Chattahoochee Valley Community College is a small institution, part of a system of 24 colleges across the state of Alabama. Known as something of a jewel in the local community, the college is nestled in the woods in Phenix City, just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus, Georgia.
The college services a large area which includes a lot of rural communities, and students from Georgia enroll too. The demographic mix includes a lot of first-generation college students, mainly traditional students recently graduated from high school, but also non-traditional, with people wanting a career change after severance. The college also welcomes military service personnel and spouses from Fort Benning.
Shelly Holt is the Medical Assisting Program Director and also teaches the CNA program. She first came across SIMTICS Medical Assisting skill simulations at an ABHES conference in early 2016 and was excited to see a resource like this that is designed specifically for MA students, when many other products are targeted at nursing students.
Shelly explains that the challenge for MA students is that they don’t have a clinical preceptor with them, unlike student nurses. They are typically put straight in to a doctor’s office and expected to do whatever is asked of them.
“We have this mindset that nursing students have to be uber-super-prepared, but other types of students, like those studying Medical Assisting, need the ability to build that level of confidence too.”
From what she saw at the ABHES conference, Shelly knew that SIMTICS would be a valuable education resource for her students. “We were already doing a good job in our program, but I was convinced this would make it even better.”
When she presented it to her administration, her request was turned down, because of budget limitations. However, she was undeterred. As an interim step, she purchased a subscription and displayed SIMTICS modules on a big screen in her classroom so her students could see the videos, anatomy and simulations to support their learning.
“They really enjoyed it. They’d watch me controlling the mouse and come up to me, saying, ‘please let me do it’.”
When COVID came in the Spring of 2020, the faculty and students had to shift to a distance learning format with almost no notice – it was announced on a Thursday that the campus would be closed on Monday. It was a shock because the college was residential, campus-based, and did most of its instruction traditionally. Compounding the challenge further was that Shelly’s students were about to start the lab portion of their phlebotomy course.
The question was: how would the students graduate if they could not have the usual lab time?
Shelly knew the solution and seized the opportunity to propose SIMTICS to the college administration again. This time they were eager to do whatever they could to help the affected students get through the challenges posed by the pandemic, and federal funding became available.
“Adopting SIMTICS was crucial for those students,” she says. From her spring cohort of six students, four of them were immediately hired, despite the COVID situation.
And for the certification exam, she’s proud that 10 of 11 passed on their first attempt. “Many of the students specifically commented that SIMTICS helped them to achieve that result. I wasn’t expecting to hear that.”
In summer, the college approved on-campus labs with appropriate social distancing and other infection control measures in place. Despite the return to in-person labs, Shelly finds that SIMTICS is still very instrumental in her students’ success.
Where it had originally been adopted as a “replacement” when labs were not available, SIMTICS then became “preparation” for labs. Shelly says this is providing an unexpected benefit: “Rather than dreaming up scenarios in their heads and creating anxiety, the students can see in SIMTICS exactly what they’ll be doing when they get to the lab.”
Shelly has also noticed that her students are significantly more confident now that they have access to SIMTICS.
“In lab, some are quite nervous and unsure of themselves but they may not voice those feelings. Now they can go back to SIMTICS as many times as they want, which builds their confidence. And even after the lab is over, they still have access. My students absolutely love it. And although we have a calendar and a set syllabus, a lot of them learn ahead, because they want to.”
Another benefit Shelly has experienced is that SIMTICS has helped to cut down some of the teaching time.
“Our phlebotomy course is growing, and when you have 12 or 13 students with only one instructor, if they can’t practice first, it takes a lot more one-on-one time with the instructor. Often I had to stay back in lab longer or open the lab up again. SIMTICS has cut down on that. Students arrive with knowledge, because the simulations and other materials prepare them for what they’re going to be doing.”
Shelly can easily see that her students love SIMTICS, since it is evident in how they use the resource. “They don’t just do their study early, they really enjoy having something they can return to later. Especially when it’s time to go to preceptorship, they can go back to SIMTICS and refresh their skills.”
As a nurse by training, Shelly also appreciates that SIMTICS modules include the relevant anatomy and physiology as part of the whole experience of learning medical procedures. “It’s important that the students not only know how to do something, but the rationale behind it; what’s going on here. It helps them to connect the dots.”
We ended the interview by asking Shelly our normal closing question: What would you say to someone who is considering whether to adopt SIMTICS for their program?
Shelly laughed. “That’s easy! I’d say, ‘pull over a chair and I’ll show you how this can assist your students and enhance your life as an instructor.”
The SimTutor team would like to thank Shelly Holt for her time and assistance to tell her story here.
Check out Chattahoochee Valley Community College
Find out more about SIMTICS Medical Assisting
Read about the benefits of SIMTICS for educators and institutions