The University of Texas Health (UTH) Science Center at Houston, in association with the McGovern Medical School, will begin a new educational program aimed at training individuals interested in becoming cardiac device specialists. The EP Heart Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Program will offer both a cardiac rhythm management and an electrophysiology component. The medical director of the program is Dr. Ramesh Hariharan, and the program director is Tom Kenny, author of The Nuts and Bolts of Cardiac Pacing series on cardiac devices and paced ECG analysis.
“When I first started out in nursing, it was not uncommon for colleagues to take you under their wing and train you in the nuances of clinical care. It’s almost like an informal apprenticeship. In the Critical Care Unit, I was fortunate to have several physicians, nurses, and technicians teach me the ins and outs of cardiac pacing,” Tom said. “But that was the old-school model. Today’s clinical environment is vastly different and much more complex. It’s unrealistic to think that a technologist or nurse in today’s environment could learn pacing from colleagues the way that I did.”
There are many ways to learn about device-based cardiac rhythm management and electrophysiology, including on-the-job training and other pacing schools which operate as private entities. Device manufacturers also offer short courses that teach individuals the nuances of a particular product line; however, these tend to be available mainly to individuals already working with that manufacturer — in other words, not newbies.
“UTH recognized the importance of adding electrophysiology and 3D mapping to the equation. Combining cardiac rhythm device management and electrophysiology makes UTH’s program unique, and also increases the likelihood that graduating students will find a job. The world of pacing and electrophysiology are so closely linked today, it doesn’t make sense to leave out the EP side of the equation.”
Starting a new program from scratch posed some challenges. First, the school needed to be set up in an appropriate location and allow for students to take up residence for half a year; Houston was considered an ideal location. Second, the curriculum and program needed to be developed in a way that addressed the many challenges facing today’s device specialists — new and more complex devices, the expanding role of EP studies in practice, and cost-containment pressures requiring everyone to do more with less. Finally, the school had to attract its inaugural class. The UTH EP Heart Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Program will have the academic backing and credentials of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and will offer the opportunity for clinical rotations at some of the best hospitals in Houston.
“I’ve taught pacing, defibrillation, and electrophysiology for most of my career,” Tom added. Tom had worked for years in the Critical Care Unit, and through his association with various colleagues, he learned a lot about device therapy both on the job and from his professional mentors. Later, he went to work as a clinical educator, first at Intermedics and then to St. Jude Medical, where he oversaw a variety of training programs. However, his first love was always teaching, and he managed to work with students as often as he could. “I’ve taught new sales reps the nuances of cardiac pacing, including many who had never worked in the field before. I’ve trained nurses, technicians, and technologists to help them better understand pacemakers. I’ve trained doctors in cardiac pacing. I’ve been invited to speak at conventions, and even with the FDA. But this will be an amazing new challenge for me. We’re aiming at creating a clinically relevant, sharply focused program that spans the whole range of cardiac rhythm management and electrophysiology. We’re going to be working with products from all manufacturers, including cutting-edge technology as well as older equipment commonly seen in clinics. In the course of our training, we will instill in our students the experience and confidence to tackle this demanding field.”
Cardiac rhythm management and electrophysiology are burgeoning fields of endeavor. Implantable devices are now simpler to program, longer lasting, and offer more functionality than ever before. Around the world, over one million people have pacemakers, with the largest paced population in the United States. New electrophysiology technology and techniques are providing cardiac patients more options for longer and healthier lives, and may be able to cure their arrhythmia.
“We are increasingly finding that hospitals are interested in getting their teams trained in pacing and electrophysiology, rather than relying solely on device experts sent by the manufacturers,” Tom said. “Of course, nothing can replace the device expert from the manufacturer. However, it’s clear that with more cardiovascular patients, this is an important area of medicine and a great career niche for the right people.”
The costs for the program could not be confirmed at the time this article went to press. Participants will be asked to relocate to Houston for the six months of classes and clinical rotations, but there may be some assistance in getting temporary furnished living accommodations.
“The ideal candidate is a person with a degree is biomedical science, biomedical engineering, or exercise physiology,” Tom said, “but we will evaluate every prospective student on a case-by-case basis. Some students will likely have some clinical experience, but that is not a requirement. The most successful students will be those who are willing to work hard to learn a demanding but rewarding new set of skills in order to embark on a very promising new career.” Upon finishing the six-month program, students are awarded a Certificate of Completion, and students will be prepared to sit for the IBHRE certification exams.
“Class size will be limited in order to allow for the necessary one-on-one interaction that is sometimes needed to help students learn this new field,” Tom added. “A typical class might be 10 or 20 students. We will not be offering very large classes because of the nature of this intense training.” Courses will include cardiac pacing, paced ECG and intracardiac electrogram analysis, defibrillation basics, cardiac resynchronization therapy, and electrophysiology studies.
The first class commences in October 2017, with graduation in March 2018. Upon graduation and placement with one of the medical manufactures or in a device clinic, the student will be on the road to a very rewarding career.
“For individuals looking to enter this field — whether they are first starting out or making a career change — this is a really great way to begin,” said Tom. “You’ll have the knowledge, be equipped for the clinical environment, gain confidence in your skills, and have all of the assistance you need to move forward.”
For more information, please contact
Tom Kenny at
(713) 486-1636 or