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Gulf & Main Magazine

Driving Health Care’s Future - FSW School of Health Professions provides students a direct path into the workplace

Jun 20, 2015 08:26AM ● By Kevin

It’s a weekday morning in Fort Myers. Down a corridor on the second floor of the nursing building at Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW), former Air Force nurse Lynne Crandall presides over three very quiet hospital units. Not one of the 10 patients in the medical unit watches TV or interacts with visitors. Intensive care’s five patients are also silent. Babies on the obstetrical unit don’t cry. With the exception of one man, who often says the same thing, “I don’t feel well,” patients never complain. But they never leave, either.

They are “Sims”—mannequins that breathe, take medicine, suffer disease and even give birth and die (only to be revived by computerized magic) on the Thomas Edison campus in Fort Myers. Here many students in health fields practice their skills before heading out to the real world with real patients on internships. And when the students interact with the Sims, they’re no longer quiet. They make the sounds that real bodies do.

Similar patient stand-ins are in smaller Simulation Education Centers at FSW’s Collier and Charlotte campuses.

“When you’re in school, you’re prepared to deal with people but not really that live person yet,” says Amy Yates, who graduated with an associate degree in nursing in 2007 and a bachelor’s in 2012. She’s now a charge nurse on a cardiac floor at NCH Healthcare System’s Downtown Naples Hospital. “The simulation works you through it while you’re with a group of people, which makes it easier.”

Seven academic disciplines use the simulation center, where “patients” include infants, children and adults that can be programmed to exhibit a wide range of conditions.

The Programs Offered

Lee-BldgU-sunrise-photoA total of 1,100 students are enrolled on three campuses of the FSW School of Health Professions. They are enrolled in 11 associate degree programs and six certificate programs, plus bachelor’s degree programs in nursing, cardiopulmonary sciences for respiratory care, and cardiovascular technology.

These are what higher education calls “focused disciplines,” says Marie A. Collins, dean of the School of Health Professions, with the collective purpose of preparing graduates for work in their fields, as opposed to university degrees that include courses in other fields.

“Students all leave here with letters after their names and are immediately employable,” says Collins. All of FSW’s programs are credentialed and all students pass national and/or state examinations to enter their fields. In fact, for the past 17 years, 100 percent of graduating dental hygienists have passed their certification exams. The pass rate for radiologic technologists has been 100 percent for the past eight years.

“Traditionally we’ve worked with the tech schools to create a seamless path, so that everybody wins and we keep the talent here,” says Collins. Often, a Florida SouthWestern student will start on a career path in a six month-to-one-year program at an area technical school, move on to FSW and an associate degree, then to a university for a bachelor’s (unless it is a baccalaureate program FSW offers).

Currently, 12,000 students enrolled on its three campuses have declared pre-nursing as a major; 500 are declared pre-dental; 450 radiologic technology. The programs are competitive. Not all will be accepted into the School of Health Professions.

Future Opportunities

These students are studying for careers predicted to be in high demand as the United States population ages and some care shifts from doctors to mid-level practitioners. In particular, explains Associate Dean Jeffrey Elsberry, students graduating from FSW with bachelor’s degrees in nursing can go on to a university for a master’s in nursing and specialty as an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, while graduates with bachelor’s in cardiopulmonary sciences can go on to gain post-baccalaureate degrees as Physician Assistants.

Also increasingly important are respiratory care professionals. As hospitals’ funding increasingly is tied to holding down patient re-admission rates, and patients with pulmonary disease are particularly at risk, greater responsibility is falling to respiratory technologists to educate other members of the health-care team, says Elsberry. They’re also in demand at local senior facilities.

Modern medicine increasingly relies on electronic medical records, and students earning Health Information Technology degrees are on the cutting edge as well. The Epic system used by Lee Memorial Health System is taught on the Fort Myers campus, while students on the Collier campus learn the Cerner system used by NCH Healthcare System. This program isn’t offered in Charlotte County.

Starting in January, radiologic technologists performing CT scans—computerized axial tomography, which produces cross-sectional images of the body—are required to be certified, says Collins. Professionals working in the field can satisfy this requirement at FSW. 

The Students

In fact, 32 percent of FSW students are older than 24. They are students like Yates, who is 39 and worked at a bank until deciding to become a nurse. She had a couple of credits toward a degree after graduating from high school, but got married and had children and put her plans on hold. Meanwhile her husband, John Yates, enrolled in FSW (then known as Edison College) and became an emergency medical technician and paramedic. The college was a natural choice for Amy Yates as well, particularly since she could take a few of her courses online while she worked.

Among FSW students, nearly 66 percent were enrolled part time for the fall 2014 semester.

Becca Greene of Cape Coral also returned to school after having children and working evenings in cosmetics at Dillard’s. When the youngest of the Greenes’ nine children began elementary school, Greene was 42 and started studying emergency medical services. “I wasn’t a traditional student,” Greene says. “I call myself a late bloomer.”

But bloom she did. After graduating with her associate degree, she landed a job in a local pediatric intensive care unit, and then moved on to the emergency department at Gulf Coast Medical Center. She returned to FSW (then Edison) to paramedic school, and when she finished that was hired by Lee County EMS.

“When I went to paramedic school, that was the best year of my life,” Greene says. “The staff (at FSW) is highly dedicated to that program. The life skills they have are irreplaceable. They spend the time to make sure you have learned what you need.”

Greene now is on an advisory committee for Lee EMS and since she works at both the hospital and the county, “I deal with FSW students all the time. I have both perspectives and am impressed with both.”

Zachary Eller, who graduated with an associate degree in nursing in December, was impressed with the academic reputation of FSW and also with how far his scholarships would go there compared with other schools. “It didn’t make sense to pay outrageous loans to go away to school when I could go for free locally,” the lifelong Cape Coral resident said. “My professors were excellent and provided me with guidance and gave me the tools to succeed.” He’s working at Gulf Coast Medical Center in the intensive care step-down unit.

In addition to the Simulation Education Center, students in the School of Health Professions have other outlets for practicing their skills.

A mock catheterization lab orients cardiovascular technology students to the procedures they’ll be doing before heading to an internship.

The dental clinic on the Fort Myers campus allows dental hygiene and dental assistant students to gain practical experience and with dentists on site, serves the community as well. With 2,300 patients seen a year, the 10,000-square-foot clinic offers a full range of dental services on a sliding scale. It operates on a partnership with the University of Florida School of Dentistry.

“All of our fields are very hands-on,” says Collins.

Written by Dayna Harpster, a writer living in Southwest Florida. 

Facts at a Glance

  • FSW was founded as Edison Junior College in 1962. Its name was changed to Edison Community College in 1972. Collier and Charlotte county campuses opened in 1974. The name was changed to Edison College in 2004 by the Florida Legislature. The name changed again in 2008 to Edison State College, to reflect the fact that it grants bachelor’s degrees. Approval for the name change to Florida SouthWestern State College was granted in 2014.
  • The general cost per academic year (30 hours) per student (in-state) ranges from $2,545.50 for post-secondary adult vocational programs to $3,711.30 per year for bachelor’s degree programs. For out-of-state residents, the costs are respectively about $10,000.20 to $23,860.20.
  • Florida SouthWestern State College offers 10 bachelor’s degrees, 20 associate degrees and 14 certificate programs.
  • FSW’s School of Health Professions offers the following degrees.

Associate Degrees

  • Cardiovascular Technology
  • Dental Hygiene
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Fire Science Technology
  • Health Information Technology
  • Human Services
  • Nursing Opticianry
  • Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Radiologic Technology
  • Respiratory Care

Baccalaureate Degrees 

  • Cardiopulmonary Sciences for Respiratory Care and Cardiovascular Technology Nursing (RN to BSN)

Certificate Programs 

  • Emergency Medical Technician
  • Firefighter
  • Paramedic
  • Addiction Studies
  • Human Services Assistant
  • Youth Development

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