Jeff Davis, RRT, RCIS, is program director of the invasive cardiovascular technology program at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers, where he also previously served as the program director of the respiratory care program.
You’ve been teaching at Florida SouthWestern for over 30 years. What has kept you there so long?
I absolutely, positively love my job. Working with students keeps me busy, and it's a pleasure to watch the progression from the time our students come to us through completion of the program. They may or may not have any medical background when they start, but within a few years they're infused with the knowledge and skills to go out and work side by side with some of the best cardiologists in cath labs all over the United States. Seeing the impact that our program has on these individuals’ lives and how that translates to patient care is extremely fulfilling. When I began my career, I fully expected to spend it working in a hospital providing patient care. What I’ve found is that through teaching others how to provide high quality clinical work, I'm still having an impact on patients’ lives, but in a completely different way than I ever imagined.
How have your job and responsibilities changed over the time?
For one thing, the case mix of patients that we need to prepare students to work with when they begin their jobs has changed drastically, and the education has clearly changed along with that. When we started our program in the late 1980s, probably 70% or more of the cases were diagnostic and the remainder were “interventional cases,” which consisted primarily of balloon angioplasty. Fast-forward to today and many of those diagnostic cases are occurring in physician offices or even noninvasively. The entire field has transitioned to much more complex interventional cardiology with stenting, as well as vascular and structural heart interventions.
Another interesting change for me has been the way that I teach. I used to stand in front of a blackboard and use a slide carousel when I gave lectures. Now we can go online and watch live cases together and then discuss them. We also have a fully functioning simulation cath lab on our campus that looks identical to what you would find in any hospital except it’s not energized. It has the same endovascular simulators that physicians use when they train. All of these educational experiences help to provide students with the hands-on experience they need to feel comfortable and prepared when they enter their clinical rotations in real hospital-based cath labs. The way I update my own education also has changed. Large annual meetings give me the opportunity to network with colleagues, see new equipment, and watch amazing live cases. Those experiences reenergize me about this field that we work in, and when I get back I pass that on to our students.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed things for you and your students?
The program is structured to be very hands-on, so COVID-19 has posed huge challenges for us and the students. One thing I took for granted before all this happened was all the face-to-face interactions we typically have with students, with our faculty, and with clinical preceptors when meeting to discuss individual student progress. Fortunately, we already were doing a fair amount of hybrid teaching. We use an electronic learning platform where we post all of the course materials, have discussion boards, and archive audio files of the lectures. So, the classroom-based learning part was the easiest to transition when we were forced to close the campus. The challenge then became to figure out a way that we could continue with our lab classes. What we did was we mailed students disposable cath lab equipment so they could practice in their homes with and then without our supervision. This included catheters, wires, manifold systems, IV bags, indeflators, and angioplasty balloons. Students would attend their lab class on the same day and time as usual, but it was held via Zoom. We maintained our skills checklist by also using Zoom to assess how each student was progressing on their own with the equipment. They would have scheduled one-on-one calls to demonstrate their hands-on skills, and we would walk them through any questions or issues that arose.
If you had asked me before this pandemic occurred, I would have said there was no way we could conduct our teaching, especially lab skills, remotely. But, I’ve become a believer and I’ve never been more pleasantly surprised to be wrong. We’ve seen that our students not only are able to learn in this new environment, they are not severely hampered by it in terms of progressing toward their goal of starting their careers. Clinic rotations are a more difficult situation. Our second-year students had all become sufficiently proficient by the time they were unable to go into the hospitals because of the pandemic. For the others who had not yet begun clinical rotations, we put together a clinic class that involves case studies and research. Students are given a case description and asked questions such as: What equipment is the cardiologist going to need? How will equipment be prepped? What type of complications do you need to be prepared for? Over Zoom we can ask them to show us the specific skills that will be required of them during the case. Our hope is that these students will start their clinical rotations in the fall, and we know they will be well prepared. We are evaluating contingency plans If they are not allowed to work in a clinical setting by that time.
Beyond their education and skills, what else do you need to prepare students for when they reenter the post-COVID clinical world?
We know it’s going to be very different, that’s for certain. Our eyes and ears right now are on prominent cardiologists who are speaking about how they and their institutions are handling the reopening and the resumption of interventional procedures. Everything from how and when patients enter the hospital to how they are prepped and how many are in a holding area at one time, all of that is still a work in progress. There also will be new cleaning and sterilizing procedures that students will need to know about. All of these challenges are new for us as well as for them. We’re all learning new ways to function as safely as possible in the cath lab.
Are you optimistic for the future of interventional cardiology and this new way of doing things that your students will encounter?
Every year I tell the students that they are entering interventional cardiology at the best time ever. When I began my career, I thought it was the best time ever because it was all so new and exciting to see coronary arteries being opened and patients with heart disease returning to their lives without needing a major surgery. I’ve watched so many new things come along since that time that have far exceeded any of my expectations. I tell the students all the time that what we teach today we'll probably make fun of in about 5 years, and what we're going to be teaching in 5 or 10 years, we really don't have a clue about now. It’s impossible not to remain optimistic despite what we are living through with COVID-19. Years from now, when I’m retired, I hope I will hear from the students of today about all the amazing things they are doing. Nothing is more gratifying than to hear from past students who have made successful careers for themselves. It's invigorating to me and it's really been a blessing to have been able to work with so many amazing students, cardiologists, nurses, and technologists over the years.
What do you do when not working?
Well, we’re all living a bit differently now and working from home, and sometimes you feel like you can’t get away from it. I have a lovely wife and a 13-year-old son. Some days I don't know which is harder, teaching the college students or helping out with seventh grade remote work. It helps to know that plenty of other parents are going through the same thing, and hopefully we will all get back to our normal lives and jobs soon.