The Nuclear Education Online (NEO) program at the UNM College of Pharmacy is working to expand its computer-based training to new fields of study and serve as a model for developing other medical training programs.

 

A $440,861 grant, awarded by the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) through the U.S. Department of Education, will allow the UNM College of Pharmacy and its NEO program partner, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), to train physicians, radiochemists, pharmacists and technologists across the country in nuclear cardiology and positron emission tomography, a procedure that shows detailed images of patients' internal organs.

 

Nuclear medicine professionals have identified the ongoing shortage of qualified staff as one of the biggest threats to their profession. "There are critical shortages of programs and educators to train the number of nuclear medicine health care professionals needed," said Jeffrey Norenberg, PharmD., associate professor and chairman of radiopharmaceutical sciences at the UNM College of Pharmacy.

 

This grant could impact more than 500 programs, serving several thousand students and health care professionals in need of specialized nuclear medicine training. Specialized training is required for health care professionals to handle the radioactive materials used in nuclear medicine procedures. Programs that will benefit from this project include cardiology and nuclear medicine residencies, pharmacy schools, health physics and employee training.

 

"Once NEO is set up for these disciplines, the model will be made available to programs in other disciplines via workshops, interactive conferencing methods and peer-reviewed publications," Nicki Hilliard, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy in the UAMS College of Pharmacy.

 

To achieve these goals, the NEO project staff will redesign specialized courses for other health care disciplines and market these courses to other specialized fields of study requiring nuclear education. The staff then will share knowledge of the model with other institutions.

 

"The project is unique in that it targets institutions that have not fully utilized distance education." Norenberg said. "It combines distance learning with problem-based learning and training at clinical sites. By doing this, it increases access to highly specialized training programs, minimizes institutional overlap and maximizes the use of technology, making it an extremely cost-effective method for delivering education."

 

NEO has just gone over $1M in total revenue, and 160 students have completed the program since the first student enrolled in June 2001.

 

More than 16 million nuclear medicine imaging and therapeutic procedures are performed annually in the U.S.  These procedures provide information about the functioning of nearly every major organ system. Of these procedures, 40 to 50 percent assess cardiac function and 35 to 40 percent aid in diagnosing cancers. As the population ages, patient demand for such procedures will increase.

 

The FIPSE grant is awarded to innovative projects that hold promise as models for the resolution of important issues and problems in postsecondary education. The grant will run three years, with $189,423 being awarded for the first year. The entire project will cost $767,000, with the FIPSE grant providing 57 percent of the funding and the remainder covered by non-federal sources.

 

Nuclear Education Online (www.nuclearonline.org) is an educational consortium between UAMS and the University of New Mexico. Each institution's faculty collaborated to design an online didactic curriculum and experiential training materials. Colleges are able to offer nuclear education courses to students as part of their elective course offerings and nuclear pharmacies throughout the world will be able to train new pharmacists without the expense and inconvenience of travel.
Contact: Angela Heisel, 272-3322