Boy Howdy There’s More

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This morning I met with one of the advising specialists for Health Sciences at Austin Community College, and learned that while I did a ton of research into the field of cardiovascular sonography, I didn’t do that much into the degree program.

I went into my meeting knowing that I had to take the TSI assessment test, I needed to go to an Area of Study informational meeting, and I needed to register for classes before school starts in the fall. I walked out a little bit tharn (that’s the term used for “frozen in terror,” for those that didn’t read Watership Down).

Before I get into that, let me reassure you that I am even more dedicated to this degree program after my meeting. It went very well and my advising specialist was extremely nice and welcoming. I learned an awful lot and found out how to learn even more when I got home. So I did.

There’s a three-page long document called Sonography Programs Advising Checklist that I was linked to. The first step in this process is to print out the checklist. Okay, done, no problem. Next, I need to complete sonography student lab volunteer sessions for diagnostic medical sonography, diagnostic cardiovascular sonography, and vascular technology. Each session is an hour long and consists of roleplaying the “patient” for students to practice their ultrasound techniques. For additional points on my Applicant Ranking Worksheet, the criteria that determines who gets admitted, I can sit for up to four sessions per specialty, so a total of 12 hours in the lab. This is understandable, it’s designed to let prospective students know what they’re getting themselves into firsthand, and also shows a little bit of how the students learn. Next, I need to explore the ACC Sonography website, being careful to read everything. I’ve just spent the last several hours doing just that, and printing several documents out for easy future reference. I also need to complete the mandatory online information session and verification post tests, and print out the form that shows that I’ve done that. This, too, has been completed. After that’s done, I need to schedule a Sonography Program Advising Session, and take several completed forms with me, including my immunization form. (Because of the false starts in this process prior to settling on sonography, I’ve already got most of this done and will complete it early next month.) And then comes the requirements to apply.

First off, I have to have applied to the school, something I did months ago. I have my student ID number, student email, the only thing I’m missing in that department is a physical student ID card and a parking permit. My immunizations need to be complete. I need to have completed College Algebra, Anatomy & Physiology I (more on that in a minute), Anatomy & Physiology II, and Applied Physics as prerequisite courses, and I need to have earned a minimum 2.7 GPA on them, although to be competitive for a spot in the program that needs to be 3.5 or higher. I need to have completed a Certified Nurse Aide program (more on that in a minute too). And I need to take the Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS), a test used in nursing and allied health programs to determine an applicant’s proficiency in reading, math, science, and English and language usage. Somewhere in there I need to get my basic first aid and CPR certification and prove it’s current as of the date I apply to the program.

Finally, there’s the matter of earning additional points on my Applicant Ranking Worksheet, which I can do by taking the co-requisite courses (the non-sonography courses that are part of the degree program – English Composition I, Interpersonal Communication, Introduction to Psychology, Ethics, and Essentials of Medical Terminology) and working as either a volunteer or paid person in direct patient care for at least 80 hours. If I were an EMT-Basic, LVN, RN, radiology technician, or paramedic I could get even more additional points on my worksheet. Naturally, the higher the score, the better your chances of getting in.

Back to Anatomy & Physiology I for a minute. There have been so many students that have taken and failed this course since it was instituted that they now give an assessment test that you need to score a 70% or higher on in order to place into A&P I. There is a list of test objectives, so you’ll have an idea what to expect on this test. That list is six pages long. I can either study for it on my own, or I can take Biology Fundamentals, a course that exists only to be preparation for this exam. Because it’s not part of this or any other degree program, it’s almost certainly going to have to come out of my pocket and not be covered by my agreement with Texas Workforce Commission.

The Certified Nurse Aide is a certificate program that lasts 5-10 weeks and covers two classes. Neither of these are credit toward my degree plan, and because of that this is likely also going to have to be paid for by me. But at least I’ll have a fallback career plan if things don’t go well with sonography.

There are other requirements as well, like a long list of psychomotor skills and abilities that an applicant needs to be able to do for prolonged periods of time. I might not be able to do them all now, but I can work on it while I’m in school. Besides, I have a feeling that once I’m in school, I’m going to start dropping weight.

The program has four clinical sessions throughout, and the locations are assigned by the school and cannot under any circumstance be requested by a student – you go where you’re told. The trick is, the service area for these locations can be anywhere from Waco to San Antonio, and for those not familiar with Texas geography, that’s as much as a three hour round trip, five days a week for a semester.

I’m going to need to find some way of getting a second car. There’s no way that we can manage that kind of commuting for both of us with only one vehicle. It’s not going to have to be nice, although that would be lovely. It needs to run reliably and not dump me on the side of the road somewhere. That’s going to be something that’s going to come in time, however, plenty of time to figure out our options.

So that’s what I have to do to get into school. It’s a boring list, and I knew it would be more extensive than “take these prerequisites and you’re in” but I didn’t quite expect this much. Fortunately I’ve gotten some of these things done already or will be taking care of them fairly soon. It’s no matter, though. It’ll get done. Not sure how tonight, but it’ll happen.

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Picking Up Speed

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So there have been several updates to my school saga this morning.

First and foremost, I discovered that the Individual Plan for Employment amendment that Texas Workforce Commission and I did regarding the switch to cardiovascular sonography was approved – and in fact was approved before I ever got a copy of the plan in my hands! Everything’s a go with TWC!

The second point is going to take some explaining. Texas Workforce Commission requires that a client returning to school through TWC assistance take at least 12 credit hours per semester. I have four prerequisite classes: college algebra, anatomy & physiology I, A&P II (which requires A&P I), and introduction to physics (which requires college algebra). That’s four classes split into two semesters, and neither one of those will have anywhere near 12 credit hours. So it’s been a bit of a concern as to whether TWC would pay for those classes. (There’s a semester in the program that has only 11 credit hours, so this is a situation that will be occurring three times during my education.) I found out today that all I need to do is explain my situation and they can write a justification that will give me an exception to that rule. So even the semesters with a light course load will be covered.

Third, I have an appointment on Saturday, August 26 to attend my Area of Study information session which is basically an orientation to the department. Attendance in that session is required before I will be allowed to register for classes. Problem is, fall classes start on the 28th, and it will be impossible to get books through TWC’s channels in time. So I have another appointment with one of my academic advisers on Thursday to hopefully expedite the process somewhat. Hopefully that will give me enough time to register for the classes I need and get my books and supplies before the semester begins.

So that leaves the meeting with my adviser, my AoS information session, actual registration for classes, and acquisition of student ID, parking permit, and books to do before the end of the month. At one point I would have told you that it would be impossible to get all this done in time. Now, I’m not so sure about that. It seems possible, although it’s going to be a tight squeeze.

This is really happening. I’m excited and nervous all at once.


Now that I have definite confirmation of this being a real live thing, I’m adding a new category that will deal with my going to college – Think For Yourself. As with all my categories, its name comes from the title of a Beatles song. If you’re interested in this aspect of my life, and want to read everything that deals with it, you can search this category.

Needing Advice

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To briefly catch everyone up: I am on disability for mental illnesses, have been for three years now. I am improving somewhat, and so to help prepare for my eventual return to work I have gone to the Texas Workforce Commission for vocational rehabilitation services. I started this process back in September of last year. TWC has a 90 day window with which they can create an action plan for a client. My action plan is centered around me returning to school to get educated in a new field. I met with my counselor a few times and was in touch with him through phone calls and emails for a handful more, and throughout the process things seemed to be in flux. My initial direction, an associate’s degree in architectural drafting, was dismissed early on because of the lack of job opportunities and the fact that the program I was planning on taking would not educate me enough to hold positions in the field. After that, I started looking at a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. I have radio experience and thought this would be an interesting way to go. However, when I presented this it was dismissed by TWC as being too broad in scope. This happened on day 83 of my 90 day plan, so at that final meeting I was more or less given the option of medical billing and coding or nothing, and so I signed my name to an action plan revolving around getting a certificate in that field.

Subsequent research on my part revealed that there was an associate’s degree in health information technology available at Austin Community College – where I was planning to go for medical billing and coding – and that it could transfer over to a bachelor’s degree program at Texas State University. So I called my counselor to set something up, and was informed that my counselor was no longer employed by TWC, and that I had an interim counselor handling my case until someone could be permanently assigned to it. I called the new counselor and presented my situation to her, that I was in the action plan because it was the only option I was given at the end of the window, and that many things that I learned from my former counselor were eventually corrected very late in the process, so I wasn’t really given much of an opportunity to think anything over. In light of that, she said that she would be willing to take another look at my action plan.

When I went in to meet her, I showed her the award plans for both the certificate program in medical billing and coding and the associate’s degree in health information technology. I explained that I wanted to do a job that required the higher education. She went to consult with another counselor there and eventually asked me to join the two of them in the other counselor’s office. They told me that they would be willing to look at changing my plan, and because of the way that my former counselor wrote it up, it would be an easy administrative switch and nothing more, but they explained that it would be an uphill battle finding work in the field. They presented another option to me: sonography. I told them I wasn’t prepared to make a decision that day, partially because I wasn’t about to be railroaded into yet another field that I had had no time to research on my own and partially because I was going to head home from that meeting, grab my luggage, and hop on a flight to Phoenix for my father-in-law’s funeral, and they gave me two weeks to think things over.

During that most recent meeting, I was told that regardless of whether it’s a certificate program or an associate’s degree, TWC would only pay out $173 per semester. I filed that away for a time when I could discuss it in depth with my counselor, and so today I sent her an email stating that if the assistance was truly only $173 per semester, there’s no way I could afford even the certificate program. She wrote back and told me that this was the case, so I asked her what my options were. She told me that she wanted me to wait until I had heard back on my FAFSA application before making a decision to opt out of school, and then she forwarded me another series of emails that she’d had with TWC’s ACC liaison, wherein the liaison said that the assistance was either $3,000 maximum for a certificate program, or $173 per credit hour, plus books. I wrote back telling her that $173 per credit hour was a lot more reasonable and that I’d do my research into sonography and get back to her at our follow up meeting later this month.

So here’s where I’m at with this decision.

Pros for health information technology: the action plan already lists health information technology as the direction that I’m going; the associate’s degree easily transfers to a bachelor’s degree program.

Cons for health information technology: jobs are scarce; there’s almost no opportunity to sit down; while employers can’t discriminate by law, the vast majority of people in the field are older women with 30 years experience.

Pros for sonography: the pay is significantly better than health information technology; the job outlook is phenomenal; I have had a passing curiosity on how sonography works for some time; the field was recommended by a senior counselor based on his knowledge of the job market.

Cons for sonography: while it’s not as bad as health information technology, I would still be on my feet a good deal; changing the action plan to sonography requires a rewrite and separate approval, which may not come despite a senior counselor saying that if there’s any problems in the approval process to send the decision makers his way; shift work may have me working nights and/or weekends.

Given this list of pros and cons, I’m leaning in the direction of sonography, but want to get your take on it. If you have an opinion, please let me know either here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. My follow up meeting is on the 27th, so I’ve got about a week to mull this over.

Let me know if there’s something that I’ve missed. I look forward to hearing from you.