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Sanford launches sonography program to meet demands of new Fargo hospital

FARGO, N.D. - Sanford Health is launching a sonography program in February to meet the growing demand for ultrasound specialists. The first class of the 18-month program will finish just in time for the opening of Sanford's new hospital, a $494 m...

FARGO, N.D. – Sanford Health is launching a sonography program in February to meet the growing demand for ultrasound specialists.

The first class of the 18-month program will finish just in time for the opening of Sanford’s new hospital, a $494 million facility going up south of Interstate 94 and east of Veterans Boulevard.

“That’s probably one of the biggest reasons that this came to light,” said Chris Walski, manager of general and vascular ultrasound at Sanford in Fargo. “That need alone was going to be soon approaching.”

Walski and her sister Jessica Brendsel, manager of Sanford’s echocardiography lab, spearheaded the new program’s creation, which they said was imperative as sonography is incorporated into more areas of medicine, such as orthopedics and neurology.

“We are growing as a modality so quickly, and we just don’t have the educational opportunities around in this region,” said Brendsel, 35, who has counted just seven other programs in North Dakota’s four neighboring states, the closest of which is in St. Cloud, Minn. There are no other sonography programs in North Dakota.

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Sanford’s program will offer two concentrations: general/vascular, which is Walski’s area, and cardiac, which is Brendsel’s area.

General/vascular includes monitoring pregnancy, while cardiac focuses on the heart. If a patient comes in with chest pains, a cardiac sonographer checks to see whether a portion of the heart is damaged, Brendsel said.

Jobs in both concentrations are projected to grow about 40 percent by 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations, according to Sanford.

But the Sanford program is starting small, with just six students: four in general/vascular and two in cardiac. Applications are due Jan. 8, and classes start Feb. 29.

The program will integrate classroom and clinical learning, all taught by current employees.

“So what they learn about in the morning, they could be scanning in the afternoon,” with real patients, said Walski, 38.

Walski said the only new hire was a general/vascular program director.

The program is not affiliated with a college, which is a first for Sanford, Brendsel said.

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For the past year, staff worked long hours to develop the curriculum, which will likely undergo regular updates.

“It’s like smartphones,” Walski said of sonography. “The second we get (a new technology), it bumps up to the next version.”

Take 3-D imaging, which was “this out-there thing” when Brendsel started 10 years ago. Today, it’s standard practice.

“That’s the exciting thing about our profession,” Brendsel said. “We’re not going to be static.”

Related Topics: SANFORD HEALTHHEALTH
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