Three Challenges in Diagnostic Ultrasound Education

Posted by tinas

December 14, 2014

Wolf River Diagnostic Learning Center (WRDLC) has identified three challenges in diagnostic ultrasound education:

  1. Not enough ultrasound schools offered throughout the United States
  2. Less than an ideal understanding of ultrasound physics by sonography instructors
  3. Acquiring affiliation agreements for clinical externships and maintaining relationships with ultrasound departments

Wolf River Diagnostic Learning Center has developed a curriculum that overcomes many challenges in ultrasound education, including the three stated here. WRDLC offers a convenient and sustainable ultrasound program that accommodates individuals seeking a diagnostic ultrasound education anywhere in the nation.

A Lack of Ultrasound Schools and Incomplete Education

There are not enough ultrasound schools available throughout the United States to keep up with the demands of patient populations and accommodate everyone interested in a career in diagnostic ultrasound. Due to this shortage, it is often difficult for one to find an ultrasound program that is geographically convenient.

How does one find a viable program that fits his or her needs?

The Internet may be an expedient approach and yield a list of ultrasound schools. Unfortunately, the list of schools that are displayed may no longer be in business, are misrepresented and no longer offer an ultrasound program, or are located hundreds of miles away from one’s home. Unless an individual is alacritous enough to be willing to relocate, the next sensible option is searching for a legitimate online program - a situation that can be daunting.

It is possible to learn the didactic component of an ultrasound education online. However, learning to perform ultrasound examinations requires hands-on experience. This is something that simply cannot be taught in a virtual environment.

There are two ways to gain hands-on experience:

(1) in a laboratory setting using volunteers and (2) in a clinical setting practicing on patients. When the former is not offered by the institution, the clinical setting will be the first time a student practices how to successfully execute a diagnostic ultrasound examination - a situation that gives rise to its own set of challenges.

The entire program is based on the school’s directive - approaching ultrasound as a skill and an art.


Wolf River Diagnostic Learning Center offers a simple solution - a blended curriculum that is composed of five online modules followed by a conveniently accessible hands-on lab before students attend their clinical externship.

The entire program is based on the school’s directive - approaching ultrasound as a skill and an art. Students are responsible for tapping into their creative side as they learn the techniques necessary to acquire the most optimal images for diagnoses. The lessons encompass creative practices in 2D and 3D imagery and give the students a clear understanding of dimensional scanning.

The instructors are experienced registered sonographers who act as the students’ personal mentor, offering private tutoring sessions, and engaging with students in highly participatory virtual classrooms. Students listen to lectures, go over case studies, get help with assignments and assessments, and ask questions about the material.

After students complete the didactic portion of the program they are given the option of repeating any or all of the modules. In fact, they are encouraged to do so in order to fully understand and retain the knowledge that leads to a successful career. All sonographers, regardless of skill-level, are expected to be ready to work independently at their very first job. Entry-level sonographers should not need to depend on new peers to successfully complete an ultrasound examination; especially in busy fast paced ultrasound environments such as is the case in urban hospitals and imaging centers. Asking for an extra set of eyes by a fellow sonographer is encouraged for difficult or suboptimal examinations regardless of one’s experience level.

Wolf River Diagnostic Learning Center’s blended learning environment includes a hands-on laboratory component, the Scanning Studio, which allows students the time to learn how to perform the majority of ultrasound examinations proficiently and quickly before they begin a clinical externship. The Scanning Studio is adaptable, mobile and convenient. For the first time in ultrasound education the laboratory component is accessible and does not require the student to travel to a brick and mortar laboratory. Instead, the mobile scanning studio travels to the student. Students also have the option to join the Scanning Studio in another geographic location if they desire to travel for hands-on experience.

At the conclusion of each of the educational components, the laboratory practicums and the clinical externship, a student’s progress is evaluated thoroughly. The student is granted more time if he or she is not yet confident with the knowledge. Endorsed by his or her instructor students are able to regulate their educational needs and not feel pushed through the program too quickly - a common pitfall with non-scalable ultrasound programs.

When a school is fortunate to find someone well versed in ultrasound physics, students will benefit from a solid educational foundation.

The Physics Conundrum

Another problem common in ultrasound education is a modest understanding of ultrasound physics by sonography instructors. There is a specific set of physics concepts tailored to the ultrasound career that many do not feel comfortable teaching. These concepts are the foundation of a diagnostic ultrasound education.

When a school is fortunate to find someone well versed in ultrasound physics, students will benefit from a solid ultrasound foundation. Introduction to applicable theories will help them understand the ultrasound machine’s functions, the physics behind the “dots” on the screen and how they come together to create an image, and how to identify and eliminate artifacts quickly and efficiently for acquiring optimal images.

Often times the physics course is considered the most difficult course of the program and instructors and students do their best. Many students opt for a post-course review seminar before taking the Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI) examination from the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS), which can be costly.


WRDLC instructors have a thorough understanding of ultrasound physics - the foundation for all subsequent modules in the ultrasound program. Students will start to integrate the physics concepts as they continue learning general and vascular ultrasound. Students are prepared to take the SPI examination at the completion of the physics course or at the completion of the didactic portion of the program.

Acquiring and Maintaining Affiliation Relationships

Clinical affiliations can be difficult to acquire depending on the culture surrounding ultrasound training in a particular region. When facilities are disinclined to train students it is extremely disheartening for students and this reluctance can be the collapse of many great schools.

Clinical affiliations are also not guaranteed even when a contract is in place. The externship site always reserves the right to refuse a student at any time.

A well-matched clinical site is vital to student externship success.


At WRDLC students are taught to scan effectively, efficiently, and quickly. The resolution of the ultrasound equipment in today’s market is very advanced and images are crisp and clear. Students will learn how to use this to his or her advantage during the Scanning Studio portion of the program. Students will be proficient in scanning most general and vascular ultrasound examinations before the student enters his or her clinical site. Therefore, students will be notable assets to any facility prepared to welcome students.

A well-matched clinical site is vital to student success.

The search for a well-matched clinical site begins by shifting the relationship between the school and facility to the sonographers at a facility and a particular student. We encourage students to reach out to hospitals and imaging centers near their home and request a date and time to introduce themselves and possibly shadow a sonographer.

By encouraging sonographers and students to build a relationship we relieve the stigma associated with students at externship sites.

Find out more about the Wolf River Diagnostic Learning Center Advantage.

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Wolf River Diagnostic Learning Center

P.O. Box 6240
Colorado Springs, CO 80934-6240
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