CCAC Radiation Therapy students enhance technical skills with state-of-the-art technology

Article by: CCAC Public Relations

College’s VERT system is one of only two in the state and one of 24 in the country.VERT system.jpg

PITTSBURGH-Students in the Radiation Therapy Technology Program at the Community College of Allegheny County are training on equipment just like that used at leading teaching hospitals around the world. Last fall, the college acquired a Virtual Environment in Radiotherapy Training (VERT) system that enables students to practice direct hands-on skills in a radiation-free virtual setting without risk to the patient. The virtual simulator replicates the controls of a linear accelerator, which delivers targeted doses of radiation to cancer patients, bringing the level of training typically used in clinical settings into the classroom. CCAC's Allegheny Campus is one of two institutions in the state that houses the technology, the other one being Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, which is the only other institution to offer a Radiation Therapy program in Pennsylvania.

While looking at a three-dimensional image on a screen, students can manipulate the handheld controls of a linear accelerator and send a simulated radiation beam through the body of a virtual patient, observing exactly where the beam goes. The students are also able to look at cross-sectional anatomy and see how critical structures fit together-something they can't do in the clinic-helping them learn how to properly identify target areas on CT scans.

Kelli Collette, associate professor and program director, believes the technology is giving CCAC students an edge because they go into the clinic with more confidence and enhanced technical abilities. Students begin using the advanced technology on the first day of classes.

"The VERT system is significant because when students go to clinic they're more prepared, and when they're more prepared they're more confident, and when they're more confident their performance is better," said Collette. "They get real hands-on learning, and they can make a mistake and not be worried that they're going to harm a patient. We're so excited to have this system and so thrilled for the support that CCAC has given to us."

The system, at a cost of $209,651, was purchased with funds from a Carl. D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant. The demand for skilled radiation therapists is growing, particularly with the construction of new medical facilities in the region, according to Collette. She is seeking to add new clinical sites in order to increase the number of students admitted to the program, which is offered in both associate of science degree and certificate options. Applications are accepted between January 1 and March 31 each year for the certificate program, and between January 1 and March 31 in odd years for the associate degree program.

For more information about CCAC's Radiation Therapy Technology Program, contact Collette at kcollette@ccac.edu or the Allied Health secretary, Sue Manno, at smanno@ccac.edu.

Photo: CCAC Radiation Therapy Technology student Tyler Wehrle demonstrates use of the VERT system at Allegheny Campus.

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