Diagnostic Medical Sonographers are specialized technicians…and artists
Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS) interim Program Director and faculty member, Terri Fluke, knows what it takes for her students to do well in this career field. “The body is our canvas and we’re the artist,” she tells them. They must demonstrate the perfect blend of technical proficiency and intuitive scanner placement that provides the most medically clear and informative results.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers use medical ultrasound to produce images of the internal body for use in assessing and diagnosing various medical conditions. Most people associate the use of sound waves with how a fetus can be ‘seen’ in the womb, but this technology is also used to identify and treat medical conditions in the heart, abdomen, breast, blood vessels and musculoskeletal problems.
“Because we have to make these images – not just push a button – we actually create, using a transducer,” says Terri. “We have to figure out new tricks and tips for how to accomplish a good image. It must be an accurate interpretation of what we are seeing.”
Those skills are sharpened with practice and increased familiarity with what the inside of the human body should look like. “The thyroid is the gas pedal to your body,” says Terri. “Our students learn to recognize what that anatomy looks like. Gallstones, cysts; there’s a look that will tell you. Scans help support suspicious areas that can be cancerous that biopsies can then confirm.”
Terri’s DMS program on the Bakersfield campus is full of future ‘artists’ she will groom to reach the heights of their medical career dreams. To ensure they get there, her students receive a balance of virtual classroom instruction and laboratory hands-on experience. “The college has really good lecture material, and I can complement that material with my own experience in the field.”
“Terri brings decades of experience into the classroom and tons of connections in the field,” says Michael Rugnao, Academic Dean. “Students love how she can connect the classroom to the ‘real world’.”
This education dynamic was interrupted for several months when CoVid concerns and infiltration mandated school closures throughout the state and country. Only recently have students returned to campus to resume laboratory studies that require hands-on participation. Classroom lectures continue to be accessed online until all restrictions are lifted.
Terri missed the on-campus direct connection with her students and has always enjoyed her time at the front of the classroom where she brings a little humor to the learning process. “I’m a corny joke-teller,” she admits. “I have a knock-knock joke book and sometimes there’s some quiet time…then laughter. And sometimes I just get crickets.”
Students are happy to be back on campus, working in teams and volunteering themselves for scanning procedures. “We scan the pancreas, gall bladder, kidneys, spleen, uterus, ovaries, arteries and veins in the extremities,” says Terri. Occasionally students bring in friends or family members for new bodies to practice on. “Sometimes it’s not a normal scan and in a roundabout way we ask if they’ve been to the doctor lately. The student or the ‘patient’ sometimes already knows or has a feeling.”
Students also learn how to behave in a discrete and sensitive way toward patients.
Practical experience is key to skill development. “There is a lot of repetition in this field,” says Terri. “I want to send out sonographers to their extern sites knowing they will do a good job because I trained them.” She does not want her students to feel intimidated by or unfamiliar with any task they are given at their job site. “I want them to be able to say to themselves, ‘I’ve already done that’.”
Terri wants her DMS students to make the most of their time as a student so that they are well prepared to enter this specialized medical arena ready to handle the responsibilities. But she is also pushing them to their greatest potential so that their positive impact is felt in the field. “Their (DMS graduates) expertise would be beneficial to lift the job performance of those in the field with questionable skills,” she says, reflecting on some who have more relaxed standards of job performance.
Especially during this time of coronavirus and the hardships this pandemic puts on communities, many students struggle even more with pressures of school, unemployment, childcare and other life issues given extra weight. They might have a more difficult time focusing on the education they will need to create a more secure future for themselves or their families. Hard choices are being made.
Terri offers her best advice to her students. “This is not easy work, but you can continue what you are doing now and have a better life for you and your family.” She reminds them, “There is a reason you signed up for this. Stay with it and tell us what we can do to help you finish it.”
Terri always strives to provide quality education in a safe, hands-on and practical learning environment. “My students gain knowledge that will provide them with the skills that are necessary to aid in saving lives,” she says.
And, coming from Terri Fluke, that is no joke.
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