by Hannah Mwaura
Ultrasound (sonography) imaging, a technique that uses sound waves to diagnose health issues, isn’t simply for humans anymore – animals are increasingly benefiting from it too. In response to this trend, the University of Findlay this semester launched ANSC 435 Introduction to Animal Ultrasound, a course that teaches basic techniques to animal science and pre-veterinary students. The course, which gives students an advantage when it comes to veterinary school admissions, are made possible through cross-departmental collaboration. The first course immediately filled.
The course has actually been years in the making. Susan Perry, M.Ed., instructor of teaching and director of the Sonography Programs, and Richard States, D.H.Sc., dean of the College of Health Professions, broached the idea of a sonography course in science-related fields. Perry knew from her experience working in ultrasound sales that veterinary offices had a need for individuals who knew how to operate sonography equipment.
Ultrasound is used to diagnose a wide variety of health abnormalities in animals. Images of the kidneys, spleen, pancreas, heart and more can be viewed. Problems such as bladder stones, pancreatitis, and cancer can be detected as well as provide reproductive assistance.
Due to its non-invasive nature and increasing affordability, the use of this diagnostic tool in animal healthcare is increasing. According to Market Research Future’s latest report, the global veterinary ultrasound market is expected to hit a compound annual growth rate of 6.1 percent during the forecast period of 2018 to 2023. Additionally, pet owners are willing to spend more on their pets’ healthcare. In 2017, owners spent nearly $70 billion on their pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. Owners are estimated to spend anywhere between $9,000 to more than $13,000 for medical treatments over their pets’ lifetimes, ndp analytics, a strategic economic and communication research firm, estimated.
In the past, veterinary practices may have outsourced the service to a local animal hospital or traveling sonographer. However, with the projected increase in revenue, some practices are finding it more profitable to have an ultrasound system in-house, creating a demand for ultrasound within the practice. University of Findlay is addressing this trend by giving pre-veterinary students the opportunity to gain a familiarity with sonography.
A Collaborative Culture
The animal ultrasound course wasn’t the first collaboration to create ultrasound content that would benefit students. The first was a set of sonography modules created for the UF Physician Assistant Program. Cara Davies, Ph.D., associate professor and director of anatomy and neuroscience; Heather Duval Foote, M.A.E., instructor and clinical coordinator of the diagnostic medical sonography program; Richard Hopkins, M.P.A.S., assistant professor of teaching, chair and program director of the Physician Assistant Program; Perry; States and others developed and implemented these modules. “That collaborative effort was seamless,” Perry said. “Now the physician assistant students are actually going to rotations that we secured for them, where they’re hands-on and observing ultrasounds being done in an obstetrical setting.”
Pairing with the Animal and Pre-Veterinary Studies Programs also went smoothly, Perry said. Brandon Forshey, DVM, MS, assistant professor of animal science and director of pre-veterinary medicine, concurred. He said he always wanted to have an animal ultrasound course at Findlay, so when the idea to collaborate arose, he was on board. “When I was going through vet school, we never really had a class specifically on how to use ultrasound,” Forshey said. “I did some things outside of it with some research and with my masters that focused on using ultrasound to do the work with it and really, really enjoyed it,” he noted. He knew these would be valuable skills that set students apart when they are applying to veterinary school. Faculty from both the College of Health Professions and the College of Sciences met to discuss the possibilities, and over time they worked together to develop the course content, choose a textbook, write a syllabus, and decide where to host the labs.
The structure of the course is divided into two parts. Throughout the first half of the semester, sonography faculty teach the class and lab in the Diagnostic Services Building located on Trenton Avenue so the students can learn the basics of operating an ultrasound system. Perry, Duval Foote and Sarah Niese, instructor and clinical coordinator of the Echocardiography Program, teach this portion of the course. The second half of the semester is held in the Dr. C. Richard Beckett Animal Science Center at UF’s Western Farm south of Findlay, where students can apply the knowledge they’ve acquired in the first half of the semester to animals. Forshey said they will scan dogs and cats brought in by himself and the students. Perry has also received calls from people who have heard about the course, volunteering their animals to be scanned.
Rather than pinpointing health problems, students are learning the basics of ultrasound imagery. “The goal of this is we are not diagnosing anything,” Forshey said. “We are showing them how to use ultrasound. It’s amazing how much they can learn by just being able to utilize it.”
Who knew that a hippopotamus could be so helpful? One obstacle in making the animal ultrasound course a reality was the need for a relatively current system. Forshey pinpoints an October 2018 dinner with Fridays at Findlay leadership speakers as the moment when he saw a potential solution. The Fridays at Findlay event, “Giving Birth to Fiona, the Baby Hippo: A Story of Collaboration and Inspiration,” featured speakers who were caregiving experts responsible for Fiona the Hippo, a now-famous Cincinnati Zoo resident. Fiona was born six weeks prematurely at the Cincinnati Zoo. Assisting the zoo veterinary team in her care were healthcare workers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. There are not many veterinarians who specialize in using sonography as a diagnostic tool.
During the dinner with the speakers, Karen George, director of corporate engagement and individual giving, and States, Forshey spoke about the older generation ultrasound system the Animal and Pre-Veterinary Studies Program had, and beneficial equipment he would like to acquire for the program and the ultrasound course that was being developed. The ultrasound machine the program was using at the farms is approximately 20 years old, and a limited budget prohibited purchasing another one. Therefore, alternative options were explored. The plan at the time was to either use their outdated ultrasound machine, try to use a portable ultrasound machine from the Sonography Program, or apply for a University-issued grant to help fund a new machine.
Soon after that dinner, States was contacted by Blanchard Valley Health System personnel about an ultrasound machine that they were willing to donate to the University from Bluffton Hospital. Around the same time, George was also contacted about the same donation. Remembering his conversation with Forshey, States contacted Jeffrey Frye, Ph.D., dean of the College of Sciences, and Forshey to see if the Animal and Pre-Veterinary Studies Program would be interested in the donation. Forshey was more than happy to accept the donation. States needed a way to get the equipment to the farm and contacted David Harr, Sodexo director. Sodexo, which provides food services for UF, donated the use of their truck. States and Frye drove to Bluffton Hospital to pick up the donated ultrasound system, as well as other equipment the hospital donated.
The efficient and friendly collaboration between Blanchard Valley Health System and UF can also be attributed to a history of working together. States regularly works with Blanchard Valley Health System to receive donated equipment. States works with Roger Phillips, lead technician for the Biomed Department at Blanchard Valley Health Systems. As the hospital’s equipment ages and the quality is not suitable for patient care, States is occasionally contacted to see if the University would like the equipment. “It allows the equipment to live on and actually be used for teaching purposes,” States said. “It may not be able to be used for direct-patient care, but for what we are using it for in teaching is perfect,” he explained. Often times, States asks around to see which program would find the equipment most useful. Sometimes this means going outside of the College of Health Professions, and to other colleges. “What’s not needed in one lab could be needed in another lab,” States said. “The more that we actually work together, the benefit for the colleges and UF overall is going to be exponential.”
Both Frye and States stated this donation is extremely helpful, considering a system of this caliber is not in either of their college’s budgets. “The ultrasound system probably had a value of about $35,000 to $40,000 on the secondary market,” States said. “We just didn’t have the budgets to purchase that. So, without Blanchard Valley Health System helping us and collaborating, we would not have the ability to provide this for our students. It’s an excellent endeavor.”
Securing Student Success
Thanks to the many levels of cross-departmental and community collaboration, University of Findlay students reap the rewards. Animal science students will walk away from this course with an edge that will help them in veterinary school and even in clinicals. Forshey said that students currently taking the course love it. “Now, the students coming out of this class can probably use ultrasound better than I can,” he said.
Forshey’s intention for this course is to require upper-level science prerequisites, so it could be a course upperclassman take to gain knowledge they can apply in veterinary school. The Animal and Pre-Veterinary Studies Program currently has two reproductive electives for upperclassmen to choose from, but they fill up almost immediately on the first day of registration. Forshey anticipates this course to have the same impact as students learn what they get to experience. “I feel it’s just going to continue to fill up and it’s going to be one of those courses that is in high demand,” Forshey said. “I also think it will be another avenue for those students who maybe didn’t get into one of those reproduction courses to have those hands-on experiences.”
While the primary focus is student success, States also pointed out that such collaboration also benefits the faculty. Through courses like this, faculty are able to apply their skills to something other than what they’re normally used to doing. “From imaging humans to imaging animals, it’s a huge advantage for our sonography faculty,” States said. “Plus, it also allows them to promote their field because they’re excited about their profession.”
Overall, working together as team is a win for all involved. “We could silo the Sonography Program course offerings, but there would be no value in that and we would not be empowering our graduates,” Perry said. “I feel very strongly that all faculty and all programs have a responsibility to all of our students on campus regardless of their major.” This is a sentiment echoed by the faculty and staff at the University.