When Stewart “Sarge” Morrison lost his oldest son to pulmonary complications from leukemia, he was inspired to pursue a career in respiratory therapy. His goal – honor his son’s memory while positively impacting a population with whom he strongly empathized.
“I plan to combine the skills I learn at Collin College with the compassion and insight I have gained through my son’s loss in order to provide top-notch care to my patients,” Morrison said. “It is this hope that is my motivation to finish school. I am a single father of two more children, and I work full time in addition to going to school. Reminding myself that this is a chance for me to make a difference is what keeps me going.”
It’s no secret. Health care faces an impending crisis. An aging baby boomer population will soon produce a significant shortage of health care professionals, both locally and nationally. In an effort to meet community needs, Collin College will begin construction in April of a new, 125,000-square-foot health sciences building at its Central Park Campus on Highway 380 in northern McKinney.
Stewart Morrison, also known as ‘Sarge’
Slated to open in 2015, the new facility will be the college’s first building exclusively for the health sciences. It will house courses and labs for in-demand careers like nursing, respiratory care, surgical technology and polysomnographic technology (sleep medicine technology). In addition, the building will have a large lecture hall, hospital labs, classrooms, faculty offices and specialized facilities like a new simulation lab.
The college will also construct a 24,000-square-foot conference center building at Central Park Campus with meeting space to accommodate approximately 1,000 people theatre-style.
According to Collin College District President Dr. Cary A. Israel, “We are out of room for our award-winning health science programs. With this new building, we will have a world-class facility for our world-class students, so we can exceed the expectations of our community as well as the hospitals and health care providers we serve. Our vision is to be the Mayo Clinic or M.D. Anderson for health care education and training.”
Although Morrison’s story is unique, he shares a passion for health care with many other Collin County residents. However, until recently, space limitations caused admission for local education in these specialties to be extremely competitive, so the expansion is welcome news to prospective students. Morrison for one is eager to see the new facilities take shape.
He was drawn to respiratory therapy and health care as a whole because of the handson nature allowing him to care for future patients both medically and personally.
“You are right there, shoulder-to-shoulder with nurses, doctors and other health care experts, working with patients daily,” Morrison said.
Similar to Morrison, Jill Ellis chose health care, and nursing specifically, because of the high level of patient interaction. Ellis completed a master’s degree in accounting before realizing her true passion laid outside the lines of a balance sheet and in serving patients through nursing.
“We get to have direct contact with patients and their families and truly change their lives,” Ellis said.
Ellis and her classmates will be among the first graduates to experience Collin College’s new health sciences building. From the student perspective, facilities play a huge role in health care education.
The new building’s cutting-edge simulation lab will help students prepare for the hands-on element of their careers. In this “SimLab,” students can practice clinical procedures on an expansive collection of advanced human patient simulators ranging from the adult male and female patients to “SimBaby.” These life-like, computerized patients are technology marvels that allow professors to program a disorder into the simulator so the students have to implement their skills to diagnose it. The professors can increase the simulator’s blood pressure, make the eyes blink or program the simulator to give birth. SimBaby can even turn blue to simulate choking.
The SimLab will also include a secondfloor observation deck where additional students and faculty can observe and study the procedures in the lab.
Ellis said she believes simulation is one of the most important and powerful aspects of her training.
“Simulated patients reflect real-world situations and allow us to think critically and learn from our mistakes in an educational and nurturing environment, rather than in the real world after graduation,” Ellis said. “The confidence that the nursing students gain during simulation is vital and can never be taught in a traditional lecture situation.”
Abe Johnson, Collin College dean of health sciences, said tomorrow’s health care worker will need specialized and multiple skills. Hospitalized patients are going to be much sicker, and a significant portion of care will take a preventive medicine approach, outside the hospital or pre-hospital.
“In addition to traditional roles, nurses and allied health professionals will have new roles to fill as physician extenders and pointof- care providers,” Johnson said. He explained that the new facility will also bring various health science programs together to participate in more interprofessional collaborative learning opportunities, in addition to their individual methods and practices of teaching.
Dr. Colleen Smith, who is Collin College’s senior vice president of academic affairs and student development, concurred. “This new building will be remarkable in part because the design encourages collaboration among the health sciences,” she said.
According to Smith, the scope of practice for different health care professionals will be changing, and facilities such as the new Collin College simulation lab and hospital labs will provide state-of-the-art interdisciplinary opportunities for students. Patient care systems in hospitals can be very integrated, so working well with professionals from outside one’s particular field is a key success factor.
Morrison said, “When we encounter them first-hand in the hospital environment we will be able to anticipate, reinforce and complement the team effort to a much higher degree.”
This type of setup will also give students a chance to understand the skills and expertise of other disciplines.
“It is just like real life,” Ellis said. “If we learn together, then we will work well together.”
The National League of Nursing (NLN) named Collin College’s nursing program the first and only Center of Excellence in Nursing Education in the state of Texas and one of less than 20 in the entire country. Last summer, Collin College’s respiratory care program earned the Distinguished Registered Respiratory Therapist Credentialing Success Award from the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care, one of only 37 programs among the country’s 420 that achieved this distinction.
In the end, the new Collin College facilities will expand the community’s health care workforce, but for many, like Morrison, it goes a step further.
“There was a time during my son’s illness when all I could do was be there for him,” Morrison said. “I could not make him feel better. I have experienced many losses in my life – friends, relatives, even a significant other – but nothing compares to the grief of losing a child.”
As he has traveled deeper into his respiratory therapy education, Morrison said he has stumbled upon epiphany after epiphany.
“Now I can actually do something,” Morrison said. “I am no longer relegated to just watching and praying. I can take an active part in trying to save a life, and in doing so, hopefully I can spare another parent the grief that I went through.”