Assistant professor of MU's diagnostic ultrasound program in the MU School of Health Professions, Doug Clem, led a research team of ultrasound students discussing ultrasound spatial abilities. This study is considered the first study to elaborate how students' spatial abilities related to their results on scanning efficiency tests. Spatial ability is the ability to interpret and undertake physical relationships between objects. Spatial ability is very important in sonography because ultrasound is different than other medical imaging systems, such as x-rays or CT scans. A sonographer is not able to capture the whole object once but must collect a series of images and group them into a logic sequential order for a physician to interpret.
Sharlette Anderson, clinical instructor of MU's diagnostic ultrasound program mentioned that "It's operator dependent, I can scan the entire liver, but I'm not giving the radiologist images of every millimeter of the liver. I am giving him specific images and anything that I see that looks abnormal. If I miss an abnormality, the radiologist never sees it and the diagnosis is missed "The study started with tests on first-year ultrasound students' spatial abilities before any major coursework. Then, researchers recorded student’s results on standard scanning efficiency tests for more than two semesters. The study showed a connection between spatial ability and scanning efficiency. At the end of the academic year, students who had great spatial abilities were much more likely to have high score on scanning tests.
Dr. Clem looks at spatial ability tests as an innovative consideration for admission to sonography program. Recently, the program used academic criteria like grade point average and ACT scores to examine undergraduates’ application. There are some other professions like engineering and dentistry have used spatial ability testing for years. Spatial ability is affected by genetics, however recent studied showed that individuals can enhance their spatial ability .
The study was published in the Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography. "Even though you may be a really strong academic student, you may not learn to scan as easily as other people might." Clem says. "Some of our best students, straight-A students, will need extra time or extra clinical time to get past their scanning competency tests. This poses a challenge for selecting the best candidates for admission, and we think that spatial ability testing may turn out be one more piece of the puzzle that is needed to select the right individual."Anderson and Moses Hdeib, director of the diagnostic ultrasound program worked with Clem. The group has begun a new study in collaboration with proprietary schools from across the country, community colleges and different universities. Through the second study, Clem aims to develop the results of the first study by maximizing the number of observed students.