What is the best way to learn veterinary ultrasound?


Ultrasound courses are frequently organised by topic. On a small animal pregnancy scan course, you might have one module on the appearance of pregnancy on ultrasound, one on the appearance of pyometra, and one on the appearance of the intestines, for example. On an echocardiography course you may have a module on myxomatous mitral valve disease, another on dilated cardiomyopathy and another on aortic stenosis.

We instinctively feel that concentrating our energies on a single topic delivers better learning, because at the time, it simply feels easier.

Yet, research has shown that this is not actually the optimal setup for long-term retention, and may explain why so many people who attend day courses in ultrasound find themselves in a similar position to where they began, only a few weeks or months down the line.

The research

In a fascinating study by Kornell & Bjork, students were taught to recognise painting styles, and distinguish one artist from another. While students felt that their learning was improved when they saw multiple back-to-back examples of a single style, the results of the study actually demonstrated the opposite: the students learnt better when all the styles were mixed up together (“interleaved”).

When we use ultrasound, we are constantly having to employ similar skills to the students distinguishing paintings. We have to make sense of the black, white and grey on our screens to tell us whether what we are seeing is normal or abnormal; pregnant or not pregnant; hypertrophied or not; and so on.

What does this mean for ultrasound?

These findings suggest that, instead of teaching topics in complete isolation, we need to be interleaving information for our students. Even if a module is all about recognising pregnancy, it would be helpful to present students with early, mid and late gestation examples in various combinations, rather than focusing on one single appearance exclusively for a block of time. It would also be worth throwing in some bladder and intestine examples, just to keep them guessing and stop things from becoming too easy! In an ultrasound course that includes both cats and dogs, learners may benefit from examples from both species being included in the same section.

How we implement these techniques on our courses

Most of the sonographers here at the AUA have been teaching their subjects for 15 years or more. Back when we started, there were no courses in our topics: we had to build everything from scratch. Over the years, those who have attended our courses in the past have created courses of their own, and the availability of information on the internet has also exploded. Providing people with facts is no longer sufficient compensation for their time and money; teachers of ultrasound need to learn and develop the science of teaching and learning, not only the skills of their field of ultrasound.

Our courses are organised into broad topics, if only because any prospective student needs to be able to review the syllabus and feel confident that it is going to cover everything they need to know. However, each module builds upon information from the previous one, with no topic taught in isolation. In our echocardiography programme, there are no “canine” and “feline” modules; examples from both species are demonstrated in each. The new expansion of the programme to include Doppler examinations includes quizzes throughout, focused not just on the topic taught, but constantly revising and refreshing previous knowledge.

The brand new VIP Scanning Academy, launched this year, has also been constructed with these principles in mind. Learners who join this programme receive revision videos and quizzes to constantly top-up, test and refresh their knowledge.

To find out more about our courses and whether or not they are a good fit for you, you can book a call.

Click here to book a call on small animal pregnancy scanning.

Click here to book a call for veterinary echocardiography.

Sarah’s abdominal ultrasound course also launches later this year – please contact us if you would like to be added to the waiting list.


Kornell, N. & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning concepts and categories: Is spacing the “enemy of induction”? Psychological Science, 19, 585-592.

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