Sleep school offers career jump start
Paul explains to the doctor that he falls asleep fine, but then he’s wide awake three hours later. Sarah recounts frightening incidences of suddenly falling asleep behind the wheel, and Mark’s snoring has his wife sleeping in another room. These are just a few symptoms—of over eighty sleep issues—that wreak havoc with people’s daily lives. More and more people are turning to sleep medicine to solve their problems.
The fast-growing field of sleep medicine, however, needs more qualified professionals—and that’s where Georgetown Sleep Center comes in. The center opened the Georgetown School of Sleep Technology (GSST) in January of this year. In two weeks, students with no previous experience can jump-start their careers as sleep technologists through A–STEP, the Accredited Sleep Technologist Education Program developed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).
There’s no snoozing in this rigorous program. Students spend more than eighty-five hours on the first of two stages of A–STEP. Ryan Charriere, program coordinator for GSST, notes that the program wouldn’t be a success without Rachel Carrasco’s expertise as program director. It’s a very intense two weeks of lectures, hands-on labs, and long hours, led by doctors and technologists from Georgetown Sleep Center. The comprehensive yet detailed coursework covers topics such as sleep function and disorders, patient safety, and taking a sleep history—and that’s just on the first day! Studies continue with understanding brain functioning, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, sleep-related breathing, movement disorders like sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome, and much more.
Sleep technicians primarily prepare patients for tests and then run the sleep tests. In the sleep school, plastic heads become patients as students practice measuring and marking them to place electrodes properly. Class members also learn to connect electrodes to arms, legs, and chest, as well to strap belts onto the patient’s torso. Students run these hands-on lessons repeatedly to ensure accuracy and confidence. Next, students study how to interpret the multitude of brightly-colored lines scrolling across a large computer screen as a sleep test progresses. These jagged lines record changes in the patient’s brain activity, breathing, heart rhythms, and eye and body movements.
At the end of the two weeks, students must pass a final written examination and a final practical skills demonstration on patient hook-up.
Once they pass, they take an online final required by AASM and go on to phase two of A–STEP. Students seek employment as a Sleep Technician Trainee to fulfill the requirement of nine months of on-the-job training. They also complete twenty-three self-paced modules online. After this education, sleep technician trainees can sit for the AASM National Registry Exam. With a successful score, they become Registered Polysomnographic Technologists.
“It’s an exploding career field, and it’s a good career for people who want to be in medicine,” says Ryan. Job opportunities for sleep technologists are increasing nationwide, so don’t just dream about a career in a medical field—in under a year, you could make that dream a reality.
By Karen Pollard
Photos by Todd White