Students Learn Skills to Save Lives

El Vaquero Staff Writer

It is the second day of clinical training in what will be an intensive 16 weeks. The room is lined with 32 dialysis stations and medical equipment much like in the mock clinical training, except now there is much more at stake for these students. Today they are practicing on real patients, working with real blood, after spending four weeks in the classroom.

“It’s nerve-racking working with real patients because you were trained to do these procedures, but you were allowed to make mistakes, but here you can’t make those big mistakes,”said Alvin Uybun, a student at the clinic.

Uybun and his fellow students at the Glendale Adventist Medical Center Hemodialysis Clinic are in the Glendale Community College Hemodialysis Program and the patients being dialyzed, mostly elderly, are among the approximately 275,000 Americans who undergo dialysis treatments as a result of chronic kidney failure.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, chronic renal failure occurs when the kidneys lose their ability to filter and remove waste and extra fluid from the body.

As debilitating kidney diseases like end stage renal failure plague thousands of people the growing need for well trained and certified hemodialysis technicians is being met by the GCC Hemodialysis Program.

For 30 years the GCC program, which is now located on the Garfield campus, has supplied the community with registered nurses and patient care technicians who have the knowledge and skills to work in the profession. The 16-week course, which certifies students as Certified Hemodialysis Technicians, provides them with skills on operating dialysis equipment, initiating and concluding dialysis and monitoring patients.

Dr. John R. De Palma and a committee of health care specialists started the program, which served as an extension to GCC’s Allied Health Department, in 1975. The original courses were taught over several weeks and consisted of lectures given by De Palma and clinical work performed by students at various dialysis centers in the community.

The success of the pilot program led to the permanent incorporation of the program into GCC’s curriculum and it has since grown into a tuition-based program, which is open to the public and has helped place more than a thousand people in jobs that start at about $10 an hour. “The program started in the fall of 1975 and it was very successful, every student became employed in a dialysis clinic.” Joanne D.Pittard, director of the program, said with a due sense of pride as she pointed out former students, like Karen Mysliviec who graduated from the program in 1977 and has worked as a clinical instructor in the program for 17 years.

As a registered nurse and professor Pittard works with patients with chronic renal failure on a daily basis. “Once your kidneys stop working and you are diagnosed with end stage renal disease you have the option to go on hemodialysis,” says Pittard, who has been involved with the program since 1976. “You have the option to go on peritoneal dialysis, you have the option to request a kidney transplant, or you can opt not to do anything and you could die.”

The need for well-trained hemodialysis technicians is fostered by an increase in the number of people with life-threatening kidney diseases. “The field is expanding more and more people are going on dialysis so there’s more and more dialysis clinics opening, so the demand is still high,” said Pittard, a veteran nurse. “There’s a desperate need in the field for trained healthcare people.”

Recent studies conducted by the National Kidney Foundation have shown that “over the last five years, the number of new patients with kidney failure has averaged more than 90,000 annually and that 1 in 9 Americans have chronic kidney disease.”

Pittard is aware that the vocational training and education she provides her students through GCC’s Hemodialysis Program will not only better their lives by giving them employable skills, but will help satisfy this need.

The program, which celebrated three decades of education in October 2005, has experienced tremendous growth and success. The original class of 15 students has since grown to more than 1,200 graduates as interest in the program continues to grow.

The students, who pay nearly $5,000 to take the 16-week course, were motivated to join the program for a variety of personal reasons.

“What triggered me to take this course was my grandma, who was on dialysis,” Trisha Jane Sabad, a student in Pittard’s class said. “I went with her to her hemodialysis treatments and it made me want to help out and become involved.”

“I was motivated to join this program when I opened the Friday paper and on the front page of the Glendale News-Press was a picture of two hemodialysis students, and I wanted that to be me,” Alvin Uybun, a licensed vocational nurse and student in the Hemodialysis Program, said.

Despite the differences in what motivated them to join this program all of these students have one common goal, their desire to help others.

“In the health care field it’s helping people that inspires you,” Daniel Paz an enthusiastic student in the program added.

“I see people here that are happy to be alive. I want to be a part of their lives, their well-being,” Uybun added smiling. He like many of his fellow students view this highly rated program as a stepping stone for their future careers and lives.

The program is the “oldest and most well regarded college level PCT program in the United States,” according to hemodialysis program literature.

Yet, despite the success of the program, its outstanding reputation and the ever-increasing demand for well qualified hemodialysis technicians the program is being threatened once again by the budget woes that plague the college. The expense of running the program may play a role in the college’s decision to possibly eliminate it. “The college is still telling me we don’t make enough money so the college is actually thinking of closing the program,” Pittard said with concern.

While the GCC Hemodialysis Program may be falling on uncertain times there is one thing for certain and that is its influence on the community, the medical profession and those who have contributed to its growth.

“It’s a wonderful vocational education program,” Pittard said, with the passion and dedication of someone truly committed to her work and students.” “I’ve been teaching in this program since the fall of 1976 and I still love it.”