All About the Arrhythmia Technologies Institute

Interview by Jodie Elrod
Interview by Jodie Elrod
In this interview, we speak with Mark Sweesy, FHRS, CCDS, CEPS, RCES and President of the Arrhythmia Technologies Institute (ATI), located in Greenville, South Carolina. ATI is a complete educational program available for allied professionals in the field of cardiac device technology. Describe ATI’s background and why it was created. The idea for the school came back in 1987, when I participated in a 2-day training program for one of the pacemaker manufacturers. After my talk, 2 nurses came up to me and said they wanted to get into this field and wanted to know where they should go to learn more. I told them that unfortunately there weren’t really many options available for training — that most people at the time learned from their on-the-job experience. Afterwards, I spoke with our director of cardiology, Dr. Robert Batey, and told him that since cardiac devices were starting to get pretty sophisticated, I thought they warranted a formal training program so that clinicians could learn to optimize the devices for the patient. I asked him, “What do you think about starting a school?” He said, “Let’s do it!” I contacted a friend of mine, Dr. Richard Forney, and asked if he’d be interested in coming down to learn pacing and then help start this school. He agreed and moved to Florida, where we worked together in the cardiology clinic, and the following year we opened what was initially called the Pacemaker Systems Technology School, Inc., now ATI. The first 10 years were largely a volunteer effort, so most of the staff, including physicians and lecturers, donated their time. About 13 years ago we moved the program to Greenville, South Carolina. Explain the curriculum format of the program. What time commitment is needed? The program is an 8-month academic year that begins in September and ends through the first part of May. The curriculum is a combination of didactic classroom, hands-on training in a lab setting with programmers, devices, heart simulators, and pacing system analyzers, and also a clinical rotation program in which the students actually participate in both device checks with patients as well as device implant procedures. The course runs Monday through Friday, 8:30-4:00 pm each day. We also do short-term programs that range anywhere from 2 days to 6 weeks in length; a lot of these are custom, depending on what the customer wishes to be covered or evaluated during the course. Most are for non-physicians, but we’ve also done some programs for physicians. How many hours of classroom time and how many hours of clinical experience do students receive in total? How many device follow-up checks and implants can students expect to participate in? The total training time is about 1,080 hours. This includes about 60% time in the classroom and 40% hands-on experience with patients or heart simulators. Typically, a student is able to participate on average in 50 device implants, 100 patient follow ups, as well as 150 or so simulated lab follow ups and implants. We consider our participating affiliate institutions, electrophysiologists and cardiologists the most valuable part of our program. For training, do you utilize pacing system analyzers and programmers from a wide variety of CRM companies or from one primary source? We use programmers from all 5 of the CRM companies that market in the United States. We also have over 30 pacing system analyzers, with 6 or 7 different types. In addition, we have a variety of heart simulators that integrate with live devices, including defibrillators, BiV devices, and pacemakers. In total, we have over 50 programmers as well as over 50 computer heart simulators. How big are class sizes? For the last couple of years, the program has typically included about 35 students. For our custom program, they include anywhere from 4-30 people. How many instructors are there? There are 3 full-time instructors, as well as about a dozen part-time or guest instructors. What are the costs associated with the program? The tuition is $19,750. This includes all classroom time and course work, as well as books. Living expenses are separate. What are the admission requirements? Applicants need a 4-year degree and must submit their college transcripts, 2 letters of professional references, an essay as to why they want to be in this career field, and an onsite interview. Who are the ideal candidates for this program? Who should contact ATI? I would say the ideal candidates are those who are sharp, have a GPA of 3.0 or above, are passionate about being in the cardiac arrhythmia management industry, have good people communication skills, are patient centered, and show good character and integrity. What is the deadline to enroll for the Fall 2010 schedule? When is the start of the next semester? We began the application process on January 2nd of this year for the September 2010 class, and completed it on March 15th. Generally we only accept about 30 percent of applicants. What has been your student placement rate? We’ve actually had 100 percent success in student placement for 22 years. We currently have 1 student that we’re trying to place from this recent class, but we hope to keep the 100 percent placement rate. We’ve had about 400 students over the past 22 years. We have been blessed with a lot of great students over the years and we love what we do. Does this training help prepare one for the IBHRE competency exam? Yes, we’ve had a great record with that. We do a lot of IBHRE review courses, and we have had some of our students right out of school score in the 95th percentile or above on these exams. Do a majority of your students come from South Carolina or are they from all over the U.S.? Yes, our students come from all over the U.S., and some short programs include international attendees. In this last class we had 1 student from Hawaii, and 1 student in our current summer course is from Puerto Rico. We’ve had physicians come for training from Thailand, Panama, and Russia. We also have 3 students currently working in Australia, 1 in India, and a couple in Germany and Switzerland. Tell us about the leadership offerings, such as MaxMotivation, LLC and PepWorks International, also available to students. We’ve always taken a strong interest in our students, so for the past few years we have tried to offer them other opportunities outside of class that can help develop their leadership skills on a professional level. Some of these offerings like MaxMotivation are bootcamp-style programs, in which they physically work you as far as you can go, combining fitness, nutrition and team and character building. PepWorks has worked with many Fortune 500 companies and builds concepts for both personal and professional advancement. We also offer discussion groups where we discuss meaningful topics outside of heart care and rhythm management, to help challenge students as individuals and encourage them to grow. One of the nice things about our classes is that we’re very diverse in terms of people and their backgrounds and ages, so everyone has the ability to learn from somebody else’s strength to help develop one of their weaknesses. For instance, there may be one person with management experience and a masters in business, but has no medical experience; this person can learn from another person who has 10 years of medical experience but no real business management experience. What advantages does ATI offer students? I think our history and placement record certainly are advantages, but we have built an excellent track record and a great network around the country with many potential employers. Students can also reach out to our alumni who have experienced what the real world is like in this industry. We frequently have alumni visit and talk with current students and tell them about some of the things to do and not do, and how to make the most of their time here. Tell us about the upcoming first annual “EP for the Device Professional” event in November. We’re very excited about this event, which will include at least 8 different electrophysiologists speaking on 10 different topics. Anyone interested should call Denise at 864-297-9232 to register. They can also check out the program in detail at www.arrhythmiatech.org. In addition, we’re going to combine this event along with a reunion for our alumni. Many of our students are now located all over the country and we’ve never really had a reunion. The cost will be very minimal, and for alumni it will be free. We’re looking forward to seeing some of our graduates that we may not have seen for 20 years. The program will offer 10 continuing education credits. It will take place at the Westin Poinsett Hotel in downtown Greenville. Main Street downtown was recently voted one of the top 10 Main Streets in America. Is there anything else you’d like to add? We put a lot of importance on our student focus. Students almost become like surrogate kids of mine, since we spend so much of time in class and also oftentimes out of class, and it’s a joy getting to know a lot of these young people and be able to help in the development of their career. For more information, please visit: http://main.arrhythmiatech.org/