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Avera Donates Radiologic Tech to Mitchell Technical College

A public technical school in South Dakota will revamp its radiologic tech program with state-of-the-art equipment and an improved lab space thanks to a donation from a regional health system.

A radiologist sitting at a table holding up a large image of an x-ray and pointing to it with a pen.
(TNS) — There is a high need for graduates of all the health services programs at Mitchell Technical College, and a recent gift to the school from Avera Health is expected to keep one of the more popular programs at the school on the leading edge of learning and technology for years to come.

"Radiologic technologists help our patients in important ways," said Doug Ekeren, regional president and CEO of Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell and Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton. "It involves partnering with physicians and providers to get to the bottom of what's causing their pain or other symptoms through X-rays, CT or other imaging, or using imaging technology to screen and diagnose potentially serious conditions, like breast cancer or lung cancer, in their earliest stages.

Those budding technologists will have a chance to work with the latest in cutting edge technology as well as an improved lab space thanks to the donation from Avera, which was announced Wednesday morning at a press conference at the school Campus Center with officials from Avera Health and Mitchell Technical College, as well as students and faculty on hand for the announcement.

The gift will provide needed funding and match what Mitchell Technical College has budgeted for the expansion project. It will provide for a General Electric Definium Tempo fixed X-ray system in a state-of-the-art facility inside renovated space within the Campus Center building, which houses the current radiologic technology program.

Lisa Herrmann, director of the radiologic tech program at Mitchell Technical College, said that being able to expose students to the newest forms of equipment along with the equipment that has been in use at the school for years will give them an understanding of a broad range of equipment.

"Our current lab is approximately 18 years old, and we do use that lab on a daily basis, and we will continue to do so as we move forward. The value in having a piece of equipment that is 20 years newer is that there is a wide range in industry in our clinical settings as far as what equipment students will be working on," Herrmann said. "So while they're here on campus, we will be able to provide that experience with them, working with more basic or older equipment as well as the newest equipment that GE is manufacturing."

That older equipment is often found in smaller, rural hospitals, and being familiar with their operation can shorten the learning curve for students, while learning the ins and outs of the latest equipment prepares them for work in the largest, most modern facilities.

"We're fortunate that we get to work with a lot of state-of-the-art equipment, but we also have some older equipment. With an organization as big as we are, we kind of have a broad spectrum of equipment," said Sean Bortnem, a 2011 graduate of Mitchell Tech who currently serves as radiology manager at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls and also serves on the radiologic tech advisory board at Mitchell Tech. "The lab they have here is still very similar to labs that are being used in rural facilities all across the state. I can attest to that because that's what I worked on for the first eight years after graduating. It really helps the students prepare and gets them to the point where they can step in a little quicker."

The programs' four instructors will be able to simultaneously work with three groups of students in the updated department, which will now feature two traditional lab spaces with an improved mobile lab acting as a pass-through emergency department.

Herrmann said faculty will be able to oversee multiple simulations simultaneously, which will allow students to acclimate to the fast-paced nature of the field.

"It will be one unified area, which will allow three times as many students to practice at one time in order to better accommodate the lab hours each student is required to have prior to graduation," Herrmann said.

Peyton Fisher, a first-year student in the radiologic program at Mitchell Tech, said she has already been impressed by the program, but the improvements should only make the experience better, especially for first-year students coming in next year when the improved labs and new equipment will be ready for use.

"We'll be out in clinicals in May. We're on campus for 10 months and in May we go out to clinicals and then we come back for rechecks and competencies back here, so we'll get to use it a little bit, but it will be so nice for those first-year students to come in and use brand new equipment," Fisher, a Warner native, told the Mitchell Republic. "It's great, I'm excited for them."

Barb Wright, a clinical coordinator for the program, agreed.

"It will be very modern. Medical equipment is always changing in our industry. Thanks to this gift, our students will be prepared to work with state-of-the-art equipment at the moment they walk into their clinicals, meaning the health system will have to spend less time preparing them to give patients the best possible care," Wright said.

Neither the school nor Avera Health offered a dollar value on the gift, but Mark Wilson, president of Mitchell Technical College, said it was likely the school would not be moving forward with plans at this time without the support from the health system, though it would likely have explored other options to make the upgrade a reality.

The new equipment has been ordered and contractors are expected to begin work soon, with completion tentatively scheduled for July 2023.

"This has been in the works for a little over three years. We're just grateful that this has been able to come together in the fashion it has," Wilson said.

The radiologic tech program is a popular one at the school, with it being the first program to fill for the fall of 2022. It has also already filled open positions for the fall of 2023, and there is a waiting list for entry. The program has recently expanded from 15 students to 24, and a fourth instructor was added this year in anticipation of the program expansion.

With completion on the expansion project slated for mid-summer 2023, those future radiologic technologists should be able to utilize the latest and greatest lab space and equipment that Mitchell Technical College has to offer.

It's all possible thanks to the ongoing partnership between Avera Health and Mitchell Tech, said Carol Grode-Hanks, vice presidents for academics at the school.

"Avera has been a clinical partner and a strong supporter of our program since the very beginning," Grode-Hanks said. "They employ a lot of our graduates, and they have been a steady partner as we've seen our program grow and change. It is a pleasure to work alongside them as we take the leap into this next phase."

©2022 The Daily Republic (Mitchell, S.D.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.