Study: Spatial ability tests may indicate students' ultrasound skills

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The administration of spatial ability tests for admission to diagnostic ultrasound programs may improve student selection and allow for the adjustment of instruction and curriculum for students who demonstrate low spatial ability, according to a study published online Oct. 8 in the Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography.

“Since sonographers manually manipulate 2D and 3D sonographic images to generate multi-viewed logical, sequential renderings of an anatomical structure, it can be assumed that spatial ability is central to the perception and interpretation of these medical images,” stated Doug Clem, of the University of Missouri-Columbia.

Clem and his colleagues sought to explore the possible relationship between spatial ability and performance of sonographers.

The researchers recruited 17 first-year sonography students at their institution, and each student was given a spatial abilities test prior to initial scanning lab coursework. The students’ spatial ability scores were compared with their scanning competency performance scores after the initial 30 hours, and again after two semesters of instruction.

Spatial ability merited little association to scanning proficiency in the beginning of the study. However, the authors found that following the first academic year, a significant relationship existed between the students’ spatial ability scores and scanning performance scores.

Currently, the program uses academic criteria such as grade point average and ACT scores to evaluate undergraduate applications, the authors noted. However, based on the study’s results, spatial ability tests could serve as a potential consideration for admission to a sonography program, believes Clem, noting that several professions— including dentistry and engineering—use spatial ability testing.

"Some of our best students, straight-A students, will need extra time or extra clinical time to get past their scanning competency tests,” he offered. “This poses a challenge for selecting the best candidates for admission, and we think that spatial ability testing may turn out be one more piece of the puzzle that is needed to select the right individual."

As a follow up to the original research, Clem and colleagues are undertaking a larger study including several educational institutions and more students. Contingent on the outcome of the second study, the University of Missouri will consider changing admission requirements to the diagnostic ultrasound program for summer 2011, concluded Clem and colleagues.