The value of ongoing training

At this year’s Hammersmith Echocardiography Conference, Professor Petros Nihoyannopoulos (Imperial College, London) spoke of the importance of cooperation and open discussion between sonographers (in this case, echocardiographers), and the pitfalls of ‘echo in isolation’ in the context of the rapidly evolving imaging modality that is ultrasound (Nihoyannopoulos, 2016). These same principles apply to ultrasound technicians across the board: from human to veterinary, from professional to paraprofessional. Indeed, the importance of an association for self-employed lay scanners, who would otherwise practice in isolation, is arguably even more vital.

A commitment to continued learning is a responsibility that comes with the job of any ultrasound technician. The very nature of ultrasonography as a practical skill makes it an ability which improves with repetition, yet paradoxically, this same fact can lead the operator towards the very real danger of entering a comfort zone and ‘switching off,’ or scanning on autopilot. When we first start to scan, we are acutely alert to every shadow and flicker across the screen, but this is gradually lost with time and experience, as our brain becomes used to seeing the same shapes and patterns again and again. Most of the time, this simply makes us more efficient and productive technicians, but complacency must never be allowed to set in. We must fight for the best images, every single time, using all of our knowledge about ultrasound physics and the anatomy of the animal we are scanning. For, “once pain ceases, learning ceases as well,” warned Dr Michelena in a 2010 Mayo Clinic lecture.

 

The case of small animal pregnancy scanning

In pregnancy scanning, for example, it is not sufficient to simply confirm a pregnancy. The technician must push themselves beyond this, and deliver a first class service. A responsible service. To do this, the operator needs to confirm foetal viability. Through careful sequential scanning and probe angulation, as well as proficient use of controls such as depth and focus, it is possible to bring the foetal heartbeat into the scanning plane. By challenging one’s self to do this every single time, one makes striving for perfection a habit.

 

The business case

Unlike human sonographers working within the NHS or even those in the private sector, most lay pet scanners are self employed and working entirely alone. Even more so for these individuals, therefore, self-motivation is the only real driving force behind the need to push beyond ‘bare minimum’ scanning. The astute businesswoman or man soon realises that by pushing themselves to optimise their images and views every single time, their business is protected for the long-term. What start-up can realistically threaten a person who has been practicing to the best of their abilities consistently over many years, who invests in training, who has seen the industry develop from the ground up?

Ultrasound is one of the most (perhaps the most) interactive imaging modality there is. It involves knowledge of both technology and physiology. Staying up to date and keeping one’s skills honed is hard and constant work, but at the same time, this very fact serves as long-term protection for your business, and makes the investment all the more worthwhile and rewarding.

 

Being part of a learning community

It’s vital to our success as professionals that we are continually reminded of techniques, particularly when it comes to rare findings. It’s important to be regularly reminded of tips and tricks, as well as learn new ideas, given the importance of what we do. The Animal Ultrasound Association exists for this very purpose; supporting the most experienced and conscientious scanners, and helping them to stay at the top of their field. If there is a specific question or topic you would like addressed, simply contact the AUA, or raise it in the AUA Facebook group.

References

Nihoyannopoulos, P. (2016). Why is a new journal dedicated to echocardiography required? Echo Research and Practice Sample Issue, E1-E2.

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