Ultrasound in undergraduate medical education

Bedside ultrasound, a term that comes up repeatedly in medical school, is becoming increasingly valuable in almost all fields of medicine.[1] This tool is being integrated into preclinical training, yet it seems that medical students are not using it on the ward. Why is this? Lack of resources? Lack of teaching? It certainly isn’t lack of student interest.

Students are beginning to recognize the relevance of bedside ultrasound to their future careers and have begun to question why it isn’t a higher priority in undergraduate medical education. Many of our peers are even seeking ultrasound training outside of curricular time. Interestingly, it seems as though students think bedside teaching would improve their skills the most, yet a lack of clinical time and opportunity may be the biggest barrier to their learning. Despite infrastructure being available (ultrasound machines and trained faculty), many students have described limited hands-on opportunities and preceptors who were hesitant to share the probes. Admittedly, there are exponentially increasing demands on curricular time[2] and some faculty believe that teaching ultrasound is not appropriate at the undergraduate level as it could lead to misdiagnosis or to distraction from learning important physical examination skills.[3] This raises questions of how high a priority undergraduate ultrasound education should be and who should shoulder the burden of that education. Should students be taking more initiative in their learning, or should we expand the curriculum?

We acknowledge the potential bias our perspective brings and are interested in hearing our preceptors’ opinions. Do they feel it is a priority, and are they comfortable enough with techniques to be teaching? One thing is certain: bedside ultrasound is improving patient outcomes and decreasing costs to the system.[1] If students are not receiving the hands-on teaching they need to learn it, who will use it in the future?
—Ali Silver, BSc
—Sarah Fraser, BSc
—Megan Shurey


1.    Moore C, Copel J. Point-of-care ultrasonography. N Engl J Med 2011;364:749-757.

2.    Bahner DP, Adkins EJ, Hughes D, et al. Integrated medical school ultrasound: Development of an ultrasound vertical curriculum. Crit Ultrasound J 2013;5:6.

3.    Ma I, Wishart I, Kaminska M, et al. Medical educators’ perspectives of teaching physical examinations using ultrasonography at the undergraduate level. Can Med Educ J 2013;4:e59-e68.

Ali Silver, BSc, Sarah Fraser, BSc, Megan Shurey. Ultrasound in undergraduate medical education. BCMJ, Vol. 61, No. 5, June, 2019, Page(s) 204 - Letters.

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