October 28, 2004

Hands-on training vital for sonography students

by Beth M. Hartke

CARBONDALE, Ill -- October is National Sonography Awareness Month, offering students and faculty in Southern Illinois University Carbondale's radiologic sciences program another opportunity to invite volunteers to receive ultrasounds.

The purpose of National Sonography Awareness Month is to create awareness of the role sonographers play in the medical community and to recognize their contributions to healthcare. This year's slogan is "sound insight."

Sonographers, also known as ultrasound technologists, specialize in the use of diagnostic medical ultrasound to provide physicians with important diagnostic information on various systems throughout the body. In obstetrics, ultrasound is used to study the age, sex and level of development of the fetus and to screen for major birth defects or other possible problems.

SIUC's sonography program offers students multiple hands-on learning experiences. Students begin to learn how to scan by practicing with a provided simulator. Once they are familiar with the basics, they scan one another to become comfortable with the application of scanning. Finally, students scan volunteers from the community.

Scanning volunteers is the highest form of learning that students can gain before going to hospitals and completing their clinicals.

"Students need this experience in order to prepare fully for their clinical, and it is needed to >become confident while doing an O.B. (obstetrics) scan," said Shannon D. Anderson, clinical coordinator of ultrasound.

"It gives our confidence level a boost when we learn the art of scanning hands-on. This type of learning sparks an understanding or relation between what we learn in class and how it applies to the actual scanning process," said Melanie J. Thomas, senior in radiologic sciences.

Those interested in volunteering can call Karen M. Having, sonography program director and assistant professor, at 618/453-4980 to set up an appointment. Appointments are available during the fall semester only, on Monday at 3 and 4 p.m. and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 5 and 6 p.m. Volunteers should expect the scan to last about 30 minutes and keep in mind that these ultrasounds are not performed as diagnostic examinations.

"We encourage volunteers to participate in the experience so that the students learn how to develop patient care and patient communication skills, as well as their scanning skills. The students also learn to develop patient education skills while performing the scan," Having said. "For example, should a volunteer ask about smoking during pregnancy, the student can inform her of possible effect to the fetus from maternal smoking or exposure to second hand smoke during pregnancy. As the student scans, the instructor is engaging the student in the learning process by asking the student to point out features on the screen. It's an educational process for the expecting mothers, as well as our students."

"Often, volunteers have their first ultrasound at our lab. It is really interesting to be part of the discovery and realization stage that the volunteers go through when they first get to see the human being inside. We even had a volunteer once discover that she was having twins during her scan here," Anderson said.

Many of the students in the program receive job offers before they graduate.

"It is important for the community and potential students to realize the job opportunity in the diagnostic imaging medical field is fast growing and involves life-long learning. Employment opportunities are and will be very bright for at least the next 10 years," says Having.

Service-learning and outreach activities are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

For more information, contact Having at 618/453-4980 or visit http://www.sdms.org.