Cover photo: HCC radiologic technology student Amy Bulger.
Flash forward to spring 2013. You walk into Howard Community College’s brand new 113,000-square-foot, $49 million health sciences building. As you make your way down the halls, you glance in the doorways to see what looks like a catheterization lab where cardiovascular technicians are inserting a pacemaker into a patient, a hospital intensive care unit where nurses are checking IVs and giving injections, a room where a radiologic technologist is taking digital x-ray images of a patient’s body, and an ambulance where emergency medical technicians/paramedics are trying to keep a young man alive.
Welcome to the new world of teaching, which along with state-of-the art classrooms and lecture halls offers cutting-edge simulation labs – the powerful modern learning tools for health sciences students. When the new health sciences facility opens, it will provide much-needed space to educate more students in more health care programs with the best equipment available today.
The additional space will also allow HCC to add four new health sciences programs in response to a growing need in the state’s workforce: physical therapist assistant, medical diagnostic sonography, medical laboratory technician, and dental hygienist programs. The Horizon Foundation, a private foundation based in Columbia that addresses community health issues through strategic grants, community programs, and partnerships, awarded HCC a grant of $356,000 to fund four faculty members who will provide leadership and design these new programs.
“HCC does an excellent job of working with the county and state to identify job expectations and educate students to fill these openings,” says Dr. Richard Krieg, president and CEO of The Horizon Foundation. “I am confident that the new facility and top-quality programs will contribute to excellence in the health care workforce in this area. Across the board – for contributing to individual health as well as overall community health – HCC is one of the prime movers.”
Baltimore design firm Ayers Saint Gross developed the plans for the innovative new building, which was funded by the Howard County government and the State of Maryland. “The new home for HCC’s nursing and allied health programs will include instructional spaces designed to support advanced hands-on methodologies,” says Edward Kohls, principal architect. “The building’s three floors will be organized into hubs to provide informal student gathering spaces strategically located between major teaching spaces.”
Every 30 seconds in this country, someone is having a heart attack, according to Bill Fisher, associate professor and director of HCC’s cardiovascular technology (CVT) program. “The volume of demand for cardiovascular technicians is growing and, at the same time, the technology used to treat and diagnose the coronary arteries is always changing,” Fisher says. “Our biggest challenge is ensuring our training reflects the newest technologies that our clinical partners are using.” One tool that will help students prepare for the complex clinical environment is HCC’s new $150,000 state-of-the-art simulator, allowing students to use diagnostic imaging equipment and cardiovascular processes to treat simulated patients suffering from a variety of diseases and conditions.
Simulation uses role play, technology tools, and computerized mannequins programmed to respond to medications, tests, procedures, and treatments much as a human patient would.
Students can practice tasks as simple as giving injections and taking blood, or as complex as inserting a pacemaker or defibrillator. “When I was in nursing school 28 years ago, we used oranges to practice giving injections,” says Cheryl Nitz, nursing and health laboratory director. “Today, professors sit in a control room with a one-way window to provide instant feedback to students providing treatments for simulated patients, as well as videotaping to show them how they performed.”
Opportunities for students to experience these simulation tools will increase in the new facility, which will include four simulation suites with wireless 3G high-fidelity mannequin “patients.” CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield recently awarded HCC a grant to purchase “Baby VitalSims” as well as another new simulator. “We are committed to improving the academic infrastructure for nursing students through alternative teaching methods such as clinical simulation labs,” says Karen Dixon, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield associate vice president - community affairs, HCC alumni, and former board member of the HCC Educational Foundation.
Simulation has been integrated throughout HCC’s health services programs because of the advantages it offers in providing students with a wide range of situations before they encounter them in an actual health care facility. Simulation gives students the chance to learn vital skills, put them into action, make decisions, communicate with others, and practice teamwork. It provides a safe, hands-on venue with the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them without putting patients at risk.
Delivering Life-Sustaining Care
Atsadaporn Niyomyart is studying "the art and science" of health care. She was trained as a nurse in Thailand, so she brings health care experience to her new career. The emergency medical technician/paramedic (EMT/P) major says there is more than meets the eye when it comes to providing patients with emergency health services.
"When you arrive on an emergency scene, you must be prepared to work without the support of doctors and nurses that you’d have in a hospital. The true art occurs when you find the unexpected, and you have to quickly assess the situation, develop a health care plan, and convince the patient to undergo treatment."
To become an EMT, students take classes for one semester and work in the field for a minimum of 150 hours. If they continue into the paramedic program, they receive 1,200 hours of training and graduate with an associate degree and/or certification, according to Angel Burba, associate professor and emergency medical services program director.
During her EMT/P program at HCC, Niyomyart studies biology, anatomy, and physiology; learns to perform patient assessments, insert an IV, administer medications, and oxygenate and ventilate a patient. Outside the traditional classroom setting, she works with simulation patients, following the course of emergency situations from the scene to the ambulance to the transfer to nursing students in the hospital scenario.
The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that employment of EMTs and paramedics is expected to grow 9 percent by 2018, due in large part to increasing call volume by an aging population. Atsadaporn Niyomyart plans to "arrive on the scene" of this workforce emergency just in time.