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UK medical students named masters of ultrasound

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 20, 2014) — A group of University of Kentucky medical students called the “Sonokittens” have distinguished themselves as the world’s savviest student sonographers with a win at the first-ever World Cup of Ultrasound Competition.

The UK College of Medicine students who share a special interest in bedside ultrasound competed in the ultimate skills test at the World Congress of Ultrasound in Medical Education, Oct. 10-12 in Portland, Ore. The team of Jenn Cotton, Carolyn Martinez and Brett Dickens won first place, beating teams from some universities that offer four-year integrated ultrasound curriculums.

During the four-hour contest, teams of three students are paired with a leading ultrasound expert and then tested on their ability to diagnose different sections of the body using ultrasound technology. The test involves unexpected twists, including blindfolds and simulations that require students to think on their feet and show a mastery of human pathology.

In addition to entering teams to compete in the skills contest, several students from the University of Kentucky presented scientific posters during the meeting. The third annual World Congress included sessions and workshops on the latest developments in ultrasound technique and teaching from international educators and experts in the specialty. The competition was held at Oregon Health and Science University, with 11 teams representing the University of California-Irvine, the University of South Carolina, The Ohio State University, the University of Utah and more.

Dr. Matt Dawson, director of point of care ultrasound at the University of Kentucky, said colleagues attending the meeting admired the skill level demonstrated by the UK teams. Deans, provosts and practitioners from across the world were in attendance to see the skills of the Sonokittens in action.

“During the competition, they showed a remarkable ability, both when it came to their knowledge and diagnostic abilities when recognizing pathology and also their hands on abilities,” Dr. Dawson said of the Sonokittens. “They were poised, confident and brilliant. They made me super proud to be part of the University of Kentucky.”

The Sonokittens credit Dawson’s elective class and online ultrasound podcast as the starting point of their interest in the specialty. The ultrasound interest group at UK College of Medicine has risen to nearly 100 members and hosts video tutorials on its website. Many upper-level students take time to teach acquired ultrasound skills to the more junior medical students through educational workshops.

Jenn Cotton, president of the Ultrasound Interest Group, said UK’s peer-to-peer model of teaching ultrasound skills to students has caught on at other medical schools, and she is instructing those groups on how to set up similar programs. She has also received invitations to international conferences to speak to the success of the grassroots educational movement within the College of Medicine.

“I am so proud of our group of students and so grateful for our encouraging and supportive leader and role model Matt Dawson,” Cotton said. “We all work as a team together for a common goal, and we have a huge following among medical students. It’s been a great experience for us. Our students are excited and love what we’re doing.”

Ultrasound is listed by Stanford University as one of the most valuable skills for medical students entering the field.