Community College Health Sciences Programs Go High Tech

More students are entering health science programs offered at community colleges, encouraged by low post-graduation unemployment rates and high salaries, and they're increasingly learning using high tech tools like simulated patients. Cherise Lesesne of Diverse Issues in Higher Education looks at community college efforts to bring technology to the growing field of health sciences and finds that 2-year professional training programs are paying off.

The adoption of tech is also driven by employers increasingly demanding digital know-how from entry-level employees. Combined with a market that's expected to grow 35% in the near future, it makes sense for colleges to invest money to upgrade their teaching environment to resemble the one students will be entering when they graduate.

Angela Anderson, dean of the division of Health Sciences at PGCC, explains that the school's new $43 million Center for Health Studies was an effort to accommodate the growing number of STEM students while also incorporating modern technologies used in science-related fields.

"Since nursing and health fields in general are among the fastest growing jobs, we really wanted this building to help make room for more health science students," says Anderson.

The new health science center, located in Largo, Md., offers the most updated technological resources to its students in order to create better competency levels among the curriculum. Its nursing lab, for example, includes transparent mirrors where professors observe students from behind a tinted mirror during diagnosis trials. In addition, medical and nursing students have access to diagnostic medical sonography and surgical equipment, similar to those used in local Prince George's County hospital facilities.

PGCC's new paramedic program is a good example of how technology can transform teaching. Students not only practice on an authentic paramedic's station, but they also have at their disposal a model apartment and a model ambulance. This means that in addition to the traditional classroom-based instruction, students can take part in simulated situations that closely resemble real-world medical emergencies.

Using mannequins that mimic patient responses, students learn how to put in breathing tubes, resuscitate cardiac arrest victims, and do it all while in an ambulance or on the scene of the emergency.

Oftentimes, Bluestein directs his students to perform recovery for a patient who suffered from cardiac arrest in the bathroom of the center's apartment.

"Since about 45 percent of cardiac arrests happen when the patients are on the toilets and using the bathroom, I want them to mentally prepare for real-life scenarios," says Bluestein.

"To do skills in the classroom is one thing, but in cramped quarters, [it] really puts students under pressure to perform, like they one day have to face," adds Bluestein.

The sense of reality, which Bluestein refers to, is also applied in the radiography department, where students are equipped with the center's computer radiography and digital room. Radiography students, like nursing students, rely on simulated mannequins, often referred to as "dummies," to capture instantaneous results of scanned body images for purposes of a patient's diagnosis.

Community colleges in New Mexico have also followed a similar path in a coordinated effort to increase the number of health workers and nurses. The health building in Clovis Community College boasts 10 projector screens and computer workstations to help their students learn, which allows students to progress more efficiently.

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