Southwest Virginia Community College, with support from regional healthcare and economic leaders, is launching a new diagnostic medical sonography program – the first of its kind in the region.
Leaders from the college, Ballad Health, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission and Clinch Valley Health came together on Monday, Sept. 26, to announce support, funding and details of the new program, which will prepare students for entry-level general ultrasound and sonography positions in area healthcare facilities. Students completing the program will earn a Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Associate of Applied Science degree and will be eligible to take the national certification exam administered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Unlike radiologic programs, which train students for technical roles in X-ray, MRI and CT, ultrasound sonographers do not work with radiation.
The new program is the only one of its kind west of Lynchburg, Virginia, to Knoxville, Tennessee. It represents a coordinated approach to retaining professionals in the region, enhancing higher education offerings and bolstering the healthcare workforce – and, by extension, improving local patient care.
To make the initiative a reality, and keep more potential sonographers in the region, the Virginia Tobacco Revitalization Commission initially awarded the Southwest Virginia Community College Educational Foundation a grant of $168,000, which was to be matched. Ballad Health and Clinch Valley Health each then contributed the final funds to operationalize and equip the program.
Ballad Health, which serves the region with its network of acute care hospitals, post-acute facilities and a robust network of physician practices and outpatient centers, contributed $307,000 – the largest one-time gift ever made to launch a program at the college. Ballad Health generously increased their contribution above and beyond the match to jump-start this needed program.
“Education and healthcare are both key to bolstering the vitality and viability of the Appalachian Highlands, and when we support one, the other benefits as well,” said Dr. Matthew Loos, Ballad Health’s chief academic officer. “Making this gift to Southwest Virginia Community College opens new opportunities for people in our region to pursue rewarding careers and better their lives, and in turn, they’ll be able to bring their new skillsets to help their neighbors and communities as healthcare workers. Plus, by building this program in Cedar Bluff and enabling prospective sonographers to stay closer to home, we’re creating a new economic boost to the area, which will only continue to grow as students complete their studies, seek jobs and build their lives here.
“This new ultrasound sonography program is, truly, emblematic of the stronger future that will be made possible when we join forces to help improve our communities.”
“We are excited and humbled by the supportive partnerships we have with the medical community and the Virginia Tobacco Commission. The donations we are receiving today are a win/win/win for our students, these organizations, and our community,” said Dr. Tommy Wright, President of Southwest Virginia Community College.
Clinch Valley Health in Richlands, Virginia, is contributing $100,000 and will also offer clinical opportunities for students.
“Clinch Valley is excited about being able to partner with the College, Ballad Health and the Virginia Tobacco Commission to bring quality education close to home,” said Peter Mulkey, CEO of Clinch Valley Health. “Identifying and training local students is a plus for recruitment and retention in the communities we serve each day.”
“This is a great day for Southwest Virginia, and the Tobacco Commission is honored to play a role in expanding educational opportunities for our students,” said Sara Williams, Tobacco Commission Southwest Regional Director. “Medical professionals, including sonographers, are in high demand in our region, and this program will help to meet that demand, improving the health of our community and overall quality of life. On behalf of the Commission, we wish you all the best as you get this program underway, and we can’t wait to join you at a graduation in the near future!”
Wages earned for entry-level sonography and ultrasound employees within a 50-mile radius of Southwest is about $51,000. The median salary for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers is around $65,000. Highly experienced workers can earn up to $88,000. (Source: Economic Modeling Specialists International)
“There are so many bright, compassionate people in our region, and we don’t want them to have to leave the area to seek higher education or find employment,” said Greta Morrison, administrator and chief nursing officer of Russell County Hospital in Lebanon, Virginia. “Launching a sonography program right here in Southwest Virginia not only opens a convenient educational pathway near people’s homes and families, but it expands clinical opportunities in our local hospitals – where we always welcome exceptional healthcare professionals to join our teams.”
The Diagnostic Medical Sonography (DMS) Associate of Applied Science degree program will be integrated with Tidewater Virginia Community College’s (Tidewater) existing DMS program. Tidewater will provide course instruction through a combination of web classes and interactive compressed video instruction.
“Through an innovative partnership with Tidewater Community College, we are providing a much-needed health technologies program for the citizens of Southwest Virginia. Students will be trained using current imaging
equipment and will complete clinical rotations in our region,” said Dr. Clint Pinion, Dean of Health Technologies at Southwest.
“We are grateful for the generous donations from our partners that will enable 12 students each year to begin their journeys toward becoming Diagnostic Medical Sonographers.”
Southwest Virginia Community College is an off-campus instructional site of the Tidewater DMS program, and it will provide on-site lab instruction and oversee local area clinical site education rotations.
The Tidewater DMS program is accredited by The Joint Review Committee on Education in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (JRC- DMS).
Students completing the program will graduate with an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Diagnostic Medical Sonography (67 credit-hour, 5-semester program). Students are required to earn the following nationally recognized credentials: American Heart Association CPR/AED. They can then sit for the national board exam through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Students must have hands-on experience before applying for the program such as EMT, Phlebotomy or Certified Nurse Aide (a fast-track program). These programs can be completed at Southwest.
For more information or to find out how to apply for the new program, please contact the admissions office at Southwest Virginia Community College at 276-964-2555.
About Southwest Virginia Community College: Established in 1967, Southwest Virginia Community College is a two-year institution of higher education serving primarily the residents of the counties of Buchanan, Dickenson (partial), Russell and Tazewell. Offering more than 80 programs of study, Southwest has served more than 109,000 students since opening. In addition to credit-based programs, Southwest offers fast-track training and industry recognized credentials. For more information, please visit http://www.sw.edu
About Ballad Health: Ballad Health is an integrated community health improvement organization serving 29 counties of the Appalachian Highlands in Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Northwest North Carolina and Southeast Kentucky. Our system of 21 hospitals, post-acute care and behavioral health services, and a large multi-specialty group physician practice works closely with an active independent medical community and community stakeholders to improve the health and well-being of close to one million people. By leading in the adoption of value-based payments, addressing health-related social needs, funding clinical and health systems research and committing to long-term investments in strong children and families in our region, Ballad Health is striving to become a national model for rural health and healthcare. Learn more at www.BalladHealth.org.
About Clinch Valley Health: For more than 80 years, Clinch Valley Health has been an integral part of the lives of people throughout southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. Our 175-bed acute care hospital offers a range of inpatient and outpatient services including medical and radiation oncology services, specialty care for the heart, lungs and vascular system, cardiac catheterization lab, 24-hour emergency services, physical rehabilitation, sleep studies, skilled nursing, pediatrics & obstetrics, an advanced wound care center, and advanced diagnostics. For more information, please visit ClinchValleyHealth.com.
About The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission: The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission is a 28-member body created by the 1999 General Assembly. Its mission is the promotion of economic growth and development in formerly tobacco-dependent communities, using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement. To date, the Commission has created tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Southern and Southwest Virginia.”