Ultrasound in Human Anatomy and Physiology Education

This past weekend was the first Conference on Ultrasound in Human Anatomy and Physiology Education. As President elect of HAPS, I was invited to participate in a panel session during the conference. Not sure of what exactly to expect, I traveled to Columbia, SC for this inaugural conference.  I was excited to learn of the possibilities of incorporating ultrasound, but my initial ‘gut’ reaction was that I wouldn’t be able to do too much, since I was not a physician trained in the field.  Boy was I wrong!

John Waters and I (in matching colors) practice visualizing the common carotid artery and internal jugular vein on a very patient USC medical student.

The first day of the two day conference began with some very informative talks about how various medical schools incorporated ultrasound into their medical school curricula.  Among the key points:  a) implement in increments (don’t try to set up an entirely new program all at once), b) make sure you assess the students in ultrasound (and don’t just have it as a ‘neato cool toy’ that you never incorporate in exams or other assessments) and c) it isn’t as difficult to use ultrasound as you would think!  My response to C initially was “Yeah, right”.  I already teach an upper level course entitled Human Anatomy for Medical Imaging, and we do examine ultrasound images in that course.  However, I always relied on a skilled ultrasound tech to do ultrasound demonstrations for me, as I had no idea how to even turn on the machine.

Well, boy was I wrong about the difficulty in doing ultrasound demonstrations myself!  Don’t get me wrong – being a skilled practitioner of ultrasound takes a LOT of work and training.  But I was not aspiring to the level of skilled practitioner.  Rather, I became the ‘enthusiastic novice with gross anatomy knowledge’ who was able to pinpoint where major organs were and pick out basic differences between various tissues.  With the help of many 1st year medical students from University of South Carolina, I and the other conference participants were able to visualize the common carotid artery and internal jugular vein, determine the difference between the thyroid gland and thyroid cartilage, examine cartilaginous and tendinous structures of the knee joint, visualize the kidneys, spleen, liver, and of course, the heart.  Sure, there were times that we were nowhere close to accurately visualizing a particular structure – but with some guidance, we soon learned the basics of the ultrasound machine and some of the tips and tricks to getting a good image.   I jumped in and started using the machine on myself – I learned my gallbladder still appears to be ok, my common carotid doesn’t have any major evidence of atherosclerosis, and my creaky right knee still has some cartilage left. 🙂

Sonogram simulators – the best of ultrasound and a simulated patient, wrapped up in one!

John Waters (fellow HAPS member) and I quickly thought of possibilities of using ultrasound in the undergraduate A&P classes.  It would be very easy to demonstrate key features on the undergraduates and get them excited about visualizing structures in themselves.  Whereas prior to the conference, I would not have considered using ultrasound in my intro level human anatomy class, now I was brimming with excitement about the possibilities.

“But what about the cost?” you may ask.  That can be a sticking point.  Diagnostic-level ultrasound machines can cost 5 or even six digits – well out of range of most undergraduate institutions!  But educators in intro classes do not need the ‘best and the brightest’ of ultrasound machines – they need a basic machine that can provide a decent image and is relatively easy to use. Several ultrasound manufacturers are exploring educational partnerships, and are in the process of developing lower-end machines that wouldn’t cost very much for the educator.  There may be the possibilities of grant monies to fund these ventures. As local hospitals upgrade their ultrasound equipment, there may be the possibility of your institution being able to purchase the hospital’s older machines.  Think outside the box when it comes to funding this venture.

For those of you attending the HAPS conference in Las Vegas this May, you’ll have a chance to see a workshop about incorporating ultrasound in the undergraduate classroom.  I hope you will find this concept as interesting as I did!

Thanks, CIS!

Spring break ended last week and we were all back to school. I tried to lessen the blow by doing some fun activities and trying to get the kids thinking about our next system:  the digestive system.

We tried an activity that I received from a teacher in the College in the Schools (CIS) program at the University of Minnesota (big shout out to Murray Jensen and Jeff Adams!) called “Inside vs. Outside the Body”. It was an awesome inquiry/POGIL lesson that really got the kids thinking and coming up with great questions about what it means to be “inside” the body and what exactly that barrier is between inside/outside. I have never before had such interesting conversations as I did with my students that day. The discussion really flows because, especially with high school students, they’re so interested in their bodies (most notably in terms of reproduction), and aren’t afraid to ask any questions they have. It was so cool! This may be cruel of me, but I love to watch them think so hard they start to confuse themselves and then have to work their way out of the corner they’ve been backed into! 🙂 But, I know it’s for their own good, and they’re so much smarter and intuitive than they think, and activities like this really help to prove that.

I wasn’t sure if this activity was a better introductory activity for the beginning of the year or if it would work with a system, but it worked out wonderfully for my students and I will definitely refer back to it often with them, as it can easily be applied to any system. (Although hopefully with a bit more trial and error, I’ll be making steps away from a system to system approach…)

So, thank you CIS teachers for putting together awesome lessons!!! I’d love to test out more, and I’m really hoping to make it to your POGIL workshop!

For those of you unfamiliar with the CIS Program, here’s a link to their website!

Developing Partnerships between HAPS and sister societies

One of the many benefits of working on the HAPS Board of Directors (BOD) is the opportunity to develop partnerships among HAPS and other national organizations (aka ‘sister societies’). HAPS already has strong relationships with a variety of organizations involved in science education, such as the American Association of Anatomists (AAA), American Physiological Society (APS), and National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). But we continue to be on the lookout for partnerships with other organizations that share our interests in anatomy and physiology education.

As President-Elect of HAPS, I recently was contacted by individuals in the Society of Ultrasound in Medical Education (SUSME). Long story short – they invited two HAPS officers to attend and present at their First Conference on Ultrasound in Anatomy and Physiology Education. This conference will explore the use of ultrasound in pre-medical, pre-allied health, nursing, and medical anatomy and physiology courses. There will be hands-on ultrasound demonstrations and information about how to incorporate ultrasound into your existing curriculum. This topic is near and dear to me, as I teach an upper level undergraduate course entitled “Human Anatomy for Medical Imaging Evaluation”.   The conference is this weekend in Columbia, SC – for further information about the conference, click on the image:confultrasound  I can’t wait to attend and learn something new!

This initial contact between SUSME and HAPS has developed into a formal partnership between our societies. Several SUSME members Ge-Vscan2will be attending the HAPS annual conference this May and will be presenting a workshop on the use of ultrasound in the A&P classroom.  We are excited about the exchange of ideas between our members and our societies.  In next week’s blog, I’ll let you know what I learned from the conference.  In the meantime, please let me know if you use ultrasound in your A&P classroom, or if you are interested in learning how you could use ultrasound in your classroom.  Let the exchange of ideas begin!

Modeling Respiration

As we have moved on to the respiratory system, I really felt strongly about building some kind of simple, hands-on model that the students could use to visualize respiration. To build our models, we used empty water bottles, balloons, straws, and clay (with a limited budget and no lab space, activities like this are wonderful!) The students really enjoyed it and were quite proud of their models.

The process of then writing an explanation to go along with the model definitely helped to solidify the main, general points of respiration and the changes that occur within the body. I was very impressed with some of my students’ insight and detailed explanations! For being such a simple model and activity, I think it was a very successful and helpful visual tool. I know there is always room for improvement, and would love your feedback about this model. Do you see anything that could potentially be misleading or inaccurate?


Also, in our discussions of how and why breathing occurs, some of my students really struggled with the idea of air pressure (atmospheric pressure and air pressure in the thoracic cavity). What is the most straight-forward/simple explanation you can think of to describe this process? When I stepped back to think about it, there really is a lot of foundational knowledge required to understand “air pressure” and without first having a refresher over chemistry and physics (atoms, particles, vacuums and the space between particles, pressure, etc), I had a hard time coming up with a simple, yet accurate enough explanation.

If We Build it, will they come? Or: how we prepared the ballot for HAPS

Go AWAY. We told you we don’t want to run for an office!

One of the duties of the HAPS president-elect is to develop the ballot for the next year’s election. This year, the ballot consists of candidates for president-elect, secretary, central regional director, and southern regional director. When I became president-elect, I knew this task would be one of my most important in this upcoming year.  It also was a task that stressed me out immensely.  What if I was unable to find enough qualified candidates who were willing to run for the position?  Would I become the equivalent of the garrulous party guest that everyone tries to avoid, as I tried to solicit nominations for the ballot?  And if I did ‘build’ a good ballot, would the voters ‘come’ to the polls and vote?

Luckily the president-elect does not need to take on this task alone.  S/he appoints members to be part of a Nominating Committee to help with this procedure.  So how to appoint such a committee?  Lesson #1 – first ask these dedicated, overachieving and hard-worked individuals if they would like to be candidates for the ballot, but if they cannot run, to consider being part of the Nominating Committee.  And *that* is how I quickly populated my Nominating Committee.  It is all a matter of perspective. 🙂

HAPS is populated with with many qualified, hardworking individuals who would make great officers.  But many of these people (yes, I am talking to YOU) doubt themselves, and hesitate to run.  They think that they may not do a good job, that the work may be too much, etc.  In other words – some of these people are their own worst critics.   Thankfully, not everyone feels this way.  While some may have some concerns about running and may be a little hesitant at first, they don’t let their fears prevent them from helping an organization that is important to them.  Thus, the HAPS nominating committee was able to prepare a ballot with multiple qualified candidates.

Where do we vote for HAPS officers again?

So, now that we have a great ballot, will all of you do your part and vote?  I would love for this to be the year where we have the highest voter participation record ever for a HAPS election.  We ‘built’ the ballot – please ‘come’ to the election and make your voice heard!  (All you have to do is click on the photo.)

Final Exams

I have successfully made it to my first spring break as a teacher! I’ve often joked throughout this year that I think I’ve worked harder and learned more as a teacher than I ever did in college or high school, which also makes my breaks and time off that much sweeter!book-sunglasses-beach_h5281

I am, however, hoping to use this time off to my advantage and finish up my lesson plans for the rest of the year (but at least this type of work can be done poolside!). When I consider TAKS testing, senior class festivities, and STAAR testing, it feels as though the year is almost over! The one thing I am still deciding about is the type of final exam to administer to my Anatomy and Physiology students. We have covered so much content that a written exam would certainly make sense. But since I have so much free reign with my A&P class, I would much rather stay true to my teaching philosophy and my vision for our A&P program, and allow the students a chance to showcase their creativity, critical thinking skills, and what they have learned throughout the year through some kind of project, experiment, or research.

I am consistently trying to prepare my students for the kinds of labs and projects they will experience in college, but am struggling to narrow the multitude of options to something feasible in a high school classroom. With that in mind, what kind of culminating projects have you done with your students, or do you think would be successful for high schoolers? Do you think a “final project,” as opposed to a written exam, will better prepare them and help them to develop the types of process and problem solving skills they will need in college?

Reason # 547 Why I Love to Teach

HAPS members are individuals who are committed to teaching and want to inspire a love of the subject matter in their students.  Teaching is not easy, and there are times when aspects of the job can drag us down.  And then there are the times that reinforce our commitment to the discipline, and remind us why we decided to become A&P teachers in the first place.   Last Thursday was one of those times for me.   It was my last day of teaching medical Gross Anatomy for the semester.  Right as class was to begin, one student stood up and started reciting the following Ode.  Another student stood up and took turns with the recitation.  Turns out that each student wrote a portion of the ode in the form of a haiku, and it related in some aspect to anatomy, or specific class, or our humorous discussions during lab dissections.  The writing is both humorous and touching, and it is a memory I will never forget.  Thank you, Class of 2016!  Below is the  (G-rated/edited) version of the ode:

Odes to Our Gal Val

A Truly Motivating

And inspiring prof


Odes inspired by

Our leader on this Journey

Of Anatomy


How worthless you are to me

F&#% F#*% F#%*#$ F#%*#$ F#$*% 


Our overflowing

lacrimal fluid, floods our

nasal cavity


Pick my pimply face

Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone



 Winwood so bellows

with a guttural roar from

deep in the pharynx




Henry Gray’s wisdom

You taught me, what to avoid

Pick a zit and die




Insidious Loops

And, convoluted pathways

Just to work some glands


 Like Cincinnatus,

Your willing accomplices

We absently learn


While painting pictures

Mind’s eye wanders to Flesh, Bone

One grows, accustomed.


 Here’s a scary thought

Without it I’m one ball short (LANCE)



 To be so rigid

surely a covering you are

a very tough mother


 Moist muscular walls

Between, like kids in the hall

food slides down the gut

 (get your head outta the gutter)

 File:Circle of Willis en.svg

I hear “katydids”

When you explain flow to brain

Tell Willis he’s bugged


 Sir Fickle’s Fast, yeah?

So many layers to know

Another way to die


 In and out I slide

Sometimes deviating left

With nerve XII damage


 Fingers in my nose

Epistaxis ain’t so bad

I can’t stop, won’t stop


Arytenoid muscles

Contract, I whisper to thee

My perineum


The periphery

Only canthi, can’t thee see

See me, mon ami



You’re only twenty-seven

Between you eight eyes


 Val loves Family Guy

Oculomotor breaks, Now

she watches the floor


Cranial nerve one

Soiled socks smell like lilacs



Without you I think

Its better to not existFile:Crying-girl.jpg

Lacrimal secrete


 We try to find nerves

A tireless search, finding only



Valerie is nice

Thanks for answering questions

outside of class time


 Alien in me

Moves with my every word

No talking for me


 Pupil dilation

Melatonin on the rise

Go the f*#$ to sleep