Students Complete Lab and Clinical Hours

A stethoscope with two doctors in the background.
Rebecca A. Eckland

Students in TMCC’s Allied Health and Career Technical Education (CTE) programs faced considerable barriers to completing their programs of study due to the switch to remote learning caused by the COVID pandemic. It was particularly challenging due to the requirement that students complete a certain number of hands-on hours for program completion. 

For students in TMCC’s Radiologic Technology, Automotive and Diesel programs, however, there are no barriers to great to keep them from pursuing their bright futures. Lucas Walters, who just completed his certificate in the Diesel Program, said his joy of fixing things is what made him decide to pursue this hands-on profession. “I enjoy fixing things and solving problems,” said Walters.  “My plan is to become the best diesel mechanic I can be. I want to specialize in engine, transmissions, electrical diagnostics, as well as troubleshooting.” 

To achieve those dreams, Walters, like many students in these programs, had to find solutions to the required number of hands-on hours required for program completion. This week, students returned to TMCC’s automotive and diesel labs at the William N. Pennington Applied Technologies Center to do exactly that. 

“This is such a great program… my teachers were really good about setting up the class so that we could still [complete the course requirements.] The faculty at TMCC are awesome,” he said.

TMCC’s Radiologic Technologist program was similarly impacted. “When all of our clinical sites for Radiologic Technology in the Reno/Sparks area closed to students due to COVID-19, Carson-Tahoe Hospital stepped up and opened clinical in the last two weeks of the semester for our program,” said Interim Program Director Kimberly Harn. “This enabled us to get all our remaining students rotating at Carson-Tahoe Hospital and get their competencies done.” 

Tyler Ellingson was one of the Radiologic Technology students able to complete the program thanks to the clinical hours offered at Carson-Tahoe Hospital. “This semester definitely had its challenges.  There was a lot of uncertainty… [and] we really didn't know if we were going to be able to finish our clinicals before we graduated. I'm very grateful that Carson Tahoe Hospital was able to have us come back to finish what we needed for the program,” he said. 

Learning Lessons 

Months ago, if you were asked what a radiologic technologist and an auto mechanic have in common, you might not have been able to answer that question. However, learning to live under shelter-in-place orders has offered all of us a glimpse of the world from a different perspective, especially for those who study or work in disciplines and professions that are “hands-on.”  Learning how to use medical imaging equipment is a skill that requires practice, just as the troubleshooting process on an engine requires, well, an engine in a lab environment so the student can see, touch and experience all the nuanced details of each highly specialized skill set. 

Two months into the shelter in place orders, Carson Tahoe Hospital offered students in TMCC’s Radiologic Technology program an opportunity to complete their clinical hours in their facility. The experience, said Ellingson, was remarkable. “Interacting with the patients and the radiologic technologists [at Carson-Tahoe Hospital] was a highlight of the program. The techs were very helpful in teaching us their equipment and their procedures. During the program, we as students rely on the techs to teach us the hands-on aspects of the profession. The interactions with the patients are always a highlight in this career. Patients add a unique personal connection to the job. We strive to help the patient as best as [we] can,” he said. 

Ellingson appreciated the opportunity to complete his clinical hours in a hospital environment, which is where he plans to start his career. “I enjoyed working in hospitals because they present their own unique challenges. Each facility I attended was unique and offered an important opportunity to learn new aspects of the profession. The Reno/Sparks and Carson City area offers a diverse group of specialized facilities to work for like: outpatient sites, imaging centers, hospitals, orthopedic clinics, spine centers and urgent cares. As my career progresses, I hope to get experience in as many areas as possible. The more diverse you are in imaging, the better you can refine your skills as a technologist,” he said.  

Although Ellingson and others learned several valuable lessons, he admits one that he will carry with him is the importance of teamwork. “Teamwork helps ensure the safety of the patient and the technologists. When you are performing an x-ray on a COVID-19 or potential COVID-19 patient, you need to work closely with another tech. There are specialized procedures and protective equipment that need to be followed and used for each exam. One person performs the exam while the other manages sanitation procedures. After the exam is over, you work together to clean the machines and the reusable PPEs so they're ready for the next patient.”  

The Radiologic Technology Program, which is known as one of TMCC’s more rigorous programs, prepared the students for not only their clinical hours, but the challenges they will face in their careers, including COVID-19. “During my time back at the hospital I was definitely concerned with COVID-19, but I was never afraid of it. I felt that Carson-Tahoe Hospital was well equipped in handling the situation. The protocols implemented are essential in reducing the chances of contracting the virus. I'm confident that other hospitals in the area are also prepared and equipped in the handling of Covid-19,” said Ellingson, who remarked on the incredible effort required of all medical professionals, including receptionists, custodial staff and Certified Nursing Assistants. “They are all a part of the healthcare facility, and they don’t get thanked enough,” he said. 
Although students this year faced unique challenges, Ellingson is grateful for his experience at TMCC, and for the training that will enable him to pursue a career as a radiologic technologist.   
“This program is intensive and demanding. I want to thank all of the technologists, professors and clinical instructors for all they have done to make our graduation possible. Congratulations to the class of 2020. Take a second to congratulate yourself, this wasn't easy. Now to quote one of my instructors, Dara: ‘Now go to work.’” 

Crossing the Finish Line

This past week, students in TMCC’s Automotive and Diesel programs also returned to TMCC’s William N. Pennington Applied Technology Center to complete the hands-on training required for their certification programs. 

“The students are so happy to be able to finish their incomplete class...the hands-on class is what they signed up for,” said Instructor Sam Byington, who facilitated the students’ final lab hours. “They expressed they needed the hands-on type of learning because that's the way they can understand the complex field of automotive repair. This was a very difficult circumstance to work around. The students seemed to appreciate the extra effort we have shown to continue their education.”

Walters was grateful for the support of the instructors in the Diesel Program, even through this unprecedented time. “If you have no direction in life and you would like to start something that could change your life forever, you should check this program out,” he said. “At TMCC, everyone is eager to help you succeed.” 

For more information about TMCC’s Radiologic Technology Program, contact the department at 775-850-4003. 

For more information about opportunities in CTE, reach out to TMCC’s Division of Applied Technologies at 775-856-5300.