The New Cardiac Electrophysiology Technology Program (CEPT) for Allied Health Professionals

Author(s): 

Joe Giron, RN, RT, CEPT Clinical Coordinator, and Alan Alipoon, BS, RCP, RRT, CEPT Program Director, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California

In January 2011, Loma Linda University will begin its inaugural year of its newly founded Cardiac Electrophysiology Technology Program (CEPT) for allied health professionals. The program was created when the authors found a lack in the number of EP-trained professionals on the west coast, and saw the need to create this formal clinical EP program.

Background

In 2007, Joe Giron’s then staffing/consulting firm helped one southern California hospital start their own electrophysiology (EP) program. Within six months, this program had completed their first EP procedure and had successfully advanced into complex atrial fibrillation (AF) ablations. After this success, many requests to his staffing/consulting firm came in from surrounding hospitals for similar opportunities for their cardiovascular service lines.

It quickly became apparent that many hospitals in the region lacked properly trained EP professionals who could carry on or start an EP program. Joe met with Peter McBride, Director of Cardiovascular Services at Riverside Community Hospital, and shared the need for hospital EP development/training centers. Peter shared with Joe his vision for an EP training program for allied health professionals; he explained that he had previously worked with a few colleges to consider an EP training program, yet to no avail. It was at this point that we realized the regional conditions were ripe enough to actualize the vision of such a program. As a former graduate there, Joe felt that Loma Linda University (LLU) would be the perfect place for such a pioneering program.

We expressed our thoughts, research and vision with a core group of administrators at Loma Linda University, including Dr. Laura Alipoon (Department Chair of Radiation Technology), Dr. David Lopez (Department Chair of Cardiopulmonary Sciences and Physician Assistant Sciences), and Dr. Ernie Schwab (Dean of Academic Affairs). After many meetings, research, and completion of a regional needs assessment, the university decided to develop the first clinical EP training program for allied health professionals on the west coast. This timely response was ultimately due to a lack of formal clinical programs as well as a lack of EP-specific staff in light of the emerging technologies and continued growth EP procedures expected for the next decades to come.

The Emerging Swell

In the world of EP, atrial fibrillation is just one segment in the overall spectrum of treatable arrhythmias. AF is the most common arrhythmia in the U.S., affecting 80% of adults who are 65 years of age and older.1 Current national statistics estimate that approximately 2.5 million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation, of which 1.5 million are eligible for ablative therapy.1 As the U.S. population increases, this number is expected to reach 5.6 million Americans by 2050, with more than 50% of these patients being over the age of 80.2 Over the last few years, many research and clinical studies have established and further refined AF therapies, and with additions to the technology advancements, the effects have compounded the efficiency and precision in successful EP and AF therapies.

However, there remains a national disparity between the mega medical centers, which comprise much of the east coast regions, and the vast expanse of mostly community hospitals that occupy the west. Specifically speaking in terms of EP, which is more comprehensive and a continuing emerging health science, the American west and much of the international community have seen a shortage of trained and skilled electrophysiology professionals compared to the well-established east coast. With the continued growth in systems and equipment technologies from the bio-tech companies that supply this industry with products, these companies compound the void of EP professionals by recruiting most of their EP support staff from the hospital community. These are some of the reasons why the CEPT program here at the southern California campus of Loma Linda University benefits bio-tech companies and hospitals alike.

Curriculum

LLU will have two CEPT programs. The first will offer an online certificate in the Cardiac Electrophysiology Technology Program. This program is 12 months in duration, and requires an Associate’s degree (does not have to be a health sciences degree) and a healthcare background. The second program offers an Associate of Science degree in the Cardiac Electrophysiology Technology Program; this is a face-to-face, 12-month program that will start in September 2011. Approximately 880 hours of clinical education will be completed by students in both programs.

The online certificate program was tailor-made with the working professional in mind. Students, who may work as an allied health professional during the program, can complete their didactic coursework online and may accrue the required clinical hours in a qualified EP/rhythm management lab.

The curriculum was derived from the topics that are included in the examination matrix for allied health professionals as outlined by the International Board of Heart Rhythm Examiners (IBHRE); the IBHRE bases its standards of excellence on the Heart Rhythm Society. The curriculum is also based on guidelines set by the Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (RCES) examination as outlined by the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI), which is a credentialing organization for cardiovascular technology.

The first half of the CEPT programs are focused primarily on didactic courses, and the time spent in the clinical arena increases over the duration of the program. Clinical educational rotations will be completed within EP/rhythm management labs. As noted before, for students in the online certificate program who are working allied health professionals, they can complete their didactic coursework online and in their own time (day or night), and accrue the required clinical hours in a qualified EP/rhythm management lab. Because this certificate program is online, students from outside of California can also take coursework at Loma Linda University while fulfilling their clinical rotations at qualified clinical sites in their state.

The programs were set up to yield the greatest amount of access, to the largest number of prospective students, with the least amount of time and financial liability. For example, a cath/EP lab CVT who has a full-time job in another state and time zone can complete their didactic coursework online, during their leisure time, and their time working on the job will accrue toward their clinical hours. We find these programs are also attractive to medical device companies and hospitals for offering scholarships and sponsorships to their current staff.

Requirements

Entrance to the online certificate program requires an A.S. degree and a healthcare background, such as radiography, respiratory care, nursing, cardiovascular technology, emergency medical technology, or for those who currently work as EP technologists. The Associate’s Degree is for individuals without a healthcare background who have the necessary prerequisites.

Applicants are required to observe two EP procedures and complete a career observation form. Applicants are also required to complete a background check during the application process. Students are required to have a current Health Care Provider CPR card offered by the American Heart Association upon admission into the program and maintain it for the entire length of the program. Interviews are done via the phone.

The latest prerequisites for the CEPT can be found on our Web site at “http://alliedhealth.llu.edu”; click on ‘Programs/Degrees’ then click on ‘Radiation Technology Sciences’ to find a list of programs. Contact Alan Alipoon, Loma Linda University’s EP Program Director, with any questions.

To be eligible for admission, the applicant must complete a minimum of 34 quarter units (51 semester units) with a cumulative GPA of 2.4 or higher, submit official transcripts, three references, an admissions essay, and undergo an interview with program faculty. To remain in the program, students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and adhere to the university and program’s professional code of conduct.

Prerequisites include:

1. Social Sciences - General Psychology or General Sociology or Cultural Anthropology

2. Natural Sciences - Anatomy and Physiology; Introduction to Chemistry; Introduction to Physics; High School Algebra or Intermediate College Algebra

3. Communication - College English sequence; Medical Terminology (for the AS)

Future of the CEPT

Over the last year, healthcare has continued to headline the national political landscape. This fall, Joe Giron had the privilege of participating in a healthcare roundtable, moderated by a political action committee. The main point made was that the future of national healthcare reform will be murky for some time, though it is very clear that access and efficiency will be the actualized endpoints. With that in mind, we have a long-term plan for these CEPT programs.

The Graduates

Graduates of the CEPT program will be qualified to sit for boards and for employment with not just acute care hospital CCL/EP labs, but also with hospital or physician rhythm management clinics, clinical support, and sales positions with various bio-technology companies. The development of this program was in large part directed from internal research that demonstrated that the future needs of hospitals, physicians, bio-tech companies and healthcare reform was to meet the emerging challenges of science and therapy required for the maturation of electrophysiology.

Vision and Goals

There exists a substantial and real opportunity for professional growth within the EP health science community, for those wishing to pursue or advance their career. The hard work and efforts of the core administrative team of Loma Linda University’s School of Allied Health has resulted in the actualization of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Technology Program starting in January 2011.

Our goal is to increase the awareness and access for the EP community and patients at large. This CEPT program adds to both elements, as the education contributes to the awareness, and the new skill set of the graduates will instrumentally factor in to increasing patient access to EP across the healthcare system.

For more information on Loma Linda University’s Cardiac Electrophysiology Technology (CEPT) program, please email aalipoon@llu.edu or call (909) 558-4931,
or visit http://alliedhealth.llu.edu.

References

1. Go AS, Hylek EM, Phillips KA, et al. Prevalence of diagnosed atrial fibrillation in adults: National implications for rhythm management and stroke prevention: The AnTicoagulation and Risk Factors in Atrial Fibrillation (ATRIA) Study. JAMA 2001;285:2370-2375.

2. Gersh, B. The changing epidemiology of non-valvular atrial fibrillation: The role of novel risk factors. Eur Heart J Supp. 2005;7(Suppl C):C5-C11.

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