Eric Walker, who directs the Clemson-GHS program, offers guidance about the use of CVT technology.

Eric Walker, who directs the Clemson-GHS program, offers guidance about the use of CVT technology.

CLEMSON — Clemson University’s cardiovascular technology (CVT) leadership concentration – the innovative public health sciences degree program carried out in partnership with Greenville Health System (GHS) – has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs , the largest programmatic accreditor in the health sciences field.

The Clemson-GHS program is the only one in the nation to combine CVT training – which equips students to use imaging technology to help diagnose heart and vascular ailments – with a comprehensive baccalaureate education in public health sciences and health care leadership, said Eric Walker, who directs the Clemson-GHS program. Most CVT programs involve only technical training.

The accreditation signals it not only is a high-quality program but also an immediate impact on patient care and health care delivery, Walker said.

“The broad public health and leadership focus gives our students a keen understanding of disease process and health care management,” he said. “This positions them to contribute in substantial ways to cardiac and vascular health care teams.”

Because the program trains students and is accredited in both adult echocardiography and non-invasive vascular sonography, as opposed to most programs that focus on only one track, it produces graduates who are capable of bringing cost savings to their employers.

“As disease prevention and quality of care continue to drive the U.S. health care system, preparing dually credentialed sonographers offers employers cost-effective staffing solutions without compromising care,” Walker said.

The Clemson-GHS program also aims to positively impact health care workforce capacity, Walker said. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of diagnostic medical sonographers is expected to grow by 44 percent between 2010 and 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.

“This program will help fill this critical need,” he said.

After two years of traditional courses in public health sciences on the Clemson campus, students spend two years at GHS, working alongside sonographers, cardiologists and vascular surgeons. Upon graduation, students are prepared to sit for three American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers exams and enter the field as entry-level cardiovascular sonographers.

“This arrangement allows our students to experience the full continuum of care,” Walker said. “Our students follow cases from diagnosing the disease in the ultrasound lab to observing in the operating room or catheterization lab to following up with patients in outpatient clinics. This journey proves to be invaluable, as it helps them gain an appreciation of their role in disease detection, prevention and treatment. Other programs simply do not have this type of access.”

The Clemson-GHS program started in 2011, and graduated its first class in May. Seventy-five percent of charter class members found employment at GHS, and the other 25 percent went on to pursue additional classes with an eye on applying to graduate or medical school, Walker said.

“This shows the commitment Clemson and GHS have for workforce development,” he added. “This program is the blueprint for GHS in creating other workforce development initiatives.”

According to Dr. Chris Carsten, chief of the GHS Division of Vascular Surgery, the CVT program’s value is statewide.

“It provides South Carolina with a source of highly skilled, motivated young professionals who will become the leaders in this field moving forward,” he said. “Graduates are fully equipped to function in the rapidly changing health care environment that is today’s medical field.”

The CVT program is part of the health care research and education partnership between Clemson and GHS that was announced last summer. Under this agreement, Clemson is a key partner in education initiatives and the primary research collaborator for the GHS Clinical University. The GHS Clinical University is the system’s academic health center that functions as a shared medical university and includes Clemson, the University of South Carolina and Furman University.

“With this collaboration, we leverage existing research and education expertise at Clemson with the clinical opportunities offered by GHS,” said Windsor Sherrill, associate vice president for health research at Clemson and chief science officer at GHS. “This partnership enables us to address health care quality, access and costs in substantial ways that will transform care in the Upstate and beyond.”

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredits nearly 2,100 educational programs that prepare health professionals in 26 disciplines. Accreditation is one step in a process that is meant to ensure a supply of qualified health care professionals. The accreditation process includes a thorough review of a program’s curriculum, faculty and staff, as well as a site visit.