For more than 40 years Riverside School of Health Careers has been offering 18-month certificate programs for radiologic and surgical technologists. In the fall, students enrolling in the programs will be candidates for an associate's degree in applied sciences. "It's a big departure for the school. It's the first degreed program," says Robin Nelhuebel, director of Allied Health Programs at the Riverside school in Newport News.
The upgrade, which comes after a 5-year process of redesigning the curriculum and getting the necessary approvals, will require incoming students to have one semester of core college courses, including English, math, anatomy and physiology, psychology and medical terminology. Under an agreement with Eastern Shore Community College, those graduating from the current certificate programs will be able to receive an associate's degree later on the successful completion of a semester of required courses that can be taken online.
The Riverside school is also adding a third associate's degree program, Physical Therapist Assistant, which is expecting a decision from the CATPE on its accreditation candidacy Aug.1. If approved, it will accommodate 20 students; the surgical tech program has openings for 12. The radiologic program has already filled its 25 spaces. As with any college, students are eligible for federal financial aid and loans.
Nelheubel attributes the change to the "current academic climate" with its increasing demands for credentials. By January 2015, for example, the American Registry for Radiologic Technologists will require applicants to have a degree. Likewise, in 2017 physical therapists will be required to have a doctorate; this has helped launch the relatively new role of the physical therapist assistant. "With Riverside Rehab, it's a really good fit. It fits an employment need for Riverside and a need in the community," says Bethany Balmer, director of student services.
Both Balmer and Nelhuebel tout the advantages provided by the programs' connection to Riverside Health System, which employs about one-third of their graduates. "We're well-positioned with all the clinical sites. We can offer true on-the-job training," says Balmer. The radiologic technology program incorporates 1,000 hours of hands-on clinical training. "Some colleges have a year of theory before the hands-on. Here, it's all integrated," she adds. In all, the programs take advantage of 20 clinical sites, including some at Bon Secours, Sentara, Portsmouth Naval Medical Center and independent medical practices. "What's different is that we train people for very specific, highly desired careers," says Balmer.
In the past four years, Riverside's radiologic tech certificate graduates have had a flawless 100 percent pass rate on the national certifying exam. Last year, the surgical techs had a 91.7 percent pass rate on the national exam compared to on overall rate of 56.1 percent; the new degree curriculum increases their clinical hours by 25 percent.
Nelhuebel describes surgical techs as "the unsung heroes" of medicine. "Patients are asleep during surgery. No-one wakes up and says 'I want to be a surgical tech.' They remember the nurses, or having an X-ray for a broken arm. But the techs do really important things." Instructor Christina Barley describes the techs' hands-on role in the operating room, where they assist surgeons and nurses, set up the sterile field and must know the various instruments and supplies. In addition to hospital work, many go on to work in one-day surgery centers, for oral and plastic surgeons, and in other medical offices where minor surgeries are performed — and even for medical equipment companies.
Training for students in the radiologic program includes complete simulations of a patient experience, from the greeting to explaining the procedure and then conducting the screening. Classroom study is supplemented by work in the lab and clinical experience. "There's a lot to it," says instructor Chris Gibino, noting that students are working with ionizing radiation and that safety considerations for patients are of prime importance.
The age of students in the technologist programs that segue into careers with median salaries of around $50,000, ranges from 18 to 50-plus. Several, like Wil Cueman, a Navy retiree, are embarking on second careers. Cueman is looking forward to being able to choose the pace of his work. "I can choose a frantic pace or a more controlled one," he says.
Want to register?
Applications for the surgical technology program are being accepted through June 15; the deadline application for the physical therapist assistant degree program is also June 15 (this is a new program and it is expecting a decision on accreditation certification candidacy status from CATPE on August 1); registration for the radiologic tech program is already closed. Classes, which start at the end of August, are taught at the Riverside School of Health Careers, 316 Main St., Newport News.
For information, call 757-240-2200, http://www.riverside.edu