Cadavers are in, virtual labs are out

Cadavers are making a comeback in medical classes, reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

At Cabrillo College in Aptos, 20 students crowd around a cadaver in Robin McFarland’s anatomy class. “Virtual learning” — including 3-D digital models of the human body — “can’t replace the real experience of actually working with the real cadaver,” said Andrew Corson, the program’s director.

The skin on the torso, legs and arms has been removed to show the muscles underneath. On the hands, the skin is intact, beige from preservatives and covered with liver spots. The smell of formaldehyde permeates the lab. A couple of students slip Altoids mints under their tongues to combat the fume-induced nausea.

. . . Most of the students in McFarland’s anatomy class will go into nursing programs, so she thinks of the bodies as her students’ first patients.

The students examine two cadavers, side by side. Next to the 90-year-old who suffered from Alzheimer’s is 11-288, an 84-year-old man and longtime smoker who died of congestive heart failure. The students have spent months comparing the two bodies, understanding not just how they operated in life, but what led to the men’s deaths.

Natasha Frias, a kinesiology student, was shocked by her first cadaver. “This is what I look like on the inside?”

Students use bodies that have been donated to the University of California at San Francisco’s Willed Body Program. At the end of the semester, McFarland’s students write an essay about their experience. One wrote: “I thank everyone dead or alive who made this such a wonderful learning experience.”

College pays — but some degrees are worth more

A college degree usually leads to higher income, but the payoff varies by degree and discipline, concludes The Economic Benefit of Postsecondary Degrees, an analysis by  Katie Zaback and Andy Carlson of State Higher Education Executive Officers and Matt Crellin of the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems.

Bachelor’s degree graduates have a median income of $50,360 compared to a median of $38,607 for associate degree graduates and $29,423 for people with only a high school diploma, the report finds.  However median earnings and the wage premium — the difference between a college graduate’s pay and what a high school graduate would earn in the same field — vary significantly.

The average wage premium for an associate degree is 31.2 percent, but that ranges from 23.3 percent in education (probably early childhood education) to 73.9 percent in health fields. Median income ranges from $23,175 for an education-related associate degree to $45,343 for STEM degrees.

Median pay also varies considerably for workers with a bachelor’s degree. As with associate degrees, the highest wage premium is in health care: The 123.4 percent wage premium leads to a median income of $56,427.

The patient is a mannequin

A state-of-the art health-care simulation lab is helping future nurses and respiratory therapists practice their skills at Kennebec Valley Community College in Augusta, Maine, reports the Kennebec Journal.

When Jake Heart was brought to the hospital, he was struggling to breathe, had a barking cough, swollen ankles and complained of being tired.

Paramedics relayed Heart’s vital signs and condition to nurses and respiratory therapists and they got to work — talking with Heart, starting an intravenous drip, monitoring his blood pressure and listening to his lungs.

Heart will be back for treatment. The “$30,000 anatomically correct mannequin who breathes, blinks, bleeds, sweats, talks, has bodily functions and can have seizures” is the star patient at the college’s four-bed lab, which resembles a hospital room.

Instructors manipulate Heart, a medical mannequin, from a computer in a control room. Instructors view the lab and students through five one-way windows.

“It’s such a powerful educational tool,” said Marcia Parker, director of nursing at the college.

As Jake Heart was being treated, the lab’s “elderly” mannequin was recovering from a broken left leg set with a red cast, while a pediatric mannequin was lying in bed holding a teddy bear.

The college hopes to acquire a birthing mannequin and open the lab for training by police, fire and rescue units.

Fewer health jobs in sick economy

Health careers have been oversold, reports Community College Week. The number of associate degrees in health professions more than doubled in the last 10 years, while certificates increased by 240 percent. Yet “a growing number of graduates who believed their health care credential would be a ticket to a job are finding themselves with a passport to the unemployment line.”

Seeing the promise of good jobs with secure futures, students young and old have flooded into health care programs, striving to become a health care professional — a radiological technician, perhaps, or maybe a dental hygienist, a registered nurse or a physical therapy assistant.

In short, the students went where the jobs were, or where they were predicted to be.

But the recession slowed the retirement of baby-boomer nurses and other health-care workers. Laid-off workers lost health benefits and avoided hospital visits.

“Graduates have to be very persistent,” said Patricia Gray, vice-president for health care education initiatives at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio. “Right now, it is very difficult to find a job.”

The demand for health-care workers is expected to rebound soon. More than a third of nurses are in their 50s. They can’t keep working forever. Baby boomers are aging, requiring more health care. President Obama’s health-care bill should expand access to health services. At any rate, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 20 percent increase in health-care jobs in the next seven years.

While a majority of associate degrees are in general studies, health professions are the second most popular choice, according to Community College Week‘s analysis of federal data. Business degrees, grew slowly over the last decade, slipping into third over the 10-year period.  Degrees in law enforcement,  science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and education showed significant growth.


Students start health classes early in K-14 district

Early-college students are training for health careers in Michigan’s only K-14 district, reports Education Week. Henry Ford Early College, created by the Dearborn school district, Henry Ford Community College and the Henry Ford Health System, is a five-year program that allows students “to graduate with a high school diploma, an associate of science degree, and a certification in one of 12 allied health fields, such as surgery technology, radiology, or biotechnology, at no cost to their families.”

About 200 students from Detroit and the surrounding area entered a lottery for this year’s freshman class of 50.

. . . Henry Ford students can attend some of the most rigorous and highly subscribed courses offered by the 19,000-student community college. While some high schools struggle to connect with an institution of higher learning, Dearborn schools and Henry Ford Community College are run by the same school board, forming the only “K-14” school district in Michigan.

Students shadow health-care professionals, interact with patients and take classes at the hospital complex. Freshman and sophomores spend one day a week on clinical rotations and take classes four days a week.

Most have little time for traditional high school activities or extracurriculars. Attrition has been high: Of 42 freshmen in 2007, only 24 have made it to their fourth year. Some realize they’re not that interested in health careers. Others can’t handle the academic workload.

For-profits train medical assistants, few nurses

For-profit colleges train many medical assistants, but only a small percentage of licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, concludes a Center for American Progress report, Profiting from Health Care.

For-profit colleges tend to focus on health care “support” occupations like medical assisting, massage therapy, and dental assisting rather than “practitioner” or “technical” health occupations like registered nursing, medicine, or diagnostic technologist fields.

Support jobs require less training and don’t pay as well.

Julie Margetta Morgan, the report’s co-author, wants for-profit and non-profit educators to expand programs in high-demand, high-paying medical fields, reports Inside Higher Ed.

California’s community colleges are unable to meet the demand for health workers.

Economists see fewer middle-income jobs

Economists predict a split job market, once employers start hiring again, AP reports. There will be well-paid jobs for well-educated lawyers, scientists and software engineers. There will be low-paying jobs for low-skilled store clerks and home health aides.

And those in between? Their outlook is bleaker. Economists foresee fewer moderately paid factory supervisors, postal workers, and office administrators.

It will take till 2014 or later to regain the 8.4 million jobs lost to the recession, according to projections.

“There will be jobs,” says Lawrence Katz, a Harvard economist. “The big question is what they are going to pay, and what kind of lives they will allow people to lead? This will be a big issue for how broad a middle class we are going to have.”

In some fields, such as manufacturing, real estate, and financial services, employment isn’t expected to rebound. Any occupation that can be automated or outsourced is at risk.

Many community college students hope to qualify for health careers that can’t be outsourced. But there’s going to be a lot of competition for those jobs, which could drive wages lower. A few years ago, demand for nurses was high. Now, colleges could be training too many nurses, warns Minnesota Public Radio.

Back to school for a better job

In a story on workers going back to school for a better job, the New York Times reports on Macomb Community College in Michigan, which is seeing “white-collar workers laid off by Detroit’s Big Three” retraining for new careers.  Some take the eight-week program to qualify as a certified nurse’s assistant, which pays less than $26,000 a year. 

“Many people see that job as a steppingstone, as a great way to get into a health setting and then other health careers, such as respiratory therapists or occupational therapists,”  (Provost Jim) Sawyer said. To become certified in those fields requires more study, but those jobs can pay $50,000, helping put those laid-off white-collar workers back into the middle class.

After working 21 years in the auto industry, Sandra Marrin took a buyout from Chrysler, where she supervised a production line that assembled Jeep Grand Cherokees. She plunged into the nursing assistant’s program at Macomb and now earns $12 an hour as a certified nurse’s assistant, making one-third what she once earned.

“It’s a short program, and you can pretty much find employment right away,” she said. “I took the buyout because I wasn’t quite sure whether Chrysler would be around. I wanted to go into health care.”

Marrin plans to become a registered nurse and then train to be a nursing manager.

The community college also is training former white-collar auto workers in supply-chain logistics to qualify for jobs at the  Army’s tank-automotive command nearby;  local military contractors are hiring, as well.