When Kasey Netherton was in high school, she had a designation no teenager would ever want — heart patient.
After she experienced pulse irregularities and a fainting spell, her parents took her to Greenville Health System (GHS), where a cardiovascular sonographer used ultrasound technology to check out her heart. Though she received news from the pediatric cardiologist that her heart was fine, the experience lingered with the Spartanburg native — in the best possible way.
When the time came for her to choose a major at Clemson, she chose the Leadership for Cardiovascular Technology (CVT) Concentration within the health science major, a degree offered by the Department of Public Health Sciences in cooperation with Greenville Health System.
While most cardiovascular technology training comes from associate degree-level programs, Clemson’s program is the only one in the nation that combines this training with a comprehensive education in public health sciences and health care leadership. After taking core classes in public health sciences, the cardiovascular technology students split their time between the Clemson campus and the health system, where they work alongside sonographers, doctors and others in outpatient and patient settings.
Netherton and others in the program are learning to acquire quality images that enable cardiologists and vascular surgeons in the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.
“Being trained in vascular sonography and echocardiography gives us an advantage when we are scanning a patient,” Netherton said. “We are able to see a bigger picture, and that helps the patient.”
When Netherton becomes one of the program’s first graduates next May, she will be ready to follow in the footsteps of the cardiovascular sonographer who served her years earlier.
“As public health sciences students, they learn a host of subjects that — combined with the specific technology they learn in the GHS clinical setting — prepare them to enter the workforce with a higher level of understanding of disease process and hospital management,” said Eric Walker, Cardiovascular Technology Program Manager for Greenville Health System/Clemson and an adjunct health sciences professor. “This combination equips our students to make an immediate impact and become leaders in the health care field.”
And with the creation of the cardiovascular technology program, Clemson and Greenville Health System are meeting a workforce need.
“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the number of cardiovascular sonographers needed in the U.S. will grow by 18 percent in the next five years,” Walker said. “This program is a way for GHS and Clemson to fill this void with students who can contribute in a variety of ways. The program is also helping to alleviate the shortage of health care professionals outside of the traditional career paths of, for example, doctors or nurses.”
The collaboration is part of Clemson’s ongoing partnership with the health system to build workforce capacity.
“One of the key focus areas of the CU/GHS collaboration is in workforce development, and the CVT program is a perfect example of success in the collaboration,” said Windsor Sherrill, a professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences who also leads Clemson’s involvement in the Institute for Advancement of Health Care, the health system’s health services research entity.
“Through this collaborative effort, other hybrid degree programs in health care professions are being discussed” says Larry Allen, dean of Clemson’s College of Health, Education and Human Development.
The cardiovascular technology program began in the fall of 2011 with four students and has already expanded to 22 students.
“The goal is to have 10 students per class year, and we already have 14 sophomores who are interested in the program,” said Lee Crandall, chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences.
Netherton and her classmates are planning to become cardiovascular sonographers, and many are considering graduate school in the future. They will contribute immediately and long-term as cardiovascular sonographers or managers, researchers or wherever their interests take them.
“We are not just sitting in class; we are getting hands-on experience,” said Sarah Taylor, a senior from Florence. It feels great to know that we are making a difference now, even before we graduate.”
Clemson’s College of Health, Education and Human Development focuses on public health sciences, nursing, education, and parks, recreation and tourism management through its teaching, research and service efforts. The college seeks to create collaborative models that enhance community well-being and prepare skilled professionals and creative leaders who build healthy, well-educated communities.
Greenville Health System offers patients a comprehensive network of expertise and technologies through its five medical campuses, tertiary medical center, research and education facilities, community hospitals, physician practices and numerous specialty services throughout upstate South Carolina. It is among the largest health care networks in the Southeast.