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An important characteristic every sonography student needs is the ability to focus for long periods of time. It is one of the skills successful sonography students master while completing a CAAHEP accredited Diagnostic Medical Sonography program.
Staying focused for eight hours at a time is not easy, but research indicates it is a skill that can be developed. The first step is understanding the full meaning of mentation and its importance to optimal performance.
What is Mentation?
As ultrasound technology students review the performance requirements of various sonography programs, while selecting a program to attend, they may see the word “mentation” listed along with mobility, communication, motor ability and so on. The CAAHEP accredited sonography program at Piedmont Virginia Community College is a good example. The sonography program booklet includes mentation as a performance requirement and proceeds to define it by identifying what the term includes:
- Remain focused on many details for minimum of eight hours
- Remain focused on numerous tasks for minimum of eight hours
- Assimilate program information delivered in various formats
- Apply the knowledge acquired
Mentation refers to a process that involves thinking and reasoning. Sonography students need to focus on, assimilate and use reasoning concerning:
- Lecture material
- Textbook and other materials
- Information delivered through lab work
- Clinical activities
- Verbal instructions and feedback delivered during clinical rotations
Mentation is a comprehensive term in that it includes conscious and unconscious reasoning which involves logic, emotions, and motivations. The concentration of research over the last few years has been on internal or unconscious mentation which involves the brain’s default network. This area of research is studying the brain’s adaptive functions and the relationship to mind wandering. Focus is the core component of mentation, serving as the foundation upon which the other elements like reasoning are built.
Tips for Sonography Students to Strengthen Ability to Focus
Mind wandering is not an option for sonographers. They must maintain intense focus on highly technical classroom materials while in the program and on patients during clinical training. The brain can get cluttered, so to speak, causing thoughts to veer off into other directions. Sonography students are expected to master a large volume of material and to manage a heavy workload during the course of their program.
Staying focused is necessary to efficiently and productively manage what needs to get done – scheduling time, assimilating new information, connecting material learned over the course of the program, associating concepts to practice, solving problems, and so on. In addition, reasoning can easily be faulty when a person loses focus, and that is simply not acceptable in the medical setting.
Following are some suggestions for improving mentation by improving focus.
- Manage emotions – Brain imaging has revealed the amygdale in the brain responds to negative emotions as if they are threats. When this occurs, the brain has difficulty managing cognitive work. Suggestions for maintaining a more positive emotional balance include getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and meditating regularly.
- Set and follow a schedule – Sonography students must balance program requirements and the needs arising in their personal lives. There is research indicating that setting and following a schedule is important for managing priorities. For example, the student’s friends may regularly call or text on the spur of the moment to say, “Meet me at…” If meeting friends cuts into allotted homework time, it is going to be difficult to stay current with the work. Schedules can go a long way to limit life chaos, non-productive multitasking, and mind wandering.
- Get a firm handle on technology distractions – Ultrasound technology is an amazing tool for helping patients better manage medical issues. However, sonography students are likely using lots of other technology, like mobile phones and laptops. Students who have trouble staying focused on material because they are using personal technology to do activities like note-taking in the classroom or at home should return to taking notes on paper. That may sound a bit radical in the technology age, but writing notes forces the mind to stay engaged or focused on the information being delivered and assimilated. Paper does not distract a student with beeping that says new text messages are available.
- Manage distractions with planning – No one can work all the time so taking time out for friends and family or personal activities is good. However, distractions can and should be scheduled, just like school activities are scheduled. Students know what they need to accomplish in school and what is most important in their personal lives. Planning distractions helps the student in several ways:
- Forces prioritization of activities
- Helps to achieve emotional balance by lessening scheduling worries and providing assurance there will be time to unwind
- Ensures there is time allotted to take care of personal chores
- Recognize and stop distractions when they appear – Distractions can appear from anywhere. It may be a friend interrupting homework time, random thoughts that seem to come out of nowhere, emotions, media, a ticking clock in a classroom or the many sounds at a clinical site, like alarms, pages or people in constant movement. Research has shown that people can learn to ignore distractions. Being aware a distraction exists and then taking specific steps to re-focus on the task at hand takes practice.
Focusing on Learning How to Focus
Maintaining focus for hours at a time is not always easy, but it is a critical skill for sonography students and for employed Diagnostic Medical Sonographers. Ironically, learning to focus requires a temporary focus on common distractions. The person must recognize distractions and develop techniques to force the mind to quickly re-focus on the material or activity in front of him or her. A good suggestion for staying on track is to keep the primary goal in the forefront of thoughts. That goal is to become an ARDMS registered Diagnostic Medical Sonographer. Nothing should be allowed to get in the way.