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Students gain hands-on prenatal ultrasound experience in lab

Mar 15, 2021
A woman looks at an ultrasound image
A woman looks at an ultrasound image

KOKOMO, Ind. — As a future ultrasound technologist, Rachel Curry says there’s nothing quite like getting that first glimpse of a developing baby.

While she’s still deciding between vascular and obstetrical (OB) ultrasound as her career field, “I think OB and working with babies is where my heart is,” she said.

In the final semester of the medical imaging technology program at Indiana University Kokomo, she’s getting guided, hands-on experience with prenatal ultrasounds, as Christine Rassel, clinical assistant professor of medical imaging technology, brings mothers-to-be into their lab.

Curry appreciates the chance to practice and receive constructive criticism as she works.

“I actually do ultrasounds at work, but I like being able to show what I can do, and learn how I can do it better,” she said. “When we’re in the lab, we have time. At the hospital, the patients are on schedules. I like being able to work one-on-one with my professor.”

On this particular day, she moves the ultrasound transducer around on the patient, watching the black and white images of the baby on her computer screen. As the baby’s tiny head appears, she creates a white circle around it, then clicks to take an image and measurement.

Rassel leans forward to look at the image, offering a few suggestions for a second scan, before Curry’s work is complete, and she is one step closer to completing her degree.

Before they began their OB unit in the spring semester, Rassel noted, students practiced on each other, but being able to perform fetal scans with the volunteers gives them a more realistic experience.

“They are taking what they learn in the classroom and in clinicals, and demonstrating it here,” she said, adding that they are also learning soft skills like bedside manner. “This gives them an opportunity to test their professionalism, as they deal with people other than themselves,” she said.

Throughout the semester, students practice in the ultrasound lab, adding skills each time, leading up to a full fetal scan.

Their volunteers have previously had ultrasounds with their health care providers before working with the students, Rassel said.

“They already know everything is normal, so that takes the pressure off all of us,” she said, in part because she and students can talk about what they see without making the mothers-to-be nervous.

“This gives us more of a controlled setting, to give students a chance to practice, and gain confidence in their abilities,” she said. “We can help them record the baby’s anatomy, do correct measurements, and talk about what they are seeing.”

Madison Edwards, Peru, enjoys the chance to do a thorough scan on just one patient in the lab, while getting feedback from Rassel and her classmates. They work in small groups, with those observing sharing advice and tips.

“I like the patient interaction, having time to hear their stories, and giving them a look at their baby,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to make them happy in that way. Having that one-on-one time is what I enjoy most. In the hospital, you see one patient after another, and here I can spend more time on it.”

She looks forward to continuing to use her skills, as she’s been hired by her clinical site, Woodlawn Hospital in Rochester, for a full-time ultrasound position.

Rassel has them work together, to encourage collaboration, and moves between the groups, offering constructive criticism and praise.

“This gives me the chance to watch them at work, and to help them develop good habits in their work,” she said. “In the clinical setting, the people they work with may not be as comfortable talking to them like an instructor. I can do that in this more controlled setting.”

Rassel said she has enough volunteers for the semester, but has a wait list for anyone else interested. For more information contact Lauren Stewart at

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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