Ultrasound Education in United States Medical Schools

Although nearly every medical specialty uses ultrasound, medical schools are inconsistently integrating ultrasound education into their curriculum. According to a 2019 study (by Nicholas et al) of United States Accredited Medical Schools (USAMS),1 although integration of ultrasound into curricula has increased since a prior study in 2014 (by Bahner et al),2 ultrasound instruction is still inconsistent.

In the fall of 2019, researchers contacted 200 allopathic and osteopathic USAMS for the Nicholas study.1 Of those schools, 168 (84%) responded and, of those, 122 (72.6%) indicated they have an ultrasound curriculum.

Of the medical schools that responded, 46 (23%) indicated they did not have ultrasound curriculum. 1

Although this study did not look into why they did or did not have the curriculum, some barriers clearly still remain to incorporating it, such as those mentioned in a 2016 study by Dinh et al3: lack of funding, lack of trained faculty, and lack of curricular space.

According to the Nicholas study, it seems as though some of the schools (42) work around the lack-of-funding barrier by having volunteers as faculty. Only 35 (20.8% of those who responded) compensate their faculty and, of those, 22 (13.1%) are compensated monetarily.1 And when schools can’t afford their own ultrasound machines, some have found other means, such as borrowing hospital ultrasound equipment. 3 Other means of helping to distribute the cost of starting up a program include gradually adding classes, using near-peer teaching, and self-directed asynchronous learning using online resources and simulators.3 

As medical students who have learned about ultrasound have reported that it improves their understanding of anatomy and physical examination skills, and more specialties adopt this technology, students need to learn about it before they need to use it in clinical practice.1

Although more schools keep adding ultrasound to their curricula, it is not yet nationwide, and many who have succeeded had to struggle to make it happen. It is imperative that USAMS receive the funding and support they need to train medical students in the safe and effective use of ultrasound.


    1. Nicholas E, Ly AA, Prince AM, et al. The current status of ultrasound education in United States medical schools. J Ultrasound Med 2021; 40:2459–2465. https://doi.org/10.1002/jum.14333.
    2. Bahner D, Goldman E, Way D, Royall NA, Liu YT. The state of ultrasound education in U.S. medical schools: results of a national survey. Acad Med 2014; 89:1681–1686.
    3. Dinh VA, Fu JY, Lu S, Chiem A, Fox JC, Blaivas M. Integration of ultrasound in medical education at United States medical schools: A National Survey of Directors’ experiences. J Ultrasound Med 2016; 35:413–419. https://doi.org/10.7863/ultra.15.05073.
    4. Tarique U, Tang B, Singh M, Kulasegaram KM, Ailon J. Ultrasound curricula in undergraduate medical education: a scoping review. J Ultrasound Med 2018; 37:69–82. https://doi.org/10.1002/jum.14333.

    Cynthia Owens, BA, is the Publications Coordinator for the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine (AIUM).

    Growing a POCUS Program in a Large Academic Institution: a guide and some lessons learned

    Point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) has quickly become an area of interest within medical education. As of 2020, a total of 57% of medical schools have incorporated POCUS training within their curricula.1 Integration of ultrasound into undergraduate medical education (UME) has been shown to help students learn anatomy, physiology, and pathology in a more effective and dynamic way.2

    Indiana University School of Medicine (IUSM), which has more than 1400 medical students spread across 9 campuses throughout the state, began the process of implementing a longitudinal UME POCUS curriculum in 2018. Their journey is outlined below—for a more detailed review, see Russell et al.2

    Step 1:  Create a POCUS committee.  A POCUS committee was created to identify and coordinate with key stakeholders throughout the institution. This committee was composed of a program manager, student representatives, and faculty from the departments of radiology and emergency medicine. Under the direction of the Executive Associate Dean for Educational Affairs, the committee worked with the regional deans, course directors, key educators, and sponsors to identify space within the existing curriculum for POCUS.
    Lesson learned: Engagement at multiple levels was key to the simultaneous integration of the curriculum across all campuses and ensuring an equitable learning experience for all.

    Step 2. Consider physical space and POCUS equipment. With many learners and multiple sites, the decision was made to use handheld ultrasound devices. While imaging parameters from these devices may be suboptimal at times, decreased cost and increased portability compared to cart-based ultrasound systems proved advantageous. A check-out system was created to allow learners to easily borrow the devices for self-driven education.
    Lesson learned: Handheld devices allowed for easy to stand-up educational sessions, smaller educational groups, more hands-on time, and overall greater program flexibility.

    Step 3. Instructional material and modules. Because of limited classroom time, the didactic portion of the curriculum was delivered asynchronously. The curriculum was divided into a series of 16 modules designed to complement and augment the existing medical school curriculum (Figure 1). The POCUS modules paralleled the curriculum as it advanced from basic science to bedside care (Figure 2). Modules were divided into diagnostic, procedural, and symptom-based categories.
    Lesson learned: Take advantage of online, self-paced learning modules. Completing modules prior to hands-on instruction minimized classroom time and maximized scanning opportunity.

    Figure 1. The 16 learning modules, included in the IUSM POCUS program, divided categorically (originally published in Ultrasound J2).
    Figure 2. An approach to structuring a curriculum and progressively building upon concepts throughout the UME curriculum.

    Step 4. Phased implementation. POCUS was initially integrated into anatomy and targeted clerkships. These areas were ideal starting points as they had existing POCUS champions and already had some POCUS elements (obstetrics, emergency medicine, etc).
    Lesson learned: Identify and leverage existing POCUS opportunities, then expand.

    Step 5. Development of an ultrasound learning website. A POCUS website was created using an institutional learning management system (LMS) where all relevant information was stored. This also allowed for easy and rapid dissemination of course materials such as modules, lab facilitator guides, equipment check-out procedures, open lab times, and consent forms.
    Lesson learned: Keep critical information centralized for quick access and easy updates.

    Step 6. Interprofessional collaboration. Having an adequate number of proctors was a barrier to implementing the hands-on elements of the curriculum. The team increased its number of available instructors by using a train-the-trainer approach for non-POCUS-trained faculty.3  The pool of available instructors expanded to include senior sonography students, senior medical students who had previously completed an elective in POCUS, residents (emergency medicine, family medicine, and radiology), ultrasound fellows, as well as POCUS-trained faculty.
    Lesson learned: Interdepartmental and interprofessional collaboration multiplies your efforts and reduces the workload.

    Step 7. Continue to build upon the foundation. The team recently launched a combined graduate medical education POCUS curriculum that started with 3 targeted residency programs and will soon include more than 10 residency and fellowship programs for the upcoming academic year. The experience gained and the connections made in building the UME curriculum have made this effort within the graduate medical education (GME) realm equally successful.
    Lesson learned: The success of the UME program was dependent upon effective collaboration, support from executive leadership, and strong student interest in learning POCUS.


    1. Russell FM, Zakeri B, Herbert A, et al. The state of point-of-care ultrasound training in undergraduate medical education: findings from a national survey. Acad Med 2021 Nov 16. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004512.
    1. Russell FM, Herbert A, Ferre RM, et al. Development and implementation of a point of care ultrasound curriculum at a multi-site institution. Ultrasound J 2021; 13:9. doi: 10.1186/s13089-021-00214-w.
    1. Russell FM, Herbert A, Zakeri B, et al. Training the trainer: faculty from across multiple specialties show improved confidence, knowledge and skill in point of care ultrasound after a short intervention. Cureus 2020; 12:e11821.

    Daniela Lobo, MD, FAAFP, is an Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and POCUS Fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine.
    Josh Kaine, MD, is an Emergency Medicine POCUS Fellow at Indiana University School of Medicine and future ultrasound faculty at IUSM.

    We invite you to comment below or on Twitter (@IUEM_ultrasound) and share with us what challenges or successes you’ve faced while trying to implement a POCUS curriculum at your institutions, residencies, student clerkships, or electives.

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

    Modifying a point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) medical education curriculum initially designed for 4-year matriculation into a 3-year experience is undoubtedly challenging. This 1-year shortening, combined with the added constraints of mandated social distancing guidelines of the coronavirus pandemic, caused us to search for concrete answers to these new directives that would lead us to either sink or swim in this new ocean of learning.

    Claude Bernard, a 19th-century French physiologist, remarked that “it is what we think we know already that often prevents us from learning.” This educational concept was true with our efforts to modify a successful ultrasound in medical education curriculum and transform it into a case-based learning approach for a condensed 18-month pre-clerkship ultrasound curriculum.

    How we had conducted ultrasound labs previously would have to be revisited, revised, and revamped to transform the curriculum successfully.

    Planning began to modify the ultrasound curriculum for the 18-month pre-clerkship experience approximately 2 years before the pandemic was even on the horizon. In-person meetings were held with fellow faculty to discuss and debate the patient-centered learning course’s mission and goals and where the ultrasound curriculum would be housed. Our discussions took place with ease, and ideas for collaboration easily flowed. Plans were made for in-person, hands-on scanning where students scanned each other, volunteers, or standardized patients, without giving any thought to the physical contact.

    There was no thought to the exam rooms’ square footage or how students would enter and exit the ultrasound center. Live introductory lectures at the onset of each lab were planned for 25–30 students to introduce the case and review the scanning techniques and logistics for each lab session. The planning included no discussion of online learning or simulated scanning for students from a remote location. Ultrasound instruction would proceed into the new curriculum with a slight modification to how ultrasound content had been previously delivered.

    Then, while finalizing our plans for a start date of August 2020, all in-person instruction was suspended for our institution. It was mid-March, and we had a nearly solidified sketch of the ultrasound lab logistics and learning methods for the inaugural class of the 3-year medical school and the 18-month pre-clerkship curriculum.

    Nevertheless, that suddenly changed, and the uncertainty of instructing anyone in-person to do any part of the curriculum was up for discussion. The faculty was mandated to work from home away from the ultrasound center with its hand-held systems, full-size ultrasound machines, and simulation capabilities. Student interactions were reduced to phone calls, emails, and video interactions within online course offerings as each student cohort was scattered throughout the 159 counties of our state.

    Learning to conduct curriculum meetings through online platforms filled our days. Trying to accomplish fully online ultrasound electives with a plethora of students and revamp the new ultrasound curriculum within the changing coronavirus guidelines stayed on our minds as we struggled through the spring and early summer.

    Nevertheless, we made it!

    When the inaugural class of the new pre-clerkship curriculum began, we laid out a plan to keep students, staff, and faculty safe through the 3W’s: wearing a mask, watching physical distance, and hand washing.

    Facilities management personnel had surveyed our ultrasound exam rooms and learning spaces and posted how many students could be in each room. Hand sanitation stations and masks were made available for students as they entered the ultrasound center. Signage and arrows were erected to direct students in and out of the ultrasound center in a one-way fashion. An online meeting platform was set up in each exam room for students to hear live instruction before beginning the lab. Instructors utilized a laser point at each room’s door to direct student scanning and maintain social distancing. Students used hand-held ultrasound equipment with image transfer capabilities to obtain images needed to complete their online case-based ultrasound assignments. Although these safety measures were not visualized in our early curriculum planning meetings, the ultrasound curriculum was successfully delivered!

    While we did not meet the goal of remote hands-on ultrasound instruction for all ultrasound labs during the pandemic, we learned to conduct in-person ultrasound scanning labs safely and effectively within a new accelerated medical school curriculum. The constraints and trials of a global pandemic did not preclude us from putting aside what we already knew and navigating a new course into the future!

    Headshot photograph of the post author, Rebecca J. Etheridge. She is shown in front of a gray background wearing a blue suit jacket and has shoulder-length red-brown hair.

    Rebecca J. Etheridge, EdD, RDMS, is an assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

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

    It’s All About The Students

    A relatively new AIUM award, the Peter H. Arger, MD, Excellence in Medical Student Education Award honors an AIUM member whose outstanding contributions to the development of medical ultrasound education warrant special merit. At the 2015 AIUM Annual Convention, David Bahner, MD, RDMS, was presented with this award. Here’s what he had to say about this honor and the future of medical ultrasound education.David Bahner

    What does it mean to you to be named only the second recipient of the Peter H. Arger Excellence in Medical Student Education Award winner?
    I am very honored to be recognized by the AIUM and feel it is an honor to receive this award named after a pioneer in imaging, Dr Peter H. Arger.  Dr Arger’s passion for medical education and his commitment to ultrasound is well known.  It is my hope to continue those activities in medical education that Dr Arger pioneered in his work with the AIUM. Watching the first award winner, Dr Richard Hoppmann, receive this award last year was a thrill because it meant that the AIUM was recognizing the importance of medical ultrasound education. I am grateful for this great honor and hope to live up to the substantial role model Dr Peter Arger has been for this important area in ultrasound.

    Why is ultrasound in medical education so important?
    In the past, the feeling that ultrasound is operator dependent has been a drag on its impact within medicine. However, since medical education has been changing at many institutions because of electronic medical records, changes in curricula, and changes in technology, opportunities for point-of-care ultrasound now abound. Add to that the fact that ultrasound has become portable and affordable, and we see more operators embracing this modality. Unfortunately, the training for this device many times doesn’t starts until residency or even after clinicians have completed their medical training. By that time, however, the technology has outpaced the education. If the future can be planned to prepare 21st century clinicians to use this ultrasound tool, implementing this within medical school allows “pluripotent” students the ability to learn the foundations of ultrasound before entering residency.

    What do you see as the biggest barrier to having ultrasound integrated into the medical education curriculum?
    The lack of trained faculty either funded or supported in this process of training medical students is the biggest barrier to implementing ultrasound training in medical school. This lack of faculty is coupled with a “crowded’ curriculum where medical educators don’t see the benefit of adding ultrasound at the expense of removing other parts of the curriculum. The true insight is that ultrasound can be integrated into many parts of the medical student curriculum when both teachers and students embrace learning how to use ultrasound.  For example, anatomists learning how to scan or family practitioners working with ultrasound to guide procedures are possible solutions to these barriers.

    You are a born and bred Ohioan. Why are people from Ohio so proud of Ohio?
    It probably has something to do with the history of the state and how that has played into innovation, politics and competitiveness. Ohio is best known for the Wright Brothers who hailed from Dayton and used their hard work and innovation to change the 20th century with the discovery of lift and flight. Politically it has been an influential state in most presidential elections. Plus, 6 presidents are from Ohio. Ohioans are fierce competitors and extremely proud of the 16 national football championships earned by The Ohio State University. Oh, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are located within Ohio. We have a lot to be proud of.

    Personally, my family grew up in Ohio and I feel a bond with the change of seasons, the geography, the history, the people, and the culture of hard work and helping others. I am an American, an Ohioan, a doctor, an educator, an innovator, and a Buckeye.

    What role does or should ultrasound play in medical education? What are you proud of? Where did you learn your ultrasound skills? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.

    David Bahner, MD, RDMS, is Professor and Director of Ultrasound in the Department of Emergency Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.