Carolinas College of Health Sciences, part of Atrium Health, developed a program that prepares students for careers in neurodiagnostic technology. Learn firsthand how the online instruction and clinical training gave a recent graduate the hands-on experience she needed to play a more active and successful role in patient care.

News | one year ago

Neurodiagnostic Technology Program Sets Graduate Up for Success with Hands-On Clinical Training

Are you interested in how the brain works? Carolinas College of Health Sciences, part of Atrium Health, developed a program that prepares students for careers in neurodiagnostic technology. Learn firsthand how the online instruction and clinical training gave a recent graduate the hands-on experience she needed to play a more active and successful role in patient care.

If you’ve heard the saying, “Practice is the best teacher,” then you know the value of hands-on training. This philosophy applies to healthcare, especially when monitoring brain activity within the field of neurodiagnostic technology (NDT). 

To help students get the education and training they need for careers in NDT, Carolinas College of Health Sciences, part of Atrium Health, developed a program that combines online work and in-person clinical experience. It teaches students how to treat brain diseases by learning to record activity in the nervous systems, preparing graduates for clinical roles in electroencephalography.

A neurodiagnostic technologist performs an electroencephalogram (EEG) test to record a patient’s brainwaves, assessing brain function. This test is most often used to monitor seizure activity in patients with epilepsy or other brain disorders. Patients experiencing seizures as a secondary symptom of a stroke or heart attack may also require monitoring.

“For at least a decade, there has been a critical need for neurodiagnostic technologists in healthcare, especially at Atrium Health,” revealed Ashley Hastings, program chair of Neurodiagnostic Technology at Carolinas College. “This program gives our students a unique vantage point. Not only do they get hands-on clinical training within the first semester, but they also get an insider view of what goes on in the hospital. This diverse training prepares our neurodiagnostic technologists to support patient care more immediately and efficiently than other programs.”

Graduates of the Neurodiagnostic Technology program are given first consideration when applying for neurodiagnostic technologist positions at Atrium Health. “After graduating, our students can enter the hospital environment with confidence, knowing the core values of Atrium Health and how these values relate to their job,” Hastings explained. “Plus, they already know what hospital leaders will expect from them in their professional role, which helps ease the transition.”

The Neurodiagnostic Technology program at Carolinas College is 1 of 3 programs of its kind available in North Carolina. The program started in January 2020, with 9 students graduating from the first class. One of these graduates, Ahna Caldwell, shared her experience in the program and how it helped her progress in her healthcare career.

Where were you working when you started the Neurodiagnostic Technology program?

I worked as a healthcare tech/certified nursing assistant (CNA) on the pediatric progressive floor at Atrium Health Levine Children's Hospital for about 2 years.

As a teammate at Atrium Health, it was beneficial to have access to tuition reimbursement, employee assistance and loan forgiveness through the program.

What about the field of NDT especially interested you?

Working with the brain is so fascinating. It can leave so many unanswered questions, so there’s always something interesting to learn.

When a patient is having seizures, an EEG is the only test that can 100% diagnose the problem. Someone with an altered mental status (from intubation or sedation) can’t tell you what’s wrong. An EEG is the only test that can provide answers, which is especially important for patients who can’t advocate for their own care.

How did you benefit from the combination of online instruction and in-person clinicals?

I really liked the online classes because they allowed me to complete the coursework for the week on my own time and at my own pace. They also gave me the flexibility to continue to work throughout the program. When we attended class at the college, we could practice measuring, marking and hooking up fellow students to run mock patient studies.

The clinical experience gave me a chance to put what I was learning into practice early on in the program. It was great to be able to practice the diagnostic procedures at the hospital with an instructor guiding me and answering my questions as I became more independent with patient care. Since the Neurodiagnostics Department at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center donated some equipment that was being replaced, we had the opportunity to learn how to use it before going to the hospital, which helped us to feel even more prepared for clinicals.

Thanks to the clinical training, it felt like I hit the ground running when I started working as a neurodiagnostic technologist. Plus, there was such a need for my skill set at the hospital. To be able to know what I was doing and only have to ask minimal questions on the job was really helpful.

What were your instructors like?

They were amazing and encouraging throughout the program. They were very responsive to any questions I had. It felt like they were my personal cheerleaders, working to keep me motivated until I finished the program. They were also very understanding and supportive of my work schedule.

What were your fellow students like?

Working and going to school during the pandemic was stressful. So it was nice to make friends with my classmates and form a strong bond. We were able to see each other regularly and encourage each other.

Since completing the program, I get to work with 3 of my classmates. We still talk about work, life and everything else. And I still reach out to my other fellow students I don’t get to see in person. I could not have picked better people to be in my cohort.

What were the most important skills you learned in the program?

Besides learning how to hook up an EEG, we learned how to interact with patients and build a rapport with them in a short period of time. With an EEG, you never know how long you’ll be with a patient. So it’s a real skill to build a rapport if you’re only with them for about 40 minutes for an outpatient EEG.

During a patient study, you have to work hard to make the patient and family comfortable with what you’re doing. Our training helped me learn how to get activations during a patient study and talk the patient through the process. We were trained to answer patient questions to the best of our ability.

In my previous position, I was used to working with kids and their parents. For electroencephalographic work, I had to learn a wider range of age-appropriate mannerisms so that I could work with adult patients who were under stress from seizures.

Where are you working now?

Once I completed the program, it was a very smooth transition from a care partner position to an electroencephalographic technologist with the Neurodiagnostics Department at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center.

What’s the best part of your job?

While I enjoyed working as a CNA, I like playing a more active role in patient care as a neurodiagnostic technologist. I love seeing a wide range of patients and helping put together a different puzzle every time I enter a patient room. There are a lot of different situations I can encounter when hooking up an EEG. So I have to figure out how to deal with each challenge to help further diagnose or move along the care of the patient. I really enjoy working with doctors and nurses to help develop the patient’s treatment plan.

Neurodiagnostic techs are the eyes and ears of the physicians. When running a study, it’s my job to notify a doctor if something looks abnormal. As a frontline detector, my work helps provide more immediate help for patients who continue seizing.

What are your future goals?

My next step is to sit for my registration exam. Once I get registered, my job title will change to registered electroencephalographic technologist.

In the future, I would like to earn my bachelor’s degree in biology or neurodiagnostics and sleep science. At some point in the future, I would like to become a physician assistant and work in neurology and/or pediatrics.

Learn more

Visit the Neurodiagnostic Technology program page to learn more about tuition/fees, application requirements and deadlines.