Service needs, capacity and innovations to extend clinical capacity for sonographer education: An on-line survey

Gill Harrison, Society and College of Radiographers

Introduction:

Sonography is a shortage occupation, with evidence suggesting vacancies rates of between 5 to 25% in England. Ultrasound education is changing to meet service needs, however one challenge being faced by education providers and clinical staff is the lack of clinical placement capacity.

Method:

An on-line survey was sent to ultrasound managers to investigate innovations being used to increase clinical capacity for educating sonographers. Higher education providers were also contacted via email and telephone for their views on innovations in ultrasound clinical education. Additional objectives of the study included determining current and future estimated sonographer shortages and placement capacity.

Results:

There were 72 responses to the questionnaire. The average shortfall in sonographers was 2.65, with 5% of departments reporting a deficit of 10 sonographers. The predicted number of additional sonographers required to provide the service in five years’ time was an average of 4.6 sonographers, with 10% of departments anticipating they will need an additional 10 sonographers. Most departments were involved in clinical ultrasound education, with 51% of students being sonographers, averaging two per department. Several departments had additional capacity for teaching students, with a combined total of 45 places. A number of challenges were raised by respondents, particularly relating to issues of funding for student sonographers, balancing clinical and teaching requirements, staff shortages and the need to teach others, e.g. radiologists because of radiology shortages.

Discussion and conclusion:

A number of different methods are being used to extend the capacity for clinical education of sonographers, these include extended working days and weekend teaching lists, simulation and peripatetic clinical educators. As ultrasound education is undergoing changes, to meet the increasing service needs, innovative solutions to increase placement capacity are needed. This study provides some ideas to assist education providers, clinical departments and stakeholders to meet these demands.

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