How e-simulations support distance learning for sonography students

Washburn uni

When you’re providing high quality distance education for practical professions like sonography, how do you best prepare your students for hands-on work in the clinic?

For the CAAHEP* accredited Diagnostic Medical Sonography program at Washburn University, which offers Advanced Certificates in cardiac, vascular and general sonography, part of the answer lies in sonography e-simulation.

Washburn University offers didactic sonography courses online, and finds supervised externships in clinics close to each student’s location. With students located all over the United States and Canada, there is a continual challenge in finding local clinical partners who are willing to take on students. So the leaders of Washburn’s Sonography program were looking for ways to give their students an edge, by providing good foundational knowledge and skills before sending them to an externship. Lectures, videos and images got them some of the way there, but Program Director, Keith Farwell, wanted the students to be able to experience the ultrasound scanning procedures as well. But the question was how to do that when the students study from home, and are located remotely from the Washburn campus?

Keith Farwell was introduced to SIMTICS at the SDMS annual conference in 2013, and realized that he had found the answer. For the last three years, Washburn has been using SIMTICS sonography e-simulations to fill that gap between knowledge and clinical practice. SIMTICS interactive simulations run from the cloud, allowing students in any location to learn and practice a range of sonography procedures, making point-and-click decisions as they manipulate the virtual machine and transducer. Students can access the simulations wherever they are and whenever they need to learn or practice various ultrasound scanning skills – and they don’t need access to an ultrasound machine to do that.

Similar to the experience of sonography distance-learning teachers at the University of South Australia, instructors at Washburn find the simulations invaluable for orienting the students before each clinical rotation. ‘Students are more confident with how to set up the equipment and prepare the patient, how the ultrasound machine and transducer function, and what to look for while scanning. They love the confidence this hybrid learning approach gives them.’ Farwell adds that SIMTICS also provides the students with flexibility so they can do simulations on their own time to work around their busy family, school and work requirements.

The benefits of SIMTICS extend beyond student learning and convenience. Faculty at Washburn report better relationships with their clinical sites because when students are better prepared they demand less of clinical instructors and preceptors. Receiving students who are ‘less green’ helps persuade clinical sites to take on a student where otherwise they might have been sitting on the fence. In the background, SIMTICS provides analytics of the progress and competence of each student in each type of scan, so additional learning and tutorials can be tailored to their needs if required.

It is clear that the instructors at Washburn are convinced of SIMTICS’ value. What would they say to another instructor or manager who is considering whether to adopt SIMTICS for their program?  ‘This works really well for us with our distance learning model, but even if we were a traditional on-ground program, I believe we would still use SIMTICS to provide that foundational knowledge to free up lab time for more hands-on versus lecture. SIMTICS is affordable for the students and the ability for them to have access to the simulations over the course of an entire year is great.’ Some of the students even extend their access so they can review and revise scanning protocols that they learned earlier in the program.

For more information about SIMTICS sonography simulations see

*CAAHEP stands for the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. It is the largest programmatic accreditor of the health sciences professions in the United States.