Integration of Ultrasound Into the Physician Assistant Curriculum

J Physician Assist Educ. 2019 Jun;30(2):103-110. doi: 10.1097/JPA.0000000000000251.


Purpose: Over the past 10 years, successful ultrasound integration into medical education has resulted in 8 residencies and 52 undergraduate medical schools requiring ultrasound training for graduation. Physician assistants (PAs) are trained in the medical model, yet very little is known about the integration of ultrasound into their curricula. This study examined how ultrasound is used, if at all, in the PA education curricula.

Methods: Physician assistant program directors (PDs) were sent a survey addressing ultrasound integration into their curricula. Questions focused on the use of ultrasound to teach didactic courses and on inclusion of point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) scanning skills as an adjunct to the physical examination. The survey also asked about students' feelings toward ultrasound integration into the curricula.

Results: Investigators contacted 201 PDs, and 107 (53.2%) PDs responded. Twenty-five of the respondents (23.4%) reported using ultrasound in the basic sciences. The top 3 reasons for not including ultrasound in preclinical courses were no ultrasound machine, expense, and no faculty trained in ultrasound. Seventy-three of the respondents (68.2%) thought that POCUS scanning skills should be included in the curriculum. More than 83% felt that faculty or adjunct faculty should teach those skills.

Conclusion: This survey demonstrated that there is great interest in integrating ultrasound into the PA curriculum but that many challenges inhibit implementation. Lack of access to ultrasound machines and to trained faculty are the biggest challenges to integrating ultrasound into the PA curriculum. Physician assistant programs face content and competency challenges similar to those that medical schools face, as well as several challenges that are unique to PA education. Future research is needed to address these issues.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Curriculum / statistics & numerical data*
  • Curriculum / trends*
  • Education, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physician Assistants / education*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Ultrasonography / methods*
  • United States
  • Young Adult