James Harcus #MUAM

An Unexpected Journey

My route into ultrasound was perhaps less ‘typical’ than most, and certainly not necessarily planned.  It came quite late on in a career which had already gone down a very different route. 

As a student radiographer I felt I knew my career path.  I had always had a keen interest in radiographic reporting and that was where I wanted to go.  I enjoyed my placement experiences in ultrasound and was impressed by the autonomy and responsibility of the sonographers I worked with but it never really sparked an interest for me in the same way that reporting did.

After 10 years as a radiographer and, having completed my MSc in reporting, everything was following the plan.  Reporting was my main focus with an eye on moving into teaching in higher education at some point.  After initially working in a large teaching hospital I was now working in the very different environment in primary care within an imaging service offering X-ray and ultrasound services. 

It was then that a problem arose with the service; we had no one to offer musculoskeletal ultrasound.  After quite a bit of thought I offered to help and train in musculoskeletal ultrasound.  It was not a short term solution but something that would help in the longer term.  I did not really have an interest in general ultrasound but the sound of musculoskeletal ultrasound was something that did really peak my curiosity; I already reported MSK radiographs so would ultrasound be a natural progression??  After completing my MSc dissertation not long before, I had vowed not to study for a long time yet here I was enrolling on a postgraduate certificate in musculoskeletal ultrasound at a local university.

I had always felt my anatomy was pretty good, how wrong I was!  I actually found the physics theory enjoyable and the practical aspects of scanning coming quite quickly but the amount of anatomy to remember was quite overwhelming at first.  With persistence, hard work, and regular scanning though I did find it began to sink in and I really enjoyed what I was learning.

A greater appreciation of the anatomy, relevant pathology, and role ultrasound had in musculoskeletal disease had a secondary effect of making my reporting skills improve.  I had a much broader understanding of how the two modalities can complement each other and could use it practically in my role which now consisted of both reporting and ultrasound.

My career then took another, albeit more expected and planned, change into higher education.  Albeit initially employed to teach on diagnostic radiography and reporting programmes, in time my teaching also started to encompass involvement in postgraduate ultrasound education and the development of musculoskeletal courses.  This was heavily aided by the fact I had always maintained a clinical role in ultrasound alongside my university role so I could ensure my knowledge and skills were current.

Since I myself had come into ultrasound in a slightly atypical route, I recognised the need to be open to health professionals wanting to train in musculoskeletal ultrasound regardless of their background and, over the years, I have helped train a range of health professionals including those with a background in radiography, physiotherapy, medicine, and podiatry.  I have always felt I too have lots to learn from the clinical expertise of these professions. 

So 20 years after first planning out my route it perhaps hasn’t gone the way I had envisaged back then.  Whilst training in ultrasound was never necessarily a major career goal back then, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I have always been an advocate for keeping an open mind and taking opportunities when presented and, for me, this was an opportunity that I have never looked back on. 

James Harcus

BHSc(Hons) MSc PgCert PgCHE FHEA

Lecturer in Diagnostic Imaging

School of Medicine, University of Leeds


Musculoskeletal Sonographer

Follow James on twitter: https://twitter.com/jimmy_harcus