By Melanie Kieve
When Kasey Netherton was in high school, she had a designation no teen or adult would ever want – heart patient.
After pulse irregularities and a fainting spell, her parents took her to Greenville Health System (GHS), where a cardiovascular sonographer used ultrasound technology to check out her heart.
Equipped with information from the ultrasound, the pediatric cardiologist conveyed the happy news that her heart was fine, and she returned to the normal life of a teenager.
But the experience lingered with the Spartanburg native -- in the best possible way. Several years later when the time came for her to choose a major at Clemson, she chose the Leadership for Cardiovascular Technology (CVT) Concentration, a degree offered by the Department of Public Health Sciences in cooperation with Greenville Health System.
When Netherton becomes one of the program’s first graduates next May, she will be ready to follow in the footsteps of the cardiovascular sonographer who served her years earlier.
“When I was scanned, I was very interested in everything that was going on, so when I learned about the CVT program my sophomore year, I thought I’d try it out, and I’m glad I did,” she says.
Netherton and others in the program are learning to acquire quality images that enable cardiologists and vascular surgeons in the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, says Eric Walker, Cardiovascular Technology Program Manager for GHS/Clemson and an adjunct professor for the Department of Public Health Sciences.
While most CVT training comes from associate degree-level programs, Clemson’s Leadership for Cardiovascular Technology Concentration is the only program in the nation that combines CVT training with a comprehensive education in public health sciences and health care leadership, Walker says. After taking core classes in the Department of Public Health, the CVT students split their time between the Clemson campus and GHS, where they work alongside sonographers, doctors, and others in outpatient and inpatient settings.
“As Public Health Sciences students, they learn a host of subjects that – combined with the specific technology they learn in the GHS clinical setting – prepare them to enter the workforce with a higher level of understanding of disease process and hospital management,” Walker says. “This combination equips our students to make an immediate impact and become leaders in the health care field.”
With the creation of the program, Clemson and GHS are joining forces to meet a workforce need. “According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of cardiovascular sonographers needed in the U.S. will grow by 18 percent in the next five years, and this program is a way for GHS and Clemson to partner to fill this void with students who can contribute in a variety of ways,” Walker says. The program is also helping to alleviate the shortage of health care professionals outside of the traditional career paths of, for example, doctors or nurses.
This collaboration is part of an ongoing partnership between GHS and Clemson to build workforce capacity, says Dr. Windsor Sherrill, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences who also leads Clemson’s involvement in the Institute for Advancement of Health Care, the GHS health services research entity. “One of the key focus areas of the CU/GHS collaboration is in workforce development, and the CVT program is a perfect example of success in the collaboration,” she says.
Through this collaborative effort, other hybrid degree programs in health care professions are being discussed, says Larry Allen, dean of Clemson’s College of Health, Education and Human Development, which houses the Department of Public Health Sciences.
Netherton and her classmates who will graduate next spring are planning to become cardiovascular sonographers, and many are considering graduate school in the future. They will contribute immediately and long-term as cardiovascular sonographers or managers, researchers or wherever their interests take them.
The CVT program started in the fall of 2011 with four students and has already expanded to 22 students, says Dr. Lee Crandall, chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences. “The goal is to have 10 students per class year, and we already have 14 sophomores who are interested in the program,” he adds.
Clemson’s College of Health, Education and Human Development focuses on public health sciences, nursing, education, and parks, recreation and tourism management through its teaching, research and service efforts. The college seeks to create collaborative models that enhance community well-being and prepare skilled professionals and creative leaders who build healthy, well-educated communities.
Greenville Health System offers patients a comprehensive network of expertise and technologies through its five medical campuses, tertiary medical center, research and education facilities, community hospitals, physician practices and numerous specialty services throughout upstate South Carolina. It is among the largest health care networks in the Southeast.
In Their Own Words: Clemson’s First Leadership for Cardiovascular Technology (CVT) Concentration Students
“We are not just sitting in class; we are getting hands-on experience. It feels great to know that we are making a difference now, even before we graduate.” — Sarah Taylor, Florence, S.C.
“Being trained in vascular sonography and echocardiography gives us an advantage when we are scanning a patient. We are able to see a bigger picture, and that helps the patient.” — Kasey Netherton, Spartanburg, S.C.
“Because of our public health background, we have information about nutrition, health and even psychology that we can share with the patients as we work with them.” — Cody Gibson, Orange, Va.
“I plan to work for a while then possibly go to graduate school. I have many great options in front of me.” — Julianne Welch, Greenwood, S.C.