Objectives: Undergraduate medical students struggle with cardiac anatomy and physiology when learning ultrasound. 3D printing is an emerging technology yet to be evaluated in teaching first-year undergraduate medical students integrated Point of Care Ultrasound. The study goal was to determine if 3D heart models are effective to aid students in acquiring and interpreting normal cardiac images obtained using B-mode ultrasound.
Methods: 3D cross-sectioned models depicting both halves of a human heart cut along the parasternal long axis (PLAX) plane were created using computed tomography (CT) DICOM data from a normal adult male patient. This data set was processed to develop a solid model, and converted to a stereolithographic file format which was used to generate the 3D print. The resulting cross-sectioned heart models were made available to each group of first-year medical students (total n=196) completing a cardiac POCUS activity in the Structure and Function of Major Organ Systems block at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Medicine. As part of this cardiac ultrasound imaging activity using standardized patients, each student had to acquire and submit a PLAX image obtained during the session for a grade.
Results: The in-house printing for both halves of our 3D cardiac models was only $64. This is considerably less expensive than commercially available models currently on the market. The post-evaluations indicated that the medical student found the 3D sectioned PLAX heart models to be extremely useful for orienting themselves during cardiac ultrasound training.
Conclusions: Experiential learning has been linked to improved skill development, with one benefit being better retention of clinical skills education. Incorporating 3D printed heart models in medical anatomy and physiology education, provides evidence supporting 3D printed cardiac models help novice sonographers better understand surface and cardiac anatomy. This translates into helping them achieve proper probe placement and appreciate the orientation of the heart in the body, and thus aids them in rapidly becoming more proficient in obtaining suitable ultrasound images. Students recommended that similar models depicting various regions obtained during short axis imaging be developed and incorporated into the POCUS sessions.