Society of Invasive Cardiovascular Professionals

Northland Community & Technical College

Connie Schimke, RCIS, Program Director, East Grand Forks, Minnesota
Connie Schimke, RCIS, Program Director, East Grand Forks, Minnesota
Why and how did you become an educator? I was working in the cath lab when approached by the program director at the time to come and help her in the program. I really enjoyed the students in the clinical setting and thought I would enjoy teaching, so I decided to give it a whirl. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in applied studies from University of Minnesota and an Associate of Applied Science degree in CVT from Northwest Technical College. I am a Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialist (RCIS). How long has your program been in operation? This program began in 1992, and we are in our eleventh year. Can you describe your program syllabus, both clinical and classroom? We have a full year of education, including general education courses, EKG, Introduction to CVT, Cardiovascular Pathophysiology and Basic Fundamentals of Invasive Cardiology, prior to our first clinical experience. The first clinical experience is supervised. The students spend three days a week on a rotation in areas like cardiac cath lab, nuclear stress testing, cardiac rehab, CT surgery, EKG, echocardiography and telemetry. The program is two full years, including the summer. How many students do you accept each year? Have you seen an increase in applicants over the years? I can accept 10 students into the second year of the program. The enrollment seems to go up and down, but usually there are about 15 students for 10 seats. What backgrounds do students generally have? I have seen such a wide variety of student backgrounds. Everything from the mechanic to the paramedic, retired military, social workers, high school grads… you name it! What is your program’s annual tuition? Tuition for the total program is $8,820 for Minnesota residents and reciprocity-eligible students and 17,640 for non-residents. The annual tuition would be about half of that, depending upon number of credits taken. What textbooks, CDs, and websites are used in your classes? I use several texts, including: The Cardiac Catheterization Handbook, Morton J. Kern; Pathophysiology of Heart Disease, Leonard Lilly; Invasive Cardiology: A Manual for Cath Lab Personnel, Sandy Watson; The Manual of Interventional Cardiology, Robert Safian, MD, and Mark Freed, MD. I use several CDs to teach heart and lung sounds, as well as encouraging the use of the Wes Todd Review CD for my students during clinical and internship. What types of clinical experiences do you offer students? Students learn to assist with diagnostic and interventional procedures during the summer after their first year. We are able to provide our students with a supervised clinical experience for clinical I. They learn to assist with diagnostic as well as interventional procedures during this clinical. The students really like the fact that in this clinical they not only get great hands-on experience, but also enjoy the comfort of having me with them to guide them along with the cath lab personnel. During this clinical, I have the luxury of a 4 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio. It is a wonderful learning experience for the student that cannot be simulated in a practice-type setting. Next, the students go out to affiliate sites in the region and do 6 months of full-time clinical experience. During this time, they keep in contact with me every day via email. They do case studies and learn to take call. I travel out to the sites to assess their progress twice during this time. Our clinical affiliations are a vital part of our program. They are vested in helping our students accomplish their educational goals. The sites we use are in Grand Forks, Fargo and Bismarck, North Dakota, as well as St. Cloud, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Duluth, Minnesota. We also enjoy a very close relationship with our medical director, Dr. Noah Chelliah. His dedication to teaching through clinical experience is greatly appreciated by the students. Are your students cross-trained? Yes, they are trained to scrub, circulate, do hemodynamic recording, nuclear stress testing, EKG, and they are also ACLS-certified. Who does your classroom and clinical teaching? Jane and I teach all of the CVT courses. The students learn ACLS from our paramedicine program director and office radiography from our radiologic technology program director. Of course, students have quite a variety of instructors for their general education requirements. What is the employment outlook for your graduates? The employment opportunities are very good for our grads. Typically, the affiliate site that has them for clinical experience then hires them on. We have had 100% placement of graduates that want to work every year. What are typical starting salaries for graduates? The grads typically start at an hourly wage of $15-20. What career opportunities have past graduates experienced? It seems the career opportunities are endless. There are former grads working as inventory specialists, as equipment reps, some have specialized in EP studies, and a few are doing locum or traveling jobs. Two of the former grads of our program have continued their education to become physician’s assistants. I would say they usually find their niche once they’ve been working for a few years. Is there currently a demand for graduates of accredited CVT programs and will there be demand in the future? It is my experience that there is a very high demand for graduates of CVT programs. I think that this demand will only grow as our procedures become more technologically advanced and cardiology departments experience the benefits that a well-educated CVT can bring to the cath lab team. How successful have graduates been at passing the RCIS exam? The graduates have been quite successful at passing the RCIS exam. Some have had to repeat the exam to pass it. I try to encourage them to take it as soon as possible after graduation. I have seen the highest first-time pass rate among students who take it right away after graduation. How has the CVT program evolved over the past 5 years? We are constantly making small changes to the program in response to student and affiliate site suggestions. We have changed clinicals so that the students spend more time at one site. I have found that to keep them at one site for most of their hours seems to be beneficial to both the student and the site. What advice can you give to students considering CVT School? I would say that the biggest predictor of success is dedication. It takes a lot of time and dedication to become a successful CVT. What do you consider unique about your program? Our program is unique in that we offer our students supervised clinical experience. I think that it is important to guide them through their first experiences. I think it makes their learning experience more consistent. I have had a wonderful experience teaching at Northland College. It, as with everything, has its ups and downs. I have made some wonderful friendships and have found the rewards of teaching to be countless. A question for students. Why did you choose to become a CVT? I wanted something new to challenge me. Knowing that the CVT field is growing and changing every day there’s no way I should ever get bored. Jen Verke, second-year student I chose the CVT program due to the challenge of the program and the diversity of the career. It is very progressive and always changing. Christie Becker, second-year student I was looking for a career change in life. Upon review of various medical career options, I chose cardiovascular technology due to the challenging and high technological aspects that the field displayed. Dean Fugleberg, second-year student. In my medical terminology class I found myself extremely interested in the cardiovascular system and decided to switch majors to become more focused. Kirsten Dionne, second-year student For more information, please contact the author at: