By Janet Goetze
For the Hollywood Star News
Morgan Dunsworth had carefully arranged the sterilized surgical tools, and the sedated patient’s body was covered with a drape, designed with a hole revealing a swollen appendix.
The surgeon asked for a scalpel, then scissors, and Dunsworth selected the correct instrument for each request.
She is a student, but Dunsworth knew this “surgery” was to be completed in 75 minutes. A mistake could delay the operation and affect her grade. If it had been a live patient, instead of a surgical dummy, any error could have affected a life.
Dunsworth’s instructor, Alice Thorn, was at the side of the “patient” in the surgical technology laboratory at Concorde Career College, where Dunsworth, 22, will complete her 12-month training later this year.
She is one of 450 to 500 students at Concorde taking courses in six fields leading to careers in the expanding health care sector.
The career institute, 1425 N.E. Irving St., offers eight-month courses for medical office administration, dental assistant and medical assistant. The practical nursing course takes 10 months and respiratory therapy requires 17 months.
The largest program, medical assistant, may draw about 200 students for each training period, said Kim Ierien, the campus president. Nevertheless, each classroom size is capped at 24 students, she said, to maintain accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, which also accredits the surgical technology program. Respiratory therapy is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care.
Few of the students are fresh-faced high school graduates. Most are 26 to 32 years old, Ierien said, but many range into their 50s.
“Some went to college or didn’t finish or didn’t get a job,” she said. “Sometimes they’ve graduated with a degree in, for instance, history, but are looking for a career field.”
Dunsworth has an associate degree in general studies from Chemeketa Community College in Salem. She was working for a nutrition center and knew she was interested in a medical field. But she didn’t have a career path until a Concorde graduate told her about surgical technology.
Other students, like Carla Hargis, seek a career change. Hargis, 51, with a master’s degree in communication, spent 15 years helping television news reporters improve their on-air delivery techniques. However, she tired of the travel required.
A couple of years ago, she began teaching communication skills for offices and clinics at the for-profit Concorde campus in Portland, one of 16 around the country.
When her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 48, Hargis decided on a career change. A part of her, she realized, wanted to see if, with more training, she could have recognized symptoms of the condition that killed her husband. On the other hand, she said, she’s always been interested in dermatology and skin care
She enrolled in the course for medical assistants, who do the preparatory work before doctors see patients. They may take blood pressure and other vital signs, record information on patients’ charts, give vaccinations and draw blood.
“It’s really technically active,” Hargis said. “You’re walking all the time, doing something all the time. You’re not sitting at a desk.”
After classroom and laboratory instruction, she gained hands-on experience at Oregon Health & Science University. As a Concorde graduate, she works in a dermatology clinic, filling in for a medical assistant on maternity leave.
Another Concorde student, Valerie Ghelan, 26, has been a certified nurse assistant (CNA) for four years, working in private homes and nursing homes.
However, as a single mother, she wants the higher salary of a medical office administrator.
Ghelan, who came to the United States from Romania 13 years ago, has completed classroom studies and is doing her practicum in an eye clinic.
She speaks Romanian and Russian, but classroom English initially was difficult. A Concorde instructor, Susan Crosby, helped her.
“She knows how to teach the material so I understand it,” Ghelan said. “She helped me with reviews. She’s not just a teacher but like a mom to me.”
Concorde’s Office of Student Affairs helped her gain financial aid. Students also may get help with job searches, housing, transportation and other assistance to keep them in school, said Zane Wilson, director of student affairs.
Course costs at Concorde range from about $15,000 to $44,000, depending on the field. The costs include tuition, books, required immunizations, laboratories and uniforms.
“I love what I do,” said Ghelan. “I want to have a career and move on.”
What: Concorde Career College
Where: 1425 N.E. Irving St.; (503) 281-4181
Requirements: High school diploma or GED; tests in reading, math, comprehension