostic tool, it can augment a basic physical exam and accelerate the diagnostic process. Some experts have described the ultrasound machine as the “stethoscope of the future”. Many therapeutic procedures are now performed with a greater degree of safety and efficiency when guided by ultrasound imaging. Ultrasound imaging is now available for physician use in a range of patient care settings, including emergency departments, critical care units, obstetrics, surgery, orthopedics, procedure suites, inpatient floors, and ambulatory clinics, to name just a few.

Medical students have a range of opportunities to learn the skills of point-of-care ultrasound, and to use ultrasonography to gain a deeper understanding of core medical subjects such as anatomy, physiology, and physical diagnosis. During clinical rotations, students learn how ultrasound is influencing patient care in a diverse array of settings and clinical disciplines and develop their own skills with this state-of-the art approach to patient care.


The school is introducing instruction on the use of point-of-care ultrasound throughout the medical student curriculum. Throughout the curriculum, the emphasis is on hands-on experiences that help students develop their skill with the equipment and a fundamental understanding of the images obtained.  The following examples illustrate how ultrasound is incorporated into the UPSOM curriculum.

Medical Anatomy

Medical anatomy students are introduced to basic ultrasound skills during medical anatomy. Students have their first opportunity to practice ultrasound imaging on standardized patients, performing hands-on ultrasound scanning that correlates with the anatomy labs and lectures.  Sessions include correlation of ultrasound imaging with anatomy of the chest/heart, abdomen, and lower extremities.

During the anatomy course segment on musculoskeletal anatomy, students learn about the basic capabilities of ultrasound imaging during the performance of procedures. Using peripheral nerve blocks as an example, students can see how the addition of real-time visualization of the target and surrounding structures dramatically aids the clinician performing the procedure.

Body Fluid Homeostasis

In a small group echocardiography workshop, students supplement their learning about the cardiac cycle by observing it in action. In the pulmonary organ systems coursework, students use ultrasound to observe normal lung anatomy and physiology, and are introduced to ultrasound assessment of pulmonary pathology, such as interstitial lung disease and pulmonary edema. Additional sonography workshops are being developed for integration throughout the second year Organ Systems Block.

Ultrasound Professional Enrichment Courses

UPSOM offers a diverse menu of PECs to first and second year students. These electives provide students with the opportunity to pursue topics of personal interest to a depth that is beyond the usual curriculum. In year 1, students have the opportunity to participate in two ultrasound PECs.

“Introduction to Ultrasound:  Anatomy from a Different Perspective”:  This four-session elective is offered in the fall of year 1 as a correlate to medical anatomy.  The elective is a combination of didactic presentations and hands-on ultrasound scanning of the abdomen, chest/heart, kidneys, and neck.   Through the ultrasound probe, the three-dimensional relationships are reinforced and placed in a clinical context.

“Ultrasound Basics:  Correlation with the Physical Examination”:  Offered in the spring of the first year, this four-session elective augments the coursework in the physical examination courses.  At this point in the core curriculum, students are becoming increasing skilled at basic physical examination procedures and are applying their skills during actual patient encounters. During this elective, students return to a workshop setting and use ultrasound to re-visit the anatomic underpinnings of the physical exam.

Assessment Week

This course integrates a series of summative assessments with focused skills workshops, as part of preparation for the fourth year curriculum. All students participate in an ultrasound skills workshop during the clinical procedures segment of this course.

Point of Care Ultrasonography Elective

During this four week elective, senior medical students have intensive training in the use of point-of-care ultrasound. The integrated instructional approach combines small group workshops with extended clinical scanning sessions in emergency medicine, critical care, and obstetrics/gynecology settings.  Simulation training augments the clinical experiences. Students receive detailed feedback on their scanning skills by direct observation and through critique of their scanning results.


Students are gaining increasing experience with point-of-care ultrasound throughout the curriculum. The students’ early experiences are effectively preparing them for joining clinical teams where bedside ultrasound is routinely employed to support patient care decisions. Additional instructional experiences in ultrasound are being developed for integration into the Organ Systems courses and clinical clerkships, including inpatient medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and emergency medicine.