By June Dennis
Denise is a student in Media Communications 122
Special to The Summit, May 23th, 2002
Cardiovascular Technology is a specialized study at Grossmont College that attracts a growing global group of students.
"International and foreign trained physicians have a much greater opportunity to train here than in their country. Here they learn the latest technology," said Rick Kirby, Coordinator of the Cardiovascular Technology Department for the past 16 years.
Elise Oehler completed her medical education in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She came to the United States to enhance her medical training. After researching various programs, she chose Grossmont.
"I feel Grossmont has one of the best Cardiovascular Technology Programs," she said. "The first year offers a wide range of information. We have the best state-of-the-art equipment and the professors are very committed to us."
The Cardiovascular Technology program is a two-year course of study leading to an Associate in Science Degree or a Certificate of Achievement. The program is on the extreme technical end of cardiology, with very sophisticated medical diagnostic equipment.
Grossmont's Cardiovascular Technology program allows students to attend the two-year program, graduate, and in most cases get hired immediately.
"Of course it's important to have an education but it's really important to have a job opportunity," said Irina Mellos-Kygyzstan, a first year student from Ukraine who learned about the program through a friend.
"I think people come here because we're not waiting one year after college to find a job. Some students come into our program and they get recruited right away," she said.
"I am here under Refugee Program status, which allows me to work in the United States," said Kahlil Warsame, a second year student from Somalia. "I started out in evening adult school taking general core classes to learn the language. I found comfort in Grossmont."
:"The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota recruited Kahlil and me during spring break," said second year student Antonio Lombardo from Italy. "Along with other grads we were evaluated for three to four hours on practical performance and tested on our technical understanding. This program, the computer lab, the equipment and the instructors make it possible."
"I graduated from medical school and was a physician in Russia," said Anna Khatsenko a first year student. "When I came here I started looking for something I could apply my expertise and experience. I have to pass the medical bar exam to become a physician in America or get a diploma in another field to apply my medical skills," she said. "I heard about the program from my friend who graduated last year and already has a job."
:I like the program very much," said Nabil Sawaya, a first year student and physician from Lebanon. "We doctors know how important it is to continue making progress in open-heart surgery. Now everything is being done with catheterization."
"Cardiovascular technology with its echocardiogram, ultrasound and invasive catheterization are a rapidly progressing science and all are good. It's very easy for me to learn in two years and get a good job while I study for my medical license," he said.
"I went through medical college in my country," said Victoria Flowers, a first year student from Ukraine. "I work part-time at Scripps Memorial as a technician in telemetry. I was considering a nursing program when my friend me told me about Grossmont College."
"I hears so many good things about the (CVT) program, then I met Rick Kirby and he explained the opportunities of the CVT program. I really like it," she said.
"I like the invasive program. If you decide you don't want to physically insert catheters, you can sell. That's the other side of it. If you have good marketing skills you can get with a manufacturer and sell medical equipment," Flowers said.
"I was getting my general requirements for nursing," said Uyen Phan, first year student from Viet Nam. "Mr. Kirby came to our class to explain the program. I'm going into my second year in invasive technology."
"I wanted to be an RN but studied for LVN," said Ying Jiang, first year student from China. "I wanted a more challenging job. A stranger suggested I consider x-ray technology and ultrasound. So I did and a friend told me about the program at Grossmont College," she said.
"Cardiovascular Disease is the nation's number one killer," Kirby said. "Cardiovascular medicine aims to prevent heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Early diagnosis is the key to treatment."
The program limits acceptance to 54 students each Fall, Kirby said. Qualified applicants are admitted on a first-come first-serve basis based on receipt of verification of prerequisite course completion.
It is 1:30 p.m. on October 22 and Grossmont College's Cardiovascular Technology lab is alive with activity. A group of first-year students consisting of two Brazilian doctors, a Ukrainian ballerina turned nurse and a Cuban-American who recently retired from the Navy pour over diagrams of the human body. A pair of second-year students sits in a darkened room to the right, working intently on high-tech medical equipment.
It is rare that you find a specialized area of study that draws students from such
varied backgrounds, but Grossmont College's Cardiovascular Technology program not
only attracts a diverse group of students, it also prepares them for and propels them
into a lucrative career in which the current demand far exceeds the supply.
Rick Kirby has coordinated the Cardiovascular Technology Department for 16 years. He describes the way in which these technologists touch millions of lives every day.
"Let's say that you come into a doctor's office. The doctor performs a physical, takes your medical history and orders a series of tests. The cardiovascular technologist would perform these tests and give the results to the doctor. The doctor does the interpretation and prescribes treatment. In three to six months, the doctor will ask you to come back, and we would do another test to measure your progress," says Mr. Kirby, who explains that cardiovascular medicine aims to prevent heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. "You get to really see the difference that we can make in people's lives. It's a tremendous feeling to be able to help people live longer and feel better."
Although it doesn't take a medical degree to study the "technical side of medicine," it does take dedication. Of the 54 students entering the program each year, each has already successfully completed classes in chemistry, anatomy and physiology.
Once admitted into the two-year cardiovascular technology program, students spend their first year tackling core courses such as mathematics, physics and advanced cardiovascular anatomy. In the second year, class time combines with clinical experience, and students concentrate on one of three areas of study: Invasive Cardiovascular Technology, Non-invasive Cardiovascular Technology or Vascular Technology.
Although a degree from this nationally respected, two-year program costs only $1,000 (including books), technologists enter a career field in which growth is continuous and where salaries range anywhere from $36,000 to $70,000 per year. Mr. Kirby confirms that, since the program started in 1972, Grossmont has graduated and placed roughly 1600 technologists.
"Most of these graduates are doing work everyday in labs, but some of us like to teach. Others come back to Grossmont and take courses in statistics and computer science to move into a career in medical research. Others take management or supervisory positions. Some choose to go to work for people who make equipment," says Mr. Kirby. "Those who go into medical sales have the potential to make as much as $100,000 per year, or they may go to work as application specialists and demonstrate the equipment at trade shows or at hospitals."
Elise Oehler, 29, came to the United States after completing her medical education
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Looking to supplement her medical training with technical
training, she poured over material on a number of colleges and universities. It was
upon touring the facilities at Grossmont that she stumbled upon what she refers to
as San Diego's "best kept secret."
"This is a community college, but when I saw the lab here, I was amazed. They have equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. These professors are able to put together a lot of good, expensive equipment and make it available to students, and they give us 100 percent dedication. You do not find this at most places," says Ms. Oehler. "It doesn't surprise me that this happens to be one of the best programs of this kind in the country."
Although having a medical background no doubt gives Ms. Oehler an advantage in the program, those without such training are able to succeed, as well. Brian Showalter is now an Ultrasound Sonographer in the Cardiology Department at Mercy Hospital. A self-described "underachiever" throughout his youth, Mr. Showalter focused his attention on the construction industry rather than on school. Later, while taking courses toward his management degree at Grossmont, the Cardiovascular Technology program caught his eye.
"The professors and faculty are top-notch, and they devote a tremendous amount of time and energy to ensure the success of their students," says Mr. Showalter, who graduated at the top of his class. "The Cardiovascular Technology program gave me the opportunity to help people who truly need help, to work with very talented individuals and to advance in a career that is at the forefront of medical technology."
Instead of spending his day on a construction site, Mr. Showalter now spends his days in a hospital. He performs tests such as cardio ultrasounds, in which he places a small device called a transducer on a patient's chest. This instrument sends and receives ultrasonic waves that allow the technologist to see various structures within the heart. With the information that Mr. Showalter and his tests provide, doctors can determine whether or not a patient has coronary artery disease or a number of other vascular diseases.
"The ability to image the heart is extremely important; however, writing concise reports and communicating with cardiologists and heart surgeons about a patient's condition are also valuable parts of my job. Working in a hospital, you see some very sick people, so you stay focused and do your job," says Mr. Showalter, who is currently training to become a Vascular Technologist. "I love what I am doing, and the possibilities are almost endless."
Grossmont's Cardiovascular Technology program does more than just capture the interest of its students, it also produces graduates who are in demand from some of the countries premiere hospitals. Mr. Kirby proudly recalls the Mayo Clinic's attempt to hire each of the 20 students who graduated from Grossmont's "ultrasound track" last year.
Colin Ramsey currently manages Cardiac Services for Grossmont Hospital. He oversees a number of labs in the hospital and is also involved with hiring. "Ideal candidates for the Cardiovascular Technology program are people who may have had a medical background. They should work well in a team and be able to perform multiple task as the same time," says Mr. Ramsey, who lists other important candidate qualities as being observant, self-motivated, reliable and honest. "Our Grossmont graduates have the best training in the nation, if not the world."
After an extensive tour of the cardiovascular laboratories and classrooms, Mr. Kirby waves goodbye to his students and heads back to his office. His job satisfaction is obvious. "By far, the person who comes here is retraining and looking for another career. Here, you have this mature student body that has already been through some rigorous course work, so you know that they are here because they want to be here," says Mr. Kirby, who hopes that those who have been laid off in other technical fields around San Diego County will see this program as an opportunity. "Heart disease isn't going to go away; I don't see a cure on the horizon in my lifetime, anyway. If you have these skills, you'll be working again in no time."
For more information about Grossmont's Cardiovascular Technology Program call (619) 644-7302.