Re-'Building' Health Science: Community Colleges Use Cutting-Edge Technology to Teach Health Science

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Nursing students Kristen Pope and Autumn Jamieson of Prince George's Community College detected high blood pressure from their simulated patient just before tears shed from the mannequin's glassy eyes.

Pope and Jamieson are not alone in using cutting-edge technology, like simulated mannequins, as several of the nation's community colleges are building "state of the art" infrastructures to enhance allied health programs, a category that includes everything from dental to physical therapy to medicine.

Allied health programs are transforming into technologically based practices, especially since most health care employers are limiting job consideration to individuals with some sort of technological foundation. The labor market's new technology requirements, coupled with the 35 percent projected job growth, as noted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, became the motivation for many community colleges to build more modern buildings sprinkled with technological features.

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.

Like the nursing program, PGCC'S new center accommodates a technologically centered paramedics program. Built as an authentic paramedic's station, the center includes an on-location apartment and an ambulance model for students to participate in real, modern examples of emergency medical situations. According to Andrew Bluestein, retired paramedic and professor of allied health at PGCC, students dress simulated, mannequin patients, perform recovery for cardiac arrest and ventilate patients on the ambulance bed. 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.

First-year radiography student Samantha Kingman explains, "Sometimes, we get tasked to figure out the actual story behind the bullet wound of the dummies; that includes information beyond how the wound punctured the patient, but also where the patient was when the fracture occurred."

The college's reliance on technology in its health sciences program has progressed far beyond Maryland. In New Mexico, the Clovis Community College recently opened its new tech building for its allied health programs. …