As the first student officially enrolled in the EP Heart Cardiovascular Electrophysiology Program at McGovern Medical School, Seattle-native Sam Hryciuk may also be its greatest advocate.
The new 6-month workforce training program, which trains students in managing cardiac implantable devices like pacemakers, ICDs and CRT devices, appeals to Hryciuk on a personal level. While attending Glacier Peak High School at just 18 years old, Hryciuk suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while running at the school track. He had problems with his heart rate a few years prior while playing soccer, but with the help of medication it was nothing that stopped him from earning a spot on the men’s soccer team at Pacific Lutheran University.
However, Hryciuk said the celebratory run he went out for after learning he would be playing for PLU almost ended his life.
“Fortunately, there was a lacrosse team practicing at the time,” Hryciuk said. “I was wearing a phone on my arm sleeve so one of the coaches ran up and grabbed my phone and called 911 and my parents. The EMT’s were able to shock me twice and get me back into a sustainable rhythm.”
Hryciuk said he remembers little of what happened that day from the time he decided to run to the point he was in the hospital. After being in a medically induced coma for three days, he awoke on the fourth day and doctors told him he had a defibrillator installed in his chest.
During that time, Hryciuk’s brother was also about to complete a sports science program in Boston, and Hryciuk even spoke at his graduation. His brother also met the developer of a similar program, Tom Kenny, who was later recruited by Dr. Ramesh Hariharan, professor of Medicine and chief of the Cardiac Electrophysiology Section at UTHealth, to establish the electrophysiology program at McGovern Medical School. Kenny had previously served as director of training for the electrophysiology program at PrepMD in Massachusetts.
Aside from his personal story, Kenny says there are many reasons why the new program should appeal to prospective students. As someone who has years of experience developing and running a similar program, Kenny said there is a clear need for physicians with training in electrophysiology.
“There are about 4,000 people who do what we do,” Kenny said. “If you calculate that out with a 10 percent turnover rate per year, my guesstimate is that there’s around 400 open jobs per year. Even when I look at Indeed.com, without fail there are ten new positions open every day.”
The curriculum concentrates on both device therapy and electrophysiology and graduates can aim for a variety of positions such as a clinical specialist supporting cardiovascular implants and subsequent follow-ups with patients, a position in a device clinic or working as an EP tech in an EP lab. Curriculum topics include understanding cardiac anatomy and physiology, the fundamentals of cardiac rhythm management and EP studies among other topics. Students can also expect to gain more than 300 hours of clinical experience through affiliations with the Memorial Hermann hospital system.
“Students pretty much line themselves up for a career that can potentially start their earnings at around $75,000,” Kenny said.
Ideal students typically have a Bachelor’s Degree in studies like biomedical engineering, exercise physiology, or nursing but Kenny emphasizes that shouldn’t stop prospective students from exploring their options.
“At least 50 of the 250 or so people we trained at my previous program had no background in science,” Kenny said.
In fact, Hryciuk’s background is in communications. The breadth of challenges and opportunities to be a team player in a medical environment appealed to the young student, even though his background wasn’t necessarily tied to the medical industry, he says.
“Every day is different in this field,” Hryciuk said. “It’s exciting from a technical standpoint but then there’s also the communication side of it, where you’re following up with patients and determining what device works best. You can be part of a high-intensity surgical team but then another day you could be dealing with someone who has a device that has gone off inappropriately. There’s a diverse set of challenges.”