Monday, May 16, 2016

Virtual Reality Helps Vol State Students Fine-Tune Sonography Skills

The student peers into the computer screen and carefully manipulates the transducer with their hand. Vital organs come into view. They pulse and move, as in real life. The machine attached to the transducer may look like a robot out of Star Wars, but if you make a mistake, it grunts and screams, just like a real patient. Sonography students at Volunteer State Community College have a new state-of-the-art simulator to hone their skills and handle some delicate scenarios. It’s where the practiced hand meets virtual reality.

“You can memorize what you know you are supposed to see when it comes to the human body,” said Diagnostic Medical Sonography director Jennifer Carroll. “But what people struggle with is how it really looks inside the body. With this simulator you don’t have a patient. You don’t have to be embarrassed or intimidated. And what they see is real. This is actually what a gallbladder looks like,” she said, putting her finger to the fish-shaped space on the screen.

Sonography, also known as ultrasound, is one of the tools doctors use to look inside the body and diagnose patients. Trained and licensed sonographers do the scans. Vol State students practice on each other, to get hands-on training in the Vol State Sonography Center, a lab with several hospital beds, large HD monitors, and the latest professional ultrasound equipment. The new simulator not only allows them to practice particular skills they will need, over and over, but also perform procedures they couldn’t normally do in the classroom.

“The really cool thing is that we can do OB/GYN scans, especially a vaginal ultrasound,” said Carroll. “That’s something we can’t do in our ultrasound lab with real patients. This gives our students experience before they head out into a clinical environment.”

“It helps you practice,” said student Connor Hansford of Goodlettsville. “It screams if you press too hard. It lets you know you are in the right position. The more practice I get, the more comfortable that patient will be.”

“When you’re looking at the screen it’s a real ultrasound image. It makes you be very precise. The probe changes colors if you are doing it right. It’s green and if you’re off it turns red,” said student Denee Kelley of Murfreesboro.

It’s not just new technology coming to the Sonography program. Vol State is starting the process to be accredited in Vascular Sonography. The new curriculum starts this fall.

“Vascular ultrasound looks at veins and arteries, checking to see if someone has a blood clot or plaque in their arteries,” Carroll said. “We are currently accredited for abdomen and OB/GYN. Hospitals want this vascular training. It’s something graduates need. Now students will be able to get it all with one degree.” 

Applicants to the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program must have an associate of applied science degree in Health Sciences, with hands-on patient care, or a bachelor’s degree in any area. Middle Tennessee State University offers a four-year degree program where the final year can be completed in the Vol State Sonography program. For more information about Sonography at Vol State about visit

Pictured: Connor Hansford watches as Denee Kelley simulates a scan of the liver using new equipment at Vol State.

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