Students in Tidewater Community College’s diagnostic medical sonography program don’t just learn about ultrasound. They actually teach it to medical students as part of a unique mentorship program between the college and Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS).

EVMS is among the few medical schools in the nation that integrate ultrasound into its curriculum, thanks, in part, to Dr. Felicia Toreno, program head for TCC’s sonography program, who advocates for this portable, inexpensive and safe diagnostic tool.

TCC student Elyse Taylor mentors a pair of EVMS medical students in using ultrasound.
TCC student Elyse Taylor

“We can bring it directly to the patient’s bedside,” Toreno said.

TCC sonography students are evolving experts in using the technology, and as part of the curriculum, take part in mandatory labs at EVMS where they give individualized attention to the students there who perform ultrasounds on model patients.

“When you teach somebody something, it cements what you are learning,” said sonography student Arin Wolf.

Three Fridays per semester TCC students travel to EVMS, where they sit in on a morning lecture prior to the afternoon lab, where they help the medical students produce the required images. Each lab is counted as clinical time for the students, who document what they learned in a journal.

The focus of each lab varies; there are abdomen days along with thyroid days, pelvic days and patellar ligament days, to name a few.

TCC student Nikita Taylor
TCC student Nikita Taylor

A steady hand, a keen eye and critical thinking all are key in producing the best image possible. “A lot of people think it’s easy at first,” Wolf said.

“It’s not,” said her classmate Jessica Granger. “It takes a certain technique and patience.”

For the last two years, TCC’s sonography students volunteered their time at EVMS. Starting in fall 2014, it became a mandatory part of the program’s curriculum. Toreno, Indu Sharma and Suzanne Dickinson each has recently been given community faculty status at EVMS.

For both institutions, it’s a win-win.

“We appreciate the collaboration with TCC,” said Dr. Barry Knapp, program director for EVMS’ Department of Emergency Medicine. “It’s not easy for us to give the medical students one-on-one, hands-on time. At the end of it, we’ll have something we never had: a workforce of physicians who understand the capabilities and limitations of ultrasound.”

Added Toreno, “It gives TCC students a huge sense of accomplishment. They are the experts in this particular area over the medical students. They get to appreciate how much they’ve learned in their time in the program. They get more comfortable working with physicians and don’t have the sense they’re unapproachable. It broadens their horizons and shows them their bigger place in the medical community.”