Feasibility of a focused ultrasound training programme for medical undergraduate students


  • Ivan Wong,

  • Thilina Jayatilleke,

  • Richard Kendall,

  • Paul Atkinson

  • Funding: None.

  • Conflict of interest: Paul Atkinson and Richard Kendall have taught on ultrasound training courses sponsored by Toshiba, Sonosite and Esaote. Paul Atkinson also operates the educational website http://www.emergencyultrasound.net.

  • Ethical approval: Ethics approval was granted by the Cambridge Human Biology Research Ethics Committee, University of Cambridge, UK.

Corresponding author’s contact details: Ivan Wong, Christ’s College, Cambridge, CB2 3BU, UK. E-mail: hwiw2@cam.ac.uk


Background:  Although ultrasound is a core skill for many clinical specialties, UK medical schools are not currently required to teach this skill. The College of Emergency Medicine (CEM) has championed the use of ultrasound to answer focused clinical questions in emergency settings. We have designed and piloted an ultrasound training course for undergraduate medical students addressing one important indication: ultrasound assessment of the abdominal aorta.

Methods:  Fourteen clinical students, who had no prior experience of using ultrasound, received focused ultrasound training in the form of didactic instruction, a short bedside practical workshop and self-directed learning over a 20-day period. At the end of this period, the students were assessed by a structured viva and an observed structured clinical examination (OSCE) used for accreditation by the CEM. The primary endpoint was the number of students who passed the assessment. The secondary endpoint was the accuracy of the students’ anatomical measurements.

Results:  Thirteen of the 14 (93%) students completed the training and assessment. Eight of the 13 (62%) students passed both the viva and OSCE, and were deemed to have achieved the CEM standard. The measurements by the competent students were not statistically different from those of experienced practitioners.

Discussion:  We have shown for the first time that it is feasible to train inexperienced undergraduate students to scan the abdominal aorta to a professional standard using a focused training course. It is time for the medical education community to address whether focused ultrasound training should accompany traditional clinical skills, such as using a stethoscope, in UK medical school curricula.