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Is Practicing on a Cadaver the Best Way to Develop Ultrasound Skills?

Medical students and radiology residents at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences are turning to lightly embalmed cadavers to fine tune and master their ultrasound-guided procedure skills.

In their study published in Academic Radiology, the group of researchers led by Mary E. Meek, MD, associate professor of radiology, had first-year medical students practice placing the needle and dilating the tissues on cadavers that had been deceased for three days. The bodies were threaded with wires and catheters on both access points. The cadavers were arranged in the seated positions and had been injected with Lidocaine. Radiology residents also took part in simulated biopsies, thoracentesis, and arterial and vascular access on the cadavers.

Dr. Meek considered this simulation-based training to be one of the most optimal methods of helping students and residents understand ultrasound-guided procedures. “Combined with immediate feedback and self-evaluation, deliberate practice requires effort, and, though not innately enjoyable, can reduce training time and be more effective than non-focused training,” she said. “With permission to fail and correct mistakes remote from patients, novice operators can practice common percutaneous procedures that range in complexity from superficial skin punctures to biopsies, aspirations, and central venous access. Likewise, experts can refresh old skills and learn new ones.”

Although the cadavers didn’t provide the most clear and precise images in comparison to live patients, the students and residents found the practice helpful and important. Being able to adjust the positioning of the bodies was vital to making the practice a success. One participant said they would “rate the session an 11 out of 10 any day.”

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