Techs Teaching Techs

MSNi creates a relaxed learning environment by focusing on the unique needs of sleep technicians.

 From left, Cindy Switzer; Aimee Linley; Laura Linley, RPSGT, RCP; Kerry Lindquist, RPSGT, RCP; and Mary Kay Hobby, RPSGT, RCP.

Sleep medicine’s growing popularity among clinicians and the general public has been a boom to the field, but its expansion has also been a mixed blessing with demand outstripping the ability of organizations to train qualified personnel. This is the gap that MSNi (Midwest Sleep and Neurodiagnostic Institute), Rockford, Ill, is trying to fill.

Founded in 1998 by Marabella Alhambra, MD, ABSM, ABCN, ABPN; Laura Linley, RCP, RPSGT (current president); Kerry Linquist, RPSGT; and Robert Pamenter, MS, RPSGT, the institute offers a variety of classes in its 3,000-square-foot learning center.

Classes—which include an introductory 5-day polysomnographic technologist training course—are designed primarily for those with a health background, but those without medical training are also welcome to attend. “If someone has a background in health, it makes it easier; however, we are finding that people are looking at sleep medicine as a career change,” Linley says. “[They] have actually hooked up with a lab that will orient them; they just are coming to get the basics and they’ll go back and get on-the-job training.”

The classes are small, with 15 to 30 students. MSNi’s three full-time instructors emphasize hands-on instruction with class work reinforced by practical partial-night sleep studies in the school’s state-of-the-art sleep laboratory. Unlike other schools that mix sleep physicians and technologists, MSNi keeps these two groups, with their very different clinical needs and roles, separate. “We’re able to focus on those unique needs of the tech and not intermix the advanced physicians,” Linley says. “We’re techs training techs, and our students immediately relax and are not intimidated by the learning environment.” Future plans include offering courses specifically for physicians and nurses.

Students have to take the courses on-site at the for-profit MSNi’s Rockford headquarters. Tuition rates are dependent on the course. The 5-day introductory course costs $1,925, the 2-day scoring course $630. In addition to offering courses to clinicians, MSNi offers a business essentials course to laboratory managers and physicians as well.

Acknowledging the fact that not every student has the kind of background that makes for an easy transition to employment in a sleep laboratory, MSNi recently developed a 6-month internship program. “We have a lot of concern over properly training [people] for this new career,” Linley says. “They will have classroom didactic work as well as working clinically in a local lab.” The Association of Polysomnographic Technologists (APT) is currently developing standards to accredit programs such as MSNi. The internship is currently offered only in the Chicago area, giving MSNi oversight of the interns.

MSNi’s role is not just as an educational institution. It offers consulting and support services to sleep laboratories as well. “We can help [clients] not only with education, but setting up their labs according to accreditation standards. We can help them with scoring. We can help them with their [quality assurance] and be their compliance officers,” Linley says. “Most of our physician work is consultative [and not educational].”

Based on the company’s success—it has seen a 40% growth rate every year since 1998—there is little doubt that it is serving a need. MSNi had 500 students attend its courses last year. About 60% of those students were direct referrals from previous students.

The balance of MSNi’s students come from more traditional marketing avenues including advertising and attendance at trade shows. The company works hard to keep itself visible and be a leader in the field. Linley, for instance, is a director at large for the APT. MSNi is set to increase its reach by offering courses at a satellite location in Phoenix, which will serve the West Coast. A satellite location in Orlando, Fla, is also planned.

Reflecting the constant evolution of sleep medicine, MSNi is currently designing a core pediatric sleep curriculum. Bottom line, MSNi is designed to support all of the people who make up the sleep medicine team, Linley says. “MSNi was developed to support sleep medicine as a whole. We’re available to assist the managers, the physicians, and the techs,” she says.

C.A. Wolski is associate editor of Sleep Review.