• MHCC Health Professions Programs Use Technology and Hands-on Training to Prepare Students for an Evolving Industry

    Dressed in royal blue scrubs, Mt. Hood Community College nursing students Renee Carranza Farfan and Lance Deal work quickly and carefully, checking the information on a cardiac monitor and making the bed and environment more comfortable for their patient.

    MHCC Nursing students
    MHCC Nursing students Renee Carranza Farfan and
    Lance Deal work with Alice Nyman, a patient manikin,
    at the Bruning Center.
    Carol Pfeifer-Brown
    Carol Pfeifer-Brown, an alum of the
    MHCC Physical Therapy Assistant program.

    “Ms. Nyman, how are you doing today?” asks Farfan.

    “I’m ok, I feel really tired though,” says their patient, Alice Nyman, in a muffled, staticky voice.

    “Ok, what hurts, and how can we make you feel more comfortable?” Farfan replies.

    Nyman explains her symptoms, describing her dizziness and fatigue, her shortness of breath, her chest pain.

    What’s unique about this situation is that Ms. Nyman isn’t alive – or even human. She’s a high-fidelity patient manikin, one of two realistic patient simulators used by nursing students at MHCC’s Bruning Center in Gresham.

    Situated behind the students, college faculty members and their colleagues watch from behind a two-way mirror. A staff member provides the voice to Ms. Nyman while another controls the vital signs appearing on the monitor and the manikin’s simulated breathing, heartbeats, and other vitals. Once students complete the scenario, instructors and students discuss the patient case and nursing actions in a group environment, where they learn from one another while watching video of students’ simulation experiences.

    “Our sim lab is designed to give our student nurses a place to practice and perfect their nursing skills in a safe, protected environment,” explains Ellen Garcia, an instructor of nursing at MHCC. “The lab allows us to deliver a learning experience that acts as a bridge between classroom learning and real-life nursing. On top of this simulated training, our student nurses complete three terms working and learning in a clinical environment.”

    Teaching for an Evolving Industry

    Janie Griffin serves as the dean of MHCC’s Health Professions division. She started out as an instructor of nursing at the college more than 17 years ago. Over the course of her career at MHCC, she’s seen the Health Professions programs, teaching techniques, and training tools evolve to meet students’ needs.

    “We provide our students a solid foundation to start their careers,” says Griffin. “They receive lots of hands-on experience.”

    “I don’t think there is one hospital in the Portland or Vancouver areas without an MHCC Health Professions graduate,” she adds. “We’re lucky to have such amazing clinical partners in the area. But our graduates don’t just stay here either – they can earn state licenses and basically work anywhere.”

    Griffin praises the high completion rates of MHCC’s Health Profession programs, and she recognizes the uniqueness of several of these programs. For example, MHCC offers one of three 2-year Respiratory Care programs in Oregon, and the only Funeral Services Education program in the state (one of three on the West Coast). Plus, MHCC dental hygiene students have the advantage of working in the on-campus Dental Hygiene Clinic.

    Griffin points out that industry needs play a major role in the educational offerings available through the Health Professions division. The addition of a new Medical Assistant certificate this school year is one example. The certificate, which includes coursework in billing, coding and medical insurance, prepares students to work in ambulatory or hospital clinics. The program was designed to teach professionals both front-office administrative tasks, such as checking patients in, and routine clinical duties, including checking vital signs and taking blood.

    “There’s a major need for medical assistants, especially in the Portland area,” says Griffin. “Supervisors at many of our clinical partners came forward and told us that with the changes to healthcare in the United States, they really needed staff members capable of completing both front- and back-office tasks.”

    Delivering Practical Training

    Another growing field is the need for surgical technologists, who serve as one of four medical practitioners that make up a standard surgical team, including the surgeon, an operating room nurse, and an anesthesiologist. Surgical technologists assist the surgeon by providing the necessary instruments, ensuring the equipment operates correctly, and ensuring the operating room remains sterile and safe.

    “Surgical technicians have an incredibly important job helping the surgeon and the nurse,” says Judy Shiprack, an instructor of surgical technology at MHCC. “Many people don’t even know this job exists.”

    MHCC’s Surgical Technology program is the only accredited two-year degree program of its kind in Oregon. The program prepares graduates to sit for the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) Certification Exam for Surgical Technologists. Most years, 100 percent of MHCC’s surgical technology students pass this required industry certification in their first attempt.

    The surgical technology program at MHCC focuses first and foremost on practical training, says Shiprack. In their first year, students begin visiting operating rooms and conducting surgical labs. During the second year, they spend each of three terms at a different hospital.

    “That’s one of the greatest strengths of this program, is our connection to so many regional hospitals,” Shiprack adds. “Plus, as instructors, we go to each clinical site and observe and evaluate our students, coaching them through their final year. We tell them to treat it as a nine-month interview.”

    Another program that focuses on offering students practical training in and outside the classroom and laboratory is MHCC’s Mental Health, Social Service and Addiction Counseling (MHSSAC) program.

    “We’re a unique two-year mental health program in that our students receive clinical training,” says program director Hannigan-McNamara. “Plus, some of our clinical partners like our students so much that they hire them per diem, which allows many of our graduates to work in their field while continuing on in their educations.”

    Because about 70 percent of MHSSAC graduates go on to earn a four-year degree or more, a clinical practicum can set them up for success – and offer other advantages – in a Bachelor’s program.

    Clinical practicums also allow students to explore their career options in the mental health and social services sectors. MHSSAC students can train at – or work at after graduating – a variety of different organizations in the Portland metro area, among them the Oregon Department of Human Services, acute care and acute psychiatric facilities, telecare recovery centers, addiction treatment clinics, and juvenile justice centers. MHSSAC students also have the option of creating their own internships; in the past, students have trained with organizations as far away as Kenya.

    “The practical experience is critical, as is the in-classroom counseling training our students do,” Hannigan-McNamara adds.

    Graduating into the Workforce

    After Carol Pfeifer-Brown graduated from MHCC’s Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program in 2016, she went directly into a job at Therapeutic Associates Bethany Physical Therapy’s Hillsboro office, where she had completed her clinical.

    “This was the first job I interviewed for after earning my degree,” says Pfeifer-Brown. “For me, the PTA program at MHCC was life-changing – it offered me a chance at a whole new career in a growing industry.”

    A mother of two, Pfeifer-Brown spent seven years working as a stay-at-home mom before deciding to return to college (she had previously earned a Bachelor of Arts in music). She had always been drawn to fitness and wellness activities and sought a degree program and career that fit these interests. Upon deciding on physical therapy, Pfeifer-Brown discovered that in two years or less, she could earn a PTA degree and begin working and supporting her family. And with only two 2-year PTA programs available in the state, she applied to MHCC.

    “When I had the opportunity to go back to school, I wanted to do something in which I could give back and serve others,” Pfeifer-Brown says. “The PTA program at MHCC was the right fit – the faculty were amazingly supportive. They looked at students’ individual needs and did whatever they could to meet those needs, which was incredibly important as a nontraditional student.” 

    “In the end, the PTA program was one of the best decisions I made in terms of selecting something with minimal investment and a high return,” she adds. “Healthcare positions are constant and everywhere, and I’m always receiving new opportunities to learn and to develop my skills, which I love.”

    Want to learn more about MHCC’s Health Professions programs? Visit mhcc.edu/HealthProfessions

    Bruning Center
    In the simulation booth at the Bruning Center.
    Bruning Center
    MHCC Surgical technology students Cidney Coster and Faith Hiemstra practice a biopsy on a patient simulator.