How I Brought Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) to My Family Medicine Department

As I demonstrate a handheld ultrasound (US) machine to the eager medical students in our clinical simulation laboratory today, I am struck by a vivid recollection of my own first time seeing a handheld US machine. I was a 4th year medical student on an away rotation at a rural hospital in my home country of Peru. A visiting foreign obstetrician produced an amazing small machine, detecting fetal malposition when unsatisfied with palpation with Leopold’s maneuvers alone.

My fascination with the clinical utility of bedside US began that day and has continued through my move to US postgraduate training in family medicine, a geriatric medicine fellowship, academic faculty roles, the completion of an accredited POCUS fellowship, and right through to my current passion for growing POCUS use within family medicine practice.

I have learned so much along the way, have been helped by so many mentors and colleagues, that I write today to share my POCUS journey in the hopes that my story may be useful to others.

In 2018, I joined the department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (AAFP). The AAFP had recently released its novel POCUS curriculum guidelines for family medicine physicians, and the department was in search of a champion to lead the development of a POCUS program for our department. I was fortunate to be chosen for this role and over the intervening 3 years have had the privilege of working with several wonderful, enthusiastic colleagues across our department, our institution, and on a national scale through the AAFP’s POCUS interest group.

Early on in my role as POCUS champion, I realized that to be successful with this project, I was going to need a lot of help from a lot of people! My first stop (along a long journey) was to ask my department chair for time and resources. He readily obliged, providing me with the protected time to do an established accredited POCUS fellowship (which luckily was available through our emergency medicine department) and important administrative resources, which were also vital as we developed our program.

During my yearlong fellowship, I worked hard to become a clinical sonographer, educator, academic leader, and administrator in US. These newly acquired skills have been invaluable since assuming the role of Clinical US director for my department. There have been many challenges and administrative headaches—who knew that selecting and purchasing ultrasound machines could be so complicated?!?—but countless successes.

In terms of successes, we have defined minimum credentialing requirements for POCUS use, defined pathways for faculty interested in training in POCUS, and obtained hospital privileges for the same from our department. We have developed billing for our clinical POCUS use in ambulatory care as well as electronic health record order sets and templates for easy documentation. With regard to the POCUS curriculum that we initially set out to create, we now have a formal POCUS curriculum for family medicine residents as well as an intensive US track for residents interested in a more in-depth POCUS educational experience. Additionally, I am so excited that we will be welcoming our first Advanced Primary Care US fellow for a one-year fellowship this July.

It has not always been easy, but I have been so fortunate with wonderful supportive departmental leadership and fantastic emergency medicine colleagues who are always eager to help with advice on regulatory or administrative requirements. Developing the POCUS program for our department has taken a lot more time than I initially anticipated, and at times, the process has proved tedious. There certainly have been times when I have doubted if it has been worth the time and effort and doubted that colleagues share my vision for the potential POCUS offers for improving our patient care in family medicine or whether they see it as a burden, yet another thing to learn. However, the excitement I felt the first time I saw the handheld US those (many!) years ago in Peru, is reflected in the excitement I see in the faces of the medical students here in the clinical simulation lab today. This shared enthusiasm and passion for POCUS tells me that in the end, it truly will have been worth it.

An US track resident in training.
An US track resident performing US as part of training.

Juana Nicoll Capizzano, MD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Clinical US Director of Family Medicine at Michigan University.

Interested in learning more about developing ultrasound education? Check out the following posts from the Scan:

Getting Sonography Students Hands-on Experience

Ultrasound Education in the Post-COVID Era

Sink or Swim? Modifying POCUS Medical Education Curriculum During Coronavirus Pandemic

Teaching Point-of-Care Ultrasound