In this month’s sleep story, we dive into the life and career of a Polysomnography Director who is helping to usher in the next generation of sleep technologists: Amber Allen. Allen serves as the Polysomnography Program Director at Collin College in McKinney, Texas, where she’s providing a sustainable solution for the growing sleep tech worker shortage sweeping across the country.
In addition to her full-time job running the PSG Program at Collin College, Allen supports the sleep community in several ways. She currently serves as Secretary on the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT) Board of Directors, championing the role of the sleep technologist. And she speaks at state, national, and international sleep medicine conferences, sharing her expertise.
Also, Allen is on a federal advisory committee for healthcare cybersecurity, where her role, and the committee at large, has a focus on educating clinicians on the importance of safeguarding patient data. With that, let’s dive into our latest sleep story.
Creating the Collin College Sleep Education Program
Amber Allen is the Polysomnography (PSG) Program Director at Collin College, a program she helped launch in 2012. One of fifteen Associate Degree-level CAAHEP-accredited standalone PSG programs nationwide, the program has graduated close to 90 students to date.
In the past decade, the team has grown to eight members, including herself, a medical director, a full-time professor/clinical coordinator, and five adjunct faculty members.
The team educates students and trains them on four different PSG systems and multiple home sleep apnea testing (HSAT) devices. They also provide education on multiple sleep latency testing (MSLT), maintenance of wakefulness testing (MWT), actigraphy, the various modes of positive airway pressure (PAP), dental appliances, double studies (PSG + EEG), and clinical sleep education. For Allen, the goal of the program is simple: provide employers with techs that can immediately step into any role within the sleep center.
Sleep Technologists Serving in Physician Extender Roles
The Collin College team prides themselves on introducing sleep technologists to the workforce that are trained in all aspects of sleep medicine. The ability of Collin to consistently generate physician extender quality candidates has led to rave reviews from employers of program graduates:
“The feedback I get from employers that hire our graduates is the quality of the education the students receive is what sets us apart,” said Amber Allen.
Allen added: “We believe the sleep technologists we introduce to the sleep medicine community should be almost as knowledgeable in sleep medicine as the physicians they will be working with, so that they can be used in physician extender roles to better serve the sleep medicine practice.”
To prepare her students for the challenges they’ll face in the field, Allen and her team created a rigorous curriculum. Between classroom time discussing the anatomy and physiology behind sleep disorders, to in-lab time working with various specialty tests and treatments for sleep disorders, students are challenged throughout the program. Students can take one of two paths–a 12-month Certificate if they already possess a healthcare credential or have a minimum of two years of paid experience as a sleep technologist, or a 22-month Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree if they do not have a healthcare credential/sleep lab experience or want to further their education. The AAS degree prepares students for the CCSH exam in addition to the RPSGT exam.
Students who graduate will exit the program with knowledge on cardiac dysrhythmia interpretation, adult and pediatric PSGs, diagnostic and treatment criteria for sleep disorders, sleep scoring and staging for adults and pediatrics, and the impact of medication on sleep. In short, they’re ready to handle nearly anything a sleep technologist will see in the workforce, evidenced by alumni serving in various roles in five states, and growing.
Education to Combat the Sleep Technologist Shortage
Ask around any sleep conference this year, the growing technologist shortage stands out as a primary challenge for sleep labs. The Collin College program is well suited to address this need by providing a high quality, robust education for their students.
“Our graduates readily find jobs. We have graduated almost 90 students now, and those graduates are working not only as night techs but also in sleep center management, scoring, clinical sleep education, DME, neurodiagnostics, pediatric sleep, and education.”
Allen isn’t just talking the talk either. Several of the program’s current adjunct faculty and clinical preceptors are program alumni. One other way that Allen is making the rigorous program more inclusive is by offering techs with on-the-job experience a way to expedite their education.
Allen’s program provides a prior learning assessment program to gain “credit by exam.” In this process, techs can test out of certain courses, primarily the hands-on in-lab work they’ve already performed for years. By offering techs this option, techs without degrees are able to expand their knowledge base and earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree. After the success of the program, Allen’s team received requests to expand into continuing education, leading to their CCSH STAR Education Program.
The CCSH STAR Education Program
After Allen added the Clinical Sleep Education course to the Associate Degree curriculum in 2019, several graduates asked for a course to help prepare for the CCSH exam. Allen and her staff worked with the Continuing Education Department to offer a non-credit continuing education course that anyone could take, and in May of 2021, the CCSH STAR program was born.
“Our CCSH course is a very rigorous and detailed course,” said Allen. “The goal of the program is to provide a robust, in-depth knowledge of the proficiencies needed to effectively work in the clinical sleep health space.”
Allen noted that the course is fully online, and students can work at their own pace, as long as they complete all 14 modules within the 8 week period. Students must pass the final exam and have a passing average on the module quizzes to earn a certificate of completion worth 48 CSTEs and the opportunity to sit for Pathway 3 of the CCSH Exam. In just the third installment now, 10 people have completed the course, with growing interest among the student population. Kudos on the new program, Allen and team!
Sleep Hobbies: the BRPT and Cybersecurity
Allen serves on the BRPT, currently as the Board Secretary. In the past 5 years, she’s held the following positions: Chair of the CSTE, Education, and Nominating committees as well as a member of the Public Relations and Marketing and Finance committees. When asked about her favorite moments on the BRPT board, she referenced earning the BRPT President’s Shining Star Award in 2019 and her opportunity to speak at World Sleep in 2019.
A believer in continuing education and personal improvement, Allen graduated with a degree in cybersecurity in December 2021. She’s leveraging her new degree to help clinicians better understand how to protect patient data.
“Healthcare is a huge target for cyber crime because of the sensitive nature of the data, and there is still a large percentage of the healthcare workforce that have not received any sort of cybersecurity training,” said Allen. “As we see the use of technology continue to expand in sleep medicine, equipping clinicians with the tools to safeguard patient data becomes essential.”
Too true, Amber, and perhaps cybersecurity is a topic we can dive into in more detail down the road, perhaps in an educational webinar like: Top Sleep Medicine Trends of 2022.