The descriptions of the Diagnostic Medical Sonographer’s typical duties make liberal use of action words. Sonographers observe, prepare, communicate, write, coordinate and so on. The action words indicate that ultrasound technicians fully utilize all five senses – sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste – in order to deliver quality healthcare services. Understanding the role of the senses helps students attending accredited ultrasound schools in 2017 connect the educational material to real-world applications.
Enter a World of Five Senses in Accredited Ultrasound Schools
Students attending CAAHEP accredited programs are given student manuals that lay out program requirements and necessary skills. Good patient communication skills depend heavily on sight, hearing and touch, but the expertise of the sonographer is the sum of how well all five senses are employed in conjunction with the intellect.
Sonographers use the sense of sight in a myriad of ways. They analyze and interpret ultrasound images, of course, but it is more complex than just looking at images. Sonographers must be able to distinguish shades of gray and colors, depending on the type of imaging equipment in use. Sonography students learn in ultrasound technology schools how to use conventional ultrasound equipment that produces images in shades of black, gray and white, and Doppler ultrasound equipment that produces images in color. Other equipment requiring the ability to read results is used also, like blood pressure cuffs.
Sonographers must read printed patient charts and Electronic Health Records on computer screens. They will review online patient medical information, doctor instructions, emails, employment handbooks, and so on.
The primary focus of a program in ultrasound technology is always on the patient. Sight is important for delivering quality patient care in many ways. For example, the sonographer must position the patient on the imaging table and relies heavily on sight to align the targeted physical area to get the best images.
Communicating with patients in a productive manner is also critical to delivering quality healthcare services. The sonographer must have sufficient auditory acuity to hear and interpret what the patient is saying. Sonographers communicate with a variety of people who are giving instructions or conveying information, like supervisors, physicians, and family members. The sonographer will also listen to patient body sounds to develop a more comprehensive picture of the patient’s condition in conjunction with the images.
In addition, the sonographer must be able to hear different ultrasound equipment signals, use communication technology like telephones and cell phones, and hear alarms. Students completing clinical training in an imaging program will find they learn to distinguish a myriad of sounds.
Touch is important for positioning the patient on the imaging equipment in as comfortable manner as possible while ensuring the best images can be taken. Ultrasound technicians touch patients while helping them on and off the examination table. It takes manual dexterity to manipulate the equipment, including the transducer and the knobs and buttons. Sonographers need the ability to grasp wheelchair handles and gurney rails.
The sense of smell does not seem relevant to sonographic imaging, yet it can yield important clues. For example, infection is often accompanied by a distinctive odor. Experienced sonographers are able to use all sensory input to better understand the patient’s condition which leads to more accurate imaging results for diagnostic purposes.
The way the sense of taste enters the discussion is through memory and patient care. First, research has consistently reported that learning is enhanced when the memory of sensory experiences is recalled. Information is converted into knowledge in the human brain, and the more help the brain receives from sensory stimuli, the more likely learning is enhanced.
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences are conducting extensive research on the relationship of learning and the brain. What they found so far in Leipzig-based research studies is that the brain learns more easily when it can associate words with information gathered from different senses. The senses imprint information in the brain and facilitate word recognition.
During sonography training, difficult terminology may be easier to learn through word association. Learning can be reinforced by associating a sonography term with a particular taste or activity involving taste. For example, a student learning new terminology may have trouble remembering the ciliated epithelium in the paranasal sinuses produce a secretion during a bout of sinusitis that affects the throat (taste to sinusitis to paranasal sinuses to ciliated epithelium to throat). This is just one brief example of word associations.
The memory of how foods and medicines taste, and understanding how the sense of taste can change, is also important to patient care. When a patient is discussing the inability to taste due to a medical condition, sonographers document the information as a piece of the diagnostic puzzle.
Sixth Sense Based on Training and Experience
The sixth sense is not officially a sense and is not specifically addressed while attending an accredited ultrasound school, but it is something experienced sonographers develop. The sixth sense is intuition which is awareness that is produced through a means other than one of the five senses. Some call it ESP, but in the case of the sonographer the intuition is developed by working with thousands of patients, taking thousands of images and accumulating a wealth of information and knowledge that only comes from experience.
The accredited ultrasound and sonography degree programs and certificate programs give students the technical knowledge needed to deliver quality service, but experience can lead to the development of what appears to be a sixth sense. The sonographer may seem to have ESP when it comes to patient comfort or deciding to take additional images of the body, but intuition is likely the end result of the accumulation of all the input the five senses have gathered and the brain has stored. It is something to think about.