Ultrasound and RVTs – Getting Started
In the last issue of Heska Elevate, a compelling argument was made by Becky Findley, as to why veterinary technicians should be taking the reins when it comes to performing ultrasound exams. It just makes sense. As she pointed out in her article – A Technician’s Role in Ultrasound – Vet Techs performing diagnostic ultrasound scans creates potential to generate significant new revenues for practices, frees up veterinarians to do other procedures, and adds to the job satisfaction of the technician. Not to mention the increased level of patient care and customer service.
So how can we make this a reality?
There are a number of both online and hands-on ultrasound courses readily available for veterinarians and veterinary technicians. VTs need to take the initiative to get themselves to these courses. Let your employer know that you have a keen interest in learning to do diagnostic scans and that by you obtaining training, that ultrasound machine they just bought – that barely gets used – can become an income generator for the hospital.
“But – how can I know I am doing a good job of capturing images??”
There is no doubt that learning to perform ultrasound scans has a steep learning curve. In human medicine, sonographers take a minimum 2-year program on JUST ULTRASOUND. It’s important to be realistic in what can be achieved. A weekend course is only the very beginning of your journey to becoming a competent veterinary sonographer. There absolutely needs to be a strong commitment to the process – on the part of the technician and of their employer and colleagues. The learner must be allowed regular opportunities to build on and maintain their skills.
I recommend scheduling a brief ultrasound exam of every healthy anesthetized, or sedated patient. The best patients are those in for routine spays and castrations. Choose an organ to scan for the week – for example, liver one week, spleen the next, kidney the next, etc. – and scan only that organ. In doing so, you will absolutely gain skills as the week goes on without adding excessive time to the procedure (15 minutes max is all you need). Scan the organ in its entirety in both the sagittal and transverse planes, capture images and properly annotate those images, as if you were sending them out for interpretation. Next, find someone who is well versed in ultrasound – a radiologist, another technician or veterinarian who are competent scanners – to review the images and offer feedback.
By scanning “normal” patients every day, you will learn what organs are supposed to look like, and as a result, abnormal findings will be more easily recognized.
The quality of the ultrasound machine needs to be considered when talking about the learning curve of ultrasound scanning. Newer model machines, such as the GE Logiq e, can drastically drop the angle of the learning curve with high resolution images of excellent quality. Attempting to learn small animal abdominal scanning using an older model, large-animal reproduction unit, for example, will be an exercise in frustration at best.
So, if you have an interest in learning to do ultrasound scans, get the ball rolling by signing up for an in-person basic course. Courses that have hands-on scanning labs are the most rewarding and offer the best learning environment. Online courses are great for theory and can be very helpful as well, but nothing compares to having your hands on a transducer, scanning organs with guidance from an experienced sonographer. Heska offers excellent in-person courses, with live animals to scan, all across Canada that are available to both veterinarians and veterinary technicians. Visit https://www.heskavet.ca/continuing-education-seminars/ for all available courses.