Sue Thomas

Clinical Applications Specialist, SoniSite UK

Q: Tell us about your background and your current role with SonoSite.

A: For 26 years, I was a radiographer at The Royal Glamorgan Hospital in Llantrisant, South Wales, including the last 10 as a sonographer. The Radiology department there has a typical DGH workload and my scanning duties included basic general abdominal, obstetric and gynaecological examinations, as well as, in the latter years, reporting of foetal anomalies, liver metastases and other routine abnormalities. I was also involved in tutoring and mentoring ultrasound students training in our department. I’ve now been with SonoSite for 18 months as the Clinical Applications Specialist for South West Wales and England and am thoroughly enjoying it. I’m responsible for support and training of our customers, during and following installation of SonoSite’s hand-carried ultrasound systems, and involved in supporting training courses and study days that customers are running themselves. Occasionally, I’ll also be involved in pre-sales demonstrations, but that tends to be on more specialised applications such as breast, thyroid or MSK imaging.

Q: How do you approach each installation and training session?

A: I first assess each customer. Obviously different departments have varying levels of experience and competency regarding ultrasound, and so I tailor the training sessions to their individual needs. SonoSite instruments are so simple to use that you can easily run through a basic system overview in just half an hour. I start with a general introduction on the portability, ease of use and reliability of the systems, and talk about the education courses that we offer too. I also stress the five-year warranty and let them know that the systems are really very robust, and designed to be pushed or carried around hospitals. Often these features are quite a surprise to the people I’m training who were not necessarily involved in the pre-sale demo. I’m usually dealing with small groups of two or three people, which fits especially well in a theatre setting where people can just drop in and out when they are free. Some may be ODAs or theatre nurses who just need to be able to operate the system if the anaesthetist is scrubbed and needs them to alter the controls. Others will already have a more advanced knowledge of ultrasound and might want to go into more detail. Whatever their experience, it is really important to give some hands-on training if at all possible. It is far more meaningful for the users themselves to actually scan and manipulate the controls with an image on the screen. After the initial training, I encourage people to just switch the machine on whenever they have five minutes, see what they can remember and go through the menus to get used to how things work.

Q: Would you say that anaesthetists are more familiar with portable ultrasound than most non-radiologist clinicians?

A: Certainly. Out of all of the specialities that I have come across, the anaesthetists are often the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable clinicians as far as ultrasound is concerned, largely because of the NICE guidelines for central line placement. They are often keen to train junior doctors and frequently have ongoing education programmes. Once they get to grips with ultrasound they see other applications for it, such as guiding epidurals and paravertebral blocks, as well as superficial nerve blocks. Of course, it is outside of our remit to teach nerve blocks, but I do tend to pick up tips and tricks along the way from other anaesthetists and can pass them on where appropriate. We can, for example, advise them on how to optimise images, and are often asked about orientation of the probe in relation to needle guidance procedures.

Q: What is the most common question you’re asked?

A: Well, the systems are so easy and intuitive to use, there are very few technical questions. The most common questions are usually to do with transferring and storing images and clips, and I think that’s because it’s something they don’t necessarily do regularly with every single patient, but occasionally for teaching purposes.

Q: What do you most enjoy about your role as Clinical Applications Specialist?

A: I enjoy really looking after my customers. A couple of weeks after an installation and initial training session, I give them a ring to see how they are doing, and to check whether they would like me to come back and go over anything in particular. I like to be sure to offer my customers as much support as they need. I don’t just want them to be enthusiastic about SonoSite systems, I want them to be enthusiastic about portable ultrasound as a whole and get the maximum benefit out of their instruments. Sonosite is a great company to work for and my job is made easier due to the reliability and ease of use of our systems.