Students at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine are the first in the country to use portable ultrasound machines equipped with 12-lead EKG technology, which allows them to view images of the heart while also measuring its electrical activity through electrodes attached to the body.

“People recognize us as a leader in ultrasound teaching,” said Paul Dallas, director of the school’s ultrasound curriculum. “Our school recognized the importance of ultrasound teaching early on by building it into students’ basic science instruction starting in their first year. These new machines are an indication of our continued commitment.”

In fact, according to Dallas, the medical school is only the third in the country to have a designated ultrasound curriculum, one that is introduced within the first few weeks of school.

“Our first-year students realize slowly as each week goes by that the anatomy they’re learning in the classroom is coming to life through the ultrasound equipment,” said John McNamara, director of anatomy instruction for the school. “It’s a different venue for viewing and learning. That’s the real purpose why we have these portable machines.”

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During their first year, students learn to manipulate the machines and identify basic internal structures. In year two, the focus is on pathology, identifying structures that appear abnormal. The portable machines are available 24/7 for students to check out for practice time.

“Our students are way ahead of the curve in terms of their ultrasound skills,” Dallas, who is also an internal medicine physician with Carilion Clinic, said. “They stand out among their peers when they move on to away rotations and residencies, and VTCSOM is gaining recognition for its ultrasound curriculum.”

First-year student Rocco DiSanto acknowledges the technology’s benefits of being a safe and powerful clinical tool.

“Our curriculum provides us a unique depth of experience with ultrasound and enables us to recognize its potential,” he said.  “These skills will be valuable when we begin taking care of patients and will set us apart from others down the road."

Classmate Natalia Sutherland agreed.

“These new machines have greatly facilitated our learning to ensure that we are able to apply clinical skills, anatomy, and sonography as physicians,” she said.

Most medical schools introduce ultrasound technology later in the curriculum and, for the most part, briefly.

“Ultrasonography is a set of skills that you build over time,” McNamara said. “That’s why our students are exposed to the technology early on and regularly during the first two years.”

Dallas tells the story of a VTCSOM student who impressed her attending physicians at the Baylor College of Medicine with her ultrasound skills during an away rotation that she was later accepted into a prestigious neurology residency program there.

“Our program is designed so that students are confident when they become residents and practicing physicians,” he said.

The new machines have a number of advantages, including sharper images, better magnification, ease in transporting and storing images, and a more user-friendly interface.