story by Taylor Wheeler | photos by Drew Chapman
The impact of Wallace Community College on the Wiregrass area healthcare field is vast—for over 64 years, Wallace has been providing healthcare professionals with the tools, training and degrees necessary to take care of our community’s health-related needs. Almost 13,500 nurses and healthcare professionals have passed through Wallace’s halls. With the new addition of the Health Science Building at Wallace’s Dothan campus, healthcare professionals going forward will now be able to receive their training in one exceptionally state-of-the-art building.
Since Wallace Community College first introduced their practical nursing program in 1952, each addition to their growing healthcare program was lodged in different buildings dotted all over the 46-acre campus. (Wallace has an additional 149 acres of farm land, giving room for future growth.) With those additions, “it became evident that Wallace Community College was destined to be the premiere healthcare educator in southeast Alabama,” says Dr. Linda Young, president—and eventually, it was time to bring those premiere programs together.
In the new Health Science Building, Wallace’s seven fully accredited programs (Associate Degree Nursing, Emergency Medical Services, Medical Assisting, Physical Therapist Assistant, Practical Nursing, Radiologic Technology, and Respiratory Therapist;) will now for the first time all be housed under one roof, allowing for new and exciting collaboration and resource sharing among the programs. (Wallace is also a cost-effective resource for its current nursing students and area nurses who are pursuing ADN to BSN mobility programs at four-year colleges and universities.) “The Health Science Building is unique to the area because it incorporates several healthcare programs into one building, creating synergy between programs that were previously taught in separate locations,” says Dr. Young.
Inside the 98,371 square foot, three-story, three-wing structure, the Health Science Building will house classroom space, study rooms, a 48-seat computer lab, skills labs, patient rooms, an ambulance simulator, a mock apartment, x-ray rooms, the Health Science Resource Center and the Health Science Simulation Center. The Health Science Simulation Center is an important part of the new facility and is the home of one of the largest collection of simulators in the state. “We have assembled the latest simulation technology to make sure that our students bring a sharp skillset to area employers,” says Dr. Young.
Thirteen different healthcare simulators, located in patient rooms, are equipped with digital recording systems that allow for storage, playback and transmission of various clinical scenarios controlled by instructors who observe the students’ progress from behind one-way mirrors. Simulator scenarios can mimic a myriad of physical conditions, letting students experience situations like cardiac emergencies, trauma events, respiratory crises, or even the birthing process.
The new medical facility is of great interest to local hospitals Southeast Alabama Medical Center and Flowers Hospital, as a large percentage of their employees receive their training at Wallace Community College. Wallace’s influence extends beyond just the two major hospitals in our area, as healthcare is the number one employer in Houston County, providing over 17,000 jobs locally. “Odds are, anytime you enter a regional healthcare facility, you are going to be taken care of by a Wallace Community College graduate somewhere along the way,” says Dr. Young. The reach of community colleges in the healthcare system goes nationwide—according to the American Association of Community Colleges, associate degree programs provide the majority of new registered nurses in the country. “The need for quality healthcare in this area will only grow,” says Dr. Young. “We have to have employees educated and trained to be able to meet that need.”
The new building itself is an exceptional complement to the recently established Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine, and together they go far towards increasing Dothan’s standing as a go-to location for those pursuing careers in the medical field. In fact, Wallace has partnered with ACOM and Troy University to allow Wallace, Troy and ACOM students to train side-by-side, learning how to build the communication skills needed for medical professionals to interact together in a real world environment. “Working as a team is so important, especially in healthcare,” says Dr. Young. This inter-professional training will “give students an advantage when they start working in multidisciplinary teams in hospitals or other healthcare facilities,” she adds. “Having them graduate with a sense of teamwork is an employable skill that is invaluable to potential employers.”
The new building will be an additional asset to the Wiregrass by providing a location for continuing education training for those already employed in the local healthcare field. Even local elementary students will be utilizing the facility—a grant from the Wiregrass Foundation will enable instructors to implement SimClinic, which preps students on what doctor and emergency room visits entail in order to make those experiences less stressful on children.
The $19.2 million facility is not only an investment Wallace Community College has made in the community, but also an investment made in Wallace’s health science students who make up approximately 40% of the total enrollment. Those students are excited to utilize the new building for the first time in the 2017 spring semester. Asia Glover is an Emergency Medical Services student and appreciates how the new building will fit in with her program. “Because all of the programs are together, it will help us get the feel of working with a hospital as an EMT,” says Asia. “It will be a real world experience.” Wallace instructors (as well as students) were extensively involved in the planning process and are happy with the final result. “We visited many progressive institutions in the Southeast to gather ideas to fit our local needs,” says Kathy Buntin, associate dean of Health Sciences. “What we have in this new building is the result of many months of careful planning to create a facility that will prepare the majority of our area’s healthcare workforce.”
The impact of a new building on the skyline of Wallace Community College’s Dothan campus extends beyond aesthetics—it will help shape the future of all health science students who will be educated in the Health Science Building’s impressive facility. It will also solidify Wallace’s status as a major facilitator of the Wiregrass’ ability to continue providing excellent healthcare services to thousands of residents. “The vision for this building began over 12 years ago, and I truly think that it will make a big impact on healthcare training in Southeast Alabama,” says Dr. Young. “Offering students the opportunity to become healthcare professionals with the very best in instruction, facilities, and equipment is our mission. Including them in the Wallace Community College alumni family will be our pleasure.”