>A focus on PoCUS – A reflection on the value of a PoCUS elective as a medical student

Medical Student PoCUS Elective Reflection

Nick Sajko

Class 2019 Dalhousie Medicine

@saj_ko

 

Nick Sajko, reflects on his experience after completing the SJRHEM PoCUS Elective. Nick is now a PGY1 in Emergency Medicine at the University of Alberta.


 

When my fourth and final year of medical school came around, I was at a crossroads: What did I want to do for the rest of my life? As many will attest, this question influences the choices you make in your clerkship years, especially in deciding on fourth year electives. I was ironically unfortunate in the fact that I had a broad range of interests in a system that does not always benefit those in my situation. I chose electives in Emergency Medicine, Internal Medicine, and Family Medicine – all of them providing valuable learning opportunities and a chance to hone my skills as a junior clinician. However, these “classic” or “bread and butter” electives paled in comparison to the experiences I obtained through my Point of Care Ultrasound (PoCUS) elective at SJRH – a unique elective opportunity relevant to any medical trainee.

 

It is my hope that this reflection piece will provide insight into those deciding on their elective choices and convince some of you to choose a few electives that are off the beat and path and unique. In particular, an elective in the field of PoCUS – a tool that is more useful than some may consider.

 


 

What does a PoCUS elective at SJRH entail? What can I expect?

 

My elective consisted of regularly scheduled shifts within the Emergency Department, paired with senior staff who have specialized training in PoCUS. During these shifts, I would see patients as if I was conducting a bread and butter Emergency Medicine elective, however, cases would be chosen based on the potential for ultrasound practice. This allowed me to gain a remarkable appreciation for the breadth of PoCUS applications within the primary care setting, while also allowing me to gain extremely valuable hands on time with ultrasound in a supervised setting.

 

In addition to the above, I was provided with numerous resources so as to allow for self-directed learning. One of the most valuable resources provided was the opportunity to use the SJRH EM state-of-the-art PoCUS simulator – an invaluable tool for any level of PoCUS experience. Closer to the end of this elective experience, I was offered opportunities to write PoCUS focused case-reports, as well as undergo PoCUS competency exams to solidify my skills within this setting.

The skills I learned in this elective carried forward with me into my various other electives, and provided me with a unique skill-set as a junior learner. Whether it was doing point of care ECHO in my cardiology elective, FAST scans during trauma-codes in my other Emergency Medicine electives, or assessing volume status in complex general internal medicine patients, my competency in these PoCUS applications definitely impressed both residents and staff alike during my fourth year!

 


Why is PoCUS relevant to me as a medical student wanting to specialize in: (insert hyper-specific / niche specialty here)

One question many people may have at this point is, “why would I do this if I wasn’t interested in Emergency Medicine?”. PoCUS is a constantly evolving field, with new and innovative applications being seen in clinical practice constantly. With this, PoCUS can play a huge role in many different specialties: Internal Medicine physicians use PoCUS to provide support to presumed diagnoses and perform certain procedures (such as placing central lines), while surgeons can utilize PoCUS in the examination of traumas, as well as to support diagnoses in the pre- and post-operative patient. PoCUS is steadily becoming a sought after skill in most of the medical and surgical specialties, where proficiency in its use and interpretation can set you apart from other trainees, and more importantly, add to the competency of your patient care!

The value of having this elective through the Emergency Department allows for students to test their skills in the undifferentiated patient – something that will provide learners with enhanced deduction and reasoning skills, no matter what specialty they are interested in. It also allows learners to have access to a huge pool of patients, with a wide breadth of medical problems, thus optimizing this unique elective’s value.

 


 

Is choosing a “unique”, “niche”, or “extra-focused” elective, such as PoCUS, detrimental to my CaRMS application?

Fourth year electives and CaRMS amalgamate into a cruel and unusual game – while most medical school staff and administrators will tell you that your fourth year electives are to be used to “try new things”, this is often not the reality. With the competitiveness of specialties on a constant upward trend, more and more learners choose to conduct the majority of their electives in the single specialty they are interested in. This is great for those who are certain about the field they want to practice in, but creates a predicament for those of us who want to explore a number of options before making a decision.

As I mentioned above, I was in the latter group – with interests spanning 3 different specialties, including some very competitive ones. I chose to go against the grain, so to speak, and opted to conduct a variety of electives in different specialties – including some niche electives in things such as PoCUS. Not only were these opportunities fantastic from a learning point of view, I would argue that they allowed me to stand out amongst a sea of similar applicants and provided me with a unique skill set – something that I think most programs will find enticing! But most importantly, they were fun, exciting, and allowed me to experience my fourth year of medical school the way its advertised.

For those that know their specialty of choice, I would provide the same advice – use this year to experience new things and create a unique learning identity that will set you apart from the rest.

 


 

After all the worry and panic with my elective choices, feeling like I wasn’t committed enough to one specific specialty, I ended up matching to my first-choice field and location. I think this is in large part due to the fact that I was well-rounded in my experiences and had taken the chance to explore unique learning opportunities through this fantastic elective at SJRH. The staff, the environment, and the resources that come with the PoCUS elective at SJRH EM are second to none – I am confident in saying that this elective was the most beneficial and enjoyable component to my fourth year training. Hopefully my thoughts and reflections on this experience will allow some of you to follow a similar path.

 

Nicholas Sajko, B.Sc, MD

Emergency Medicine PGY1

University of Alberta

 


 

Click here for more information on the SJRHEM PoCUS Electives and Fellowships

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