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Move over Batman, Bat-students are coming: Using ultrasound to “see with sound”

This professor introduces ultrasound to high school students to get them excited about STEM, and as part of the curriculum with medical students

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Medical students use Vscan with Dual Probe

When Dr. Phelan stood in front of the freshman class at a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas and asked how many students had seen an ultrasound system, many hands shot up. However, when he asked if they knew how an ultrasound worked, the room went silent.

Dr. Kevin Phelan, a professor in the Division of Clinical Anatomy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), has a passion for STEM in local schools – and that means getting students excited about imaging technologies, specifically ultrasound. With the help of a five-year grant called the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Dr. Phelan and his colleagues created the ArkanSONO program in collaboration with the Little Rock School District in central Arkansas to do just that.

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Dr. Phelan shows Vscan Extend to high school students

Dr. Phelan teaches the students about sound and frequency to introduce echolocation — the idea of emitting sounds inaudible to humans and listening to their reflections to make sense of the environment. Today, that natural principle is the basis of many modern technologies. Sonar allows submarines to avoid collisions and find targets, radar guides planes in the air, lidar helps self-driving cars “see” the road, and ultrasound assists doctors in saving lives.

“We decided to work with ninth grade students to try to catch them early and pique their interest in STEM,” Dr. Phelan says. “Our hope is that this interest will continue and maybe even turn into a career path one day.”

Equipped with a Vscan Extend pocket-sized ultrasound, Dr. Phelan takes the students “inside the body” to show images of the neck and forehead, and to see how veins collapse and expand.

“Ultrasound is transformative,” Dr. Phelan adds. “It allows students to peer inside the body and see actual movements. It’s incredibly stimulating to them.”

A decade ago, ultrasound was strictly used in hospitals or a clinical setting, yet more and more, ultrasound is used in other settings, including in the classroom. In fact, Dr. Phelan also uses the Vscan with Dual Probe as part of his curriculum with medical students.

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“Getting hands on experience in their first or second year of medical school offers these students a huge advantage,” Dr. Phelan notes. “At the onset of residency, they know how to properly hold the probe, get a good image, and identify what they are looking at.”

Ultrasound has been part of the UAMS curriculum for four years, and Dr. Phelan is already impressed with the results, “When students go on their clerkship rotations, they are able to quickly identify clinical images because they’ve gotten exposure to ultrasound and its various applications from cardiovascular and musculoskeletal to gastrointestinal.”