Cover Story

New Accredited Online Professional Certificate Program in Electrophysiology

Letitia P. Esbenshade-Smith, MS Ed., RCES, RCIS

Coordinator; Cardiac Electrophysiology Program

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Letitia P. Esbenshade-Smith, MS Ed., RCES, RCIS

Coordinator; Cardiac Electrophysiology Program

Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences

Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania College’s Professional Certificate Program in Cardiac Electrophysiology is the first online program to be granted initial accreditation.

On March 15, 2019, the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences was awarded initial accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) for the online Professional Certificate program in Cardiac Electrophysiology.

This is the first online program to be accredited by the CAAHEP, and the first online EP program that is structured and designed for the working EP allied professional. Unlike most certificate programs, this program provides college-earned credits.

The Associate’s degree in EP at PA College has been accredited since 2010 and was awarded continued accreditation by CAAHEP through 2029. The program was formatted to online delivery in 2015 to collect student passing data before applying for accreditation through the Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology (JRC-CVT).

What makes this program unique?

This online program is designed and structured for the working EP professional to provide them with the basic theoretical knowledge of electrophysiology and cardiac devices. Most education offered to EP staff is presented as either product- or company-specific modules, or as one- and two-credit online CME activities.

Do I meet the admission criteria for the program?

Potential Professional Certificate candidates must:

  • Hold one of the following credentials: RCES, RCIS, RRT, RT, or NMT, or a current RN license;
  • Be working in an EP or cath lab, performing diagnostic and interventional EP studies and cardiac device implants;
  • Submit a copy of their valid Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) card issued from the American Heart Association (AHA);
  • Provide two letters of recommendation.

How long does it take to complete the program?

The online professional certificate program consists of 16 credits; one credit is awarded for ACLS. The remaining 15 credits can be completed in three semesters (two courses in the fall, two courses in the spring and one in the summer) or in five semesters.

What is the cost of the program, and is there tuition assistance?

The tuition for the online professional certificate program is $610 per credit hour. The cost of books is approximately $350.

This is a newly approved program by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and federal financial aid is available through the college. Candidates may also be eligible for tuition reimbursement through their employer.

What courses will I take for the online professional certificate?

The curriculum consists of five 3-credit courses, including: Introduction to Cardiac Electrophysiology, Cardiac Electrophysiology Theory I, Cardiac Electrophysiology Science, EP Arrhythmia Theory, and Cardiac Device Theory.

What is the coursework like throughout the program?

All of the program courses share a similar design. Each course is arranged to provide the student with weekly objectives, readings, videos, assignments, and discussion activities. The discussion forums are focused on applying theory to clinical practice. Each course builds upon knowledge obtained from concurrent and previous courses, as well as clinical experience.

What is the time commitment needed to complete each course?

Students should plan to spend a minimum of 8-12 hours per week, per course, completing readings, discussion board posts, assignments, and quizzes. There are mid-term and final examinations in each of the courses.

What does it take to be a successful online student?

The ideal student is one who exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Takes responsibility for their personal learning process;
  • Is a self-starter;
  • Meets weekly course requirements and is goal oriented;
  • Has basic computer skills such as using email, creating Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations;
  • Is a proficient reader and communicator;
  • Able to set a schedule and meet deadlines;
  • Is comfortable in cyberspace and presenting themselves to others in cyberspace.

Unlike a traditional classroom course, the online course week is normally Monday through Sunday. Courses are staged with weekly assignments and deadlines to assist the student in completing the work and preparing for the credentialing exam.

How is success of the online EP program gauged?

Students in the online professional certificate program are not required to take the credentialing exam. However, since the program was formatted to be delivered online in Fall 2015, twelve of 14 graduates who have taken the exam have been successful in passing the Registered Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (RCES) exam offered by Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). The current program is set to graduate five students, and of these, one has registered to sit for the Cardiac Electrophysiology Specialist (CEPS) exam by the International Board of Heart Rhythm Examiners (IBHRE), offered in July 2019.

Who are the EP program faculty?

Faculty for the program must hold an advanced degree and have experience in the subject(s) they are teaching. Letitia (Lisha) Esbenshade-Smith has a Master’s degree in Education with a concentration in online teaching and learning, holds the RCES and RCIS credentials, and has a combined 30 years of clinical and teaching experience. Chris Nelson has a Master’s degree in Instructional Design, holds the RN and RCIS credentials, and has a combined 24 years of clinical and teaching experience. Both faculty have extensive experience in invasive cardiology, cardiac electrophysiology, and pacing.

Where can I get more information?

Visit the PA College website or the Cardiac Electrophysiology Professional Certificate website. You can also email Lpesbens@pacollege.edu. Please note the 2019-2020 academic year classes begin on August 19, 2019.

What does accreditation mean for the student?

Accreditation ensures that students are enrolled in a college or university that is reputable and accountable, and has met the peer-reviewed requirements of an educational facility. PA College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Furthermore, each program at PA College is accredited by their respective agencies, such as the JRC-CVT.

Institutions offering distance learning programs are held to the same high standards that are required by the traditional "brick and mortar" institutions.

The accreditation of this certificate program means that potential students may have the opportunity for tuition reimbursement through their employer.

The program is newly approved by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which allows those in or retired from the U.S. Armed Forces the opportunity for continued education. Federal financial aid is also available to students in an accredited program.

College credits earned in an accredited program can be brought into PA College for advanced degrees.

What is the process to becoming an accredited program?

The accreditation process requires PA College to present their data in the form of an Initial Self-Study Report (ISSR). The ISSR is a fairly lengthy narrative that includes supporting documentation and describes the institution’s history, financial support, instructional support, learner support, and programs offered.

Included in the ISSR are the program goals and outcomes, the methods of the program’s assessment and modification of goals, curriculum, and the institutional support resources provided to students. Some of the resources required are faculty, offices, equipment and supplies, computer resources, and instructional material (library).

The completed ISSR is presented to the CAAHEP, who then selects vetted program reviewers to review the ISSR. The reviewers are typically cardiovascular or nursing program directors who manage an accredited program.

When the application has been approved, a site visit is scheduled to validate the information presented to the committee. During the visit, representatives tour the PA College campus, meet with college administration, staff and faculty, and interview the medical director, advisory committee members, current students, and past program graduates.

The site visit ends, and recommendations (for or against) are presented to the CAAHEP. The CAAHEP meets six times throughout the year to take action on accreditation recommendations.

How is course curriculum determined?

Program course content is dictated by the substantiated needs of the profession, the job task analysis (JTA) performed by CCI for the RCES exam, and the Invasive Cardiology Scope of Practice.

How is the program evaluated?

PA College performs a programmatic assessment within a five-year period, and this rolling assessment ensures that all program courses are reviewed on a five-year term. During the programmatic assessment, courses in the program are selected for annual review by the college as a whole, and recommendations are presented to the program coordinator.   

At the close of each semester, student feedback is solicited by course, and the courses are reviewed for content-specific modifications. Many of the past student suggestions have resulted in course content and content organization modifications. 

*The Professional Certificate in Cardiac Electrophysiology program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Joint Review Committee on Education in Cardiovascular Technology (JRC-CVT). For more information, please visit www.caahep.org.

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