Biotech center helps draw students to ECC


First-year nursing students Chris Pettigrew, Xavera Edwards, and Brittany Rodriguez, left to right, practice insterting an IV into dummy arms during a lab at the Edgecombe Community College Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center in Rocky Mount.


From Contributed Reports

Sunday, January 1, 2017

In its first year of operation, the Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center at Edgecombe Community College attracted students and raised the standard of health care education throughout the region.

The college opened the state-of-the-art 45,000-square-foot facility on the Rocky Mount campus in January and held an official ribbon cutting in early March.

Edgecombe is one of two North Carolina community colleges that offers a simulated hospital environment on campus. The other is located at Catawba Community College in Hickory. Together these institutions are changing the way health care graduates are developing skills and training for the job market.

“Community colleges are North Carolina’s workforce trainers,” said Dr. Deborah Lamm, ECC president. “We are preparing future health care professionals today for the jobs of tomorrow.

“This facility and our instructors are ensuring that our graduates are ready for the fast-paced and advancing field of health care. By providing realistic patient scenarios, students from various health science programs learn to communicate, collaborate, and work as a team in the same way health care professionals of an interdisciplinary team work together in a real life situation.”

Edgecombe County voters helped generate funding for the center by approving a ¼ cent sales tax referendum in 2012. Tax revenues combined with a grant of $1.5 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation supplied funds for the $9.7 million construction project.

The new three-story Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center was designed to maximize current technology and mimic a true hospital setting with emphasis on adaptability to meet future needs.

Multiple classrooms and a 96-seat auditorium complement an entire floor (1st) that reflects a real-world medical environment. The simulated hospital is spread over two floors (2nd & 3rd). Featured are an emergency room, intensive care unit, nurses’ station, radiography suites, surgical suite, and an ambulance setting.

Simulation and training are offered for Nursing, Practical Nursing, Nurse Aide, Medical Assisting, Surgical Technology, Radiography, and Respiratory Therapy.

Amid the sights and sounds associated with routine and emergency medical care, students practice their skills on computerized manikins resting on hospital beds. The lifelike manikins can be programmed by instructors to imitate many signs and symptoms of acute and chronic conditions and even childbirth.

Students learn to analyze, react, and provide appropriate care for each situation, while the manikins respond to medications and other student actions that can be controlled and recorded by the operator. Health care students are allowed to learn and make mistakes without endangering a real patient.

Using a hands-on approach in this high-tech simulated health care environment has many advantages. Like athletes who want to improve their games, health care students can see videos of their work for self-evaluation and instructor feedback.

They can observe themselves in many scenarios such as the delicate task of inserting a breathing tube into a manikin’s trachea or assisting with a difficult birth. The simulated environment is very realistic and designed to give students the skills and confidence needed for a smooth transition to the next level and ultimately for success in the workplace.

Patient simulators facilitate learning

When they advance to the clinical phase of their degree or certification program, students from 18 of ECC’s 22 health sciences areas have had the powerful advantage of developing their medical and communication skills in a controlled situation before interacting with human patients and established health care professionals.

“The Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center is an excellent university-quality instructional space. It’s unusual to find something like this at the community college level. It’s no surprise that it is generating a lot of interest from individuals, as well as from other colleges,” said Tim King, clinical director of Respiratory Therapy.

“I receive calls and email everyday with requests for enrollment information from potential students. Most are local, but I’ve had inquiries from Halifax, Pitt, Wake, and other counties in our region.”

Experiencing realistic patient situations enables students from different curriculum areas to function as members of a professional health care team, while ECC instructors monitor and critique their performance and progress.

“The Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center is revolutionizing the techniques our instructors use to deliver information and integrate learning,” King explains. “Now our students can truly understand how their tasks impact and relate to the work of those from other health care fields who come together to provide care for a patient. This is improving the way our students develop their skills and prepare for the job market.”

Recent Surgical Technology graduate Taylor Hart agrees. “My first classes were held in the older building on the Tarboro campus last fall,” she said. “The instructors were great, but the classrooms were small, and that limited some of our activities.

“In January, we transferred to this beautiful new building in Rocky Mount. The advanced technology in the center is amazing! The designers clearly put a great deal of thought into creating a realistic hospital atmosphere that allows us to integrate our classroom knowledge with the skills we need for patient care in the actual work situation,” she said.

Hart, 27, completed allied health sciences courses at Tarboro High School before earning a bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy at East Carolina University. After finding a limited number of job openings in her field, she enrolled at ECC to add the surgical technology certification to her skill set and expand her options for health care employment.

Hart is now working at the SurgiCenter in Greenville.

Nancy Hobbs serves as the nursing admissions counselor for ECC. “We have had more applications for the Nursing program this year than ever before,” she said. “Most of our applicants have heard about the new building and are telling us that ECC is their first choice for attendance.”

Nursing, the largest program in the ECC health sciences division, is limited to 80 students.

Hobbs is seeing applications from local zip codes as well as from addresses in Ahoskie, Cape Carteret, Kinston, Knightdale, Raleigh, and other cities. She notes that four students who were admitted for the fall semester are carpooling from Durham until they can find a local apartment to share.

“The medical simulation center is attracting a new group of students,” said Ralph Webb, chair of Respiratory Therapy. “As a community college, we serve a wide variety of students, including recent high school graduates, working adults, individuals seeking to change or advance a career, and those seeking educational enrichment.

“Since opening this building, we are seeing more students who have earned a bachelor’s degree but want to add an associate degree or a certification to their transcripts.

“What we offer in health care is second to none, and it is remarkable to see what our students are accomplishing as a result,” Webb continues. “Certification board scores are already at a higher level, and post-completion job placement has increased. I believe that ECC graduates will have a clear advantage in the health care job market.”

Many students agree with Webb, including Respiratory Therapy student Lee Cox, who is pursuing a second career at age 48 after recently retiring from the NC Highway Patrol. In August 2015, he enrolled in the program commuting from Wilson to the Rocky Mount campus.

“This simulated environment is very realistic,” Cox said. “I believe it will give us the skills and confidence we need for a smooth transition to our clinicals and the workplace.”

Andrea Cunin, 32, worked for two years as an emergency medical technician (EMT) after training at Wake Tech and earning intermediate credentials at ECC. Cunin enrolled in the Respiratory Therapy program seeking to incorporate her emergency medical knowledge into the high level of critical care needed in the mobile setting.

“I was accepted by two other colleges, but I commute from Raleigh to ECC because of this wonderful facility and all it offers,” she said.

“Based on my EMT experiences, I know jobs in the health care field require life-saving reactions and interventions,” Cunin adds. “Having realistic lab settings at our fingertips allows us to train thoroughly for those situations before we work with actual patients.”

Cunin and Cox plan to pursue their bachelor’s degree following graduation from Edgecombe Community College.

Cox, Cunin, and Hart agree that the hands-on approach in the high-tech simulated health care environment in the Biotechnology and Medical Simulation Center has many advantages.

Hart encourages individuals interested in the health care field to come to the Rocky Mount campus and check out the new facility.

“Once you see and experience the center in action, you will understand more about the requirements of the health care field you are considering,” she said. “You will know what is needed to complete the degrees and certification programs. It’s much more effective than searching online or reading the catalog.”