A new way of learning for sonographers

How we set up our own learning group

Published: 27 October 2020 Ultrasound

Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month 2020 seems the ideal time to celebrate the inception of Sonography Events and Learning Meetings (SEALM) across our local hospital sites.

As sonographers, we have a desire for continuous learning and are not shy of seeking a second opinion. At the Royal Free London hospital sites, informal learning and interesting case meetings have taken place for several years. One of the key findings from a recent consultation of the sonography workforce was a desire for increased team learning opportunities to provide feedback from cases / discrepancies, audit in addition to more structured teaching and learning opportunities.

In early 2020, to incorporate the consultation findings and clinical governance responsibilities, it was suggested that these learning meetings should be formalised and include a session consistent with the Radiologists REALM or Radiology Events and Learning Meetings. As the meetings were devised to be solely for our large ultrasound team, we adopted this acronym with a slight twist and named the meetings SEALM.

We were set to go; we had our name and structure organised, we had regular meeting rooms booked and then we, like all Trusts around the country found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. Due to staff shielding and lack of space for social distancing in meeting rooms, the meetings were put on hold as we adjusted to our new working ways.

COVID-19 brought us many negatives, but there were also benefits. One of the key positives was improved access to online video conferencing facilities. This facility enabled our large group of sonographers, working at several hospital sites across North London to learn as a team. And so, in early June with the benefit of web-conferencing, the SEALM was finally born! 

A small team of sonographers developed the format for the meetings, which are detailed below.

Learning Events: These are based on the traditional ‘discrepancy meeting’. What differentiates a learning events meeting is the positive environment in which it is performed. The meeting is an informal discussion around cases which initiates a culture of learning and reflection.

The rules of this meeting are clear; there is no use of negative language and we all accept that errors occur. The background of the case along with anonymised images is presented to the team. We then agree on any learning outcomes. Importantly, we also celebrate ‘good spots’; these are the detection of any finding or pathology that impresses another team member. The most important message from this meeting is that we all do excellent work but that we all make mistakes. What is imperative is that we acknowledge these mistakes and learn from them to prevent reoccurrence.

Audit: Audit has been an integral part of working practice within the department for many years. Audit outcomes can initiate changes in working practice which enable us as a team to constantly improve the service we deliver. These meetings provide a forum for sonographers the opportunity to feedback their audit findings and encourage discussion within  the team.

All staff members including the preceptors are encouraged to set up, perform and present an audit within their area of interest. Audits may also be initiated by previous learning events and may be followed up by teaching sessions as necessary.

Teaching / interesting cases:  Colleagues are asked to compile a short PowerPoint presentation of the case history, images and learning outcomes which they then present during a meeting. This is an excellent way for all staff to develop confidence in presenting and provides an excellent CPD opportunity.

The meeting also provides time for sonographers to feedback any key learning points from any study events that they attend. It equally enables colleagues from within or outside the department to provide teaching for the team. Teaching so far has included early pregnancy reporting tips and a session on maternal and fetal Doppler following the introduction of the Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle, version 2.

Challenges included the frequency of meetings and how to ensure engagement from a large group of sonographers. We initially trialed two-weekly meetings but the team found that too incessant. We have now settled on a three-weekly lunch hour meeting, rotating between the three formats.

These meetings have been very well received by the ultrasound team. All staff members are encouraged to contribute and we have seen a number of staff present their work for the very first time.

The SEALM set up has already led to benefits including improved staff engagement and cross site collaboration. We would encourage other sonography teams to give it a go and would be happy to answer any questions about setting up the SEALM in other departments. 


Roxanne Sicklen, Meena Shah and Jane Fincham are Clinical Specialist Sonographers at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.


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