As demand for anesthesia services outside the operating room has increased for procedures ranging from interventional radiology to pediatric MRIs, so has the need for highly skilled anesthesia support staff. In concert with that need, Johns Hopkins offers the Anesthesia Technology Program to help those interested in the field reach their certification.
A collaboration with the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), the yearlong program prepares graduates to become nationally certified anesthesia technologists. This title replaces the anesthesia technician certification, which is no longer offered by the American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians (ASATT).
“The technologist level is the next generation of anesthesia support staff,” says anesthesiologist Michael Phelps, medical director of the program and assistant professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It requires a lot more knowledge and understanding to be able to better anticipate and predict what we’re going to need as anesthesia clinicians.”
The program, the first of its kind in the region, positions graduates to take the ASATT exam. It was designed by Kim Allen, program director and certified anesthesia technologist; Shannon Yorkman, a nurse anesthetist who teaches most of the program’s lab-based courses; and Phelps. The second class graduated earlier this year.
Admission to the program requires prerequisites similar to other allied health fields, such as chemistry, anatomy and physiology, and medical terminology. Upon completion, students earn an Associate of Applied Science degree in anesthesia technology from CCBC and a certificate of completion from the Johns Hopkins Department of Anesthesia and Critical Care Medicine.
In the program, students learn about anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology and principles of anesthesia technology. All graduates must complete advanced cardiac life support training as well. Phelps teaches four courses, including fundamentals of anesthesia, which includes understanding equipment and information about the field’s background and history, and pharmacology, which teaches about different anesthesia medications and their side effects as well as how to interpret lab results to anticipate patient needs.
“If you look at the patient monitors and can interpret the vital signs, it is easy to detect when something is going wrong,” Allen says. “Even without a definitive diagnosis, using the knowledge gained from the courses in anatomy and physiology, airway management, hemodynamic monitoring and equipment will help you to anticipate the needs of the provider.”
Phelps says as clinicians deal with an aging population with more complex health issues, they need more advanced support staff who can help them with a number of tasks. But there are not enough schools in the country to train all the anesthesia support staff employees, which means most clinicians are working with noncertified technicians with varying degrees of on-the-job training, Phelps says. ASATT estimates that there are 22,000 anesthesia support staff positions in the country, 17% of which are unfilled.
Allen, a former anesthesia technician, could only study for the test by meeting privately with anesthesia providers. She suggested the structured program as a way to better prepare people to become anesthesia support staff.
That foresight helped Erica Coley become a certified anesthesia technologist. Coley had just graduated from Towson University in May 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in biology when she enrolled in the Johns Hopkins/CCBC Anesthesia Technology Program. She was drawn to it because it offered an opportunity to learn in a hospital setting with hands-on patient care. She says working side by side with anesthesia providers allowed her to apply her coursework and better assist with cases.
“When we started the program, our instructors said ‘your main job is to be one step ahead of the doctor,’ and I thought, how am I going to be one step ahead of them? But you really just anticipate everything,” she says. “As I gained more experience in the operating room, I was able to anticipate the needs of the anesthesia providers in order to troubleshoot and help cases run smoothly.”
Coley now works as an anesthesia critical care technologist in the cardiac operating room on the fifth floor of the Sheikh Zayed Tower.
Phelps, who worked as an anesthesia technician at The Johns Hopkins Hospital 25 years ago, hopes the program will attract people from around the country interested in working as anesthesia technologists, and they will stay to work for Johns Hopkins upon graduating.