Hitting the Bull’s-eye: The Alabama School of Sleep Medicine and Technology offers sleep technicians an education that truly makes its mark.

d07a.JPG (13880 bytes)While the field of sleep medicine continues to expand and evolve, there are few educational opportunities for those respiratory therapists and other allied health care workers who want to enter the profession. Many therapists have one of two options open to them—either years of on-the-job training or taking courses that are too basic or too management heavy to allow them to advance clinically. It is this dilemma that the Alabama School of Sleep Medicine and Technology, in Birmingham, has sought to change since opening its doors in June 2004. “We train from the ground up, through and through,” says Len Shigley, RPSGT, school director/core instructor of the Alabama School of Sleep Medicine and Technology. “We offer both advanced and basic courses designed to fit most needs.”

The school offers seven different educational programs, including an 8-day polysomnography course, a 2-day scoring course, a 2-day record review course, and the BRPT review course. In addition, online classes will be available soon. Courses range in price from $2,950 for the 8-day polysomnography course to $425 for the BRPT course.

A 6-month course is also in the works, which will be targeted for local students, though it will also be marketed on the school’s Web site. “We feel this 6-month course is the logical first step to a longer and more disciplined educational environment for the polysomnographic technologist,” Shigley says.

The school, which is owned by MedSouth Inc, is sited in a 17-story office building located in Birmingham’s Riverchase Galleria, one of the largest shopping malls in the Southeast. The location was chosen because of its proximity to accommodations and local tourist sights. And there is time for students to enjoy these locations between classes.

The facilities include a large conference hall, four diagnostic beds, a control room area, and two additional educational stations. All the rooms have state-of-the-art equipment, according to Shigley.

Classes are small—usually no more than 12—which gives students and instructors a better chance for interaction. For the hands-on instruction, Shigley says, the school maintains a two-to-one student-teacher ratio. “It is a little less intimidating for the students who are less likely to ask questions in a larger venue,” he says.

Coursework is typically split evenly between didactic instruction and hands-on learning. The conference hall could seat up to 20, but, Shigley says, seating was purposely reduced so instructors could flow through the work space.

The Faculty
Currently, the Alabama School of Sleep Medicine has 15 part-time faculty—Shigley is the only full-time staff member—who were all chosen from a particular set of criteria. “These criteria included teaching experience, knowledge of the subject matter, and [their] credentials,” Shigley says. “Some of the instructors work as preceptors or hands-on instructors while others give didactic instruction only. With the rich teaching tradition Alabama has, finding quality instructors wasn’t a difficult task.”

Instructors include MDs, PhDs, and technologists. All of the MDs and PhDs are diplomates with the American Board of Sleep Medicine. They teach some of the more detailed didactic lectures, focusing on their particular practice area, which ranges from neurology to pulmonology to pediatrics.

The technologist-instructors all have RPSGT credentials. Many also have additional credentials that made them attractive as instructors. “An example of how we try to find the best instructors would be the fact that one of our [faculty] is a biomedical engineer who was part of a team designing a differential amplifier for the sleep market,” Shigley says.

The student body is as diverse as the faculty. Most of the current student body work in an allied health care field. The proposed 6-month course will be aimed at those with little medical training. Shigley adds that the school is also working on offering courses for physicians.

A Wealth of Information
Teaching does not stop at the end of the course. Alumni continue to have access to faculty and other learning resources through a free document server and alumni-only server on the school’s Web site. “The main Web site document server is mainly a central location to find common documents on sleep disorders, reimbursement, and technical issues,” Shigley says. “The [alumni] extranet document server includes samples of policies and procedures, sleep graphs, class handouts, and many other proprietary documents. The document server will allow our alumni to have access to the most current information on billing and reimbursement, sleep-disordered breathing, and sleep technology.”

The school is marketed to potential students in a variety of ways including print advertising, fax and direct mail, Web advertising, and word of mouth.

What makes the Alabama School of Sleep Medicine and Technology stand out is the amount and thoroughness of the information that is provided the students. “We believe in telling the students everything they need to know and more,” Shigley says. “We can tell them and show them how equipment works. We even have equipment-making workshops. Our didactic courses include some of the best and most research multimedia materials available, and we never stop updating them. We absolutely love to teach, and that shows in the depth and quality of our instruction.”

C.A. Wolski is a contributing writer for Sleep Review.