Three times a week, for eight hours a day, San Diego Mesa College student Misty Herrera works with patients providing blood-pressure checks, vaccinations, and electrocardiograms at a local clinic as she puts in the hours needed before she can become a registered medical assistant. But unlike thousands of other future medical assistants, Herrera is getting her training on prisoners at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD) in Otay Mesa through a groundbreaking partnership between the prison and the college.
“It’s definitely different but I love the opportunity,” Herrera said. “I’m learning a lot and I’m able to take the skills I learned in the classroom and put them to use here.”
The partnership established this semester by the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD) and RJD through California Correctional Health Care Services (CCHCS) enables 32 Mesa College students from the college’s Dental Assisting, Medical Assisting, and Health Education Information Technology (HEIT) programs to secure up to 300 hours of clinical training at the prison. The partnership will be expanded to include San Diego City College’s nursing program in the fall.
This is the first time the prison has collaborated with a community college district.
“This partnership advances our district’s mission, which is to educate, train, and prepare students with the skills and competencies they need to succeed in local industry growth sectors such as health care,” says Dr. Constance M. Carroll, SDCCD Chancellor. “SDCCD is the region’s largest provider of workforce training.”
Said Margie Fritch, Dean of Health Sciences/Public Service at San Diego Mesa College: “It’s a free resource for the prison, and our students are getting an incredible experience.”
The collaboration makes sense for Mesa College, given its focus on health care education and training. In 2008, the college opened a,$28.9 million Allied Health Education and Training Facility, which boasts state-of-the-art equipment and 50,000 square feet of training and classroom space for five allied health fields: Dental Assisting, Health Information Technology, Medical Assisting, Physical Therapist Assisting, and Radiologic Technology.
With an inmate population of approximately 3,300, RJD provides patient care for a variety of issues, including mental illness and development disability. “Our inmate population poses a variety of unique challenges,” says Mary Ann Glynn, California Correctional Health Care Services Chief Executive Officer at RJD. “As the inmates age, their health conditions become increasingly complex, and the need for a highly trained healthcare staff increases. Our partnership with the SDCCD will help address this need. The colleges provide the education and RJD provides the experience.”
Mesa College students undergo four weeks of intense lab training before going to Donovan. They also go through a lengthy orientation at the prison. “They are pretty well prepared when they come out here,” Fritch said. “They’re ready to work with patients.”
Dr. Pankaj Karan, a board certified internist who works at the prison, says he is impressed with the quality of training.
“This is so much different than a normal medical assistant program in a private practice,” Dr. Karan said. “If they can learn how to work here, which is so much more complicated than in the outside world, they can learn how to work anywhere.”
San Diego Mesa College students say they are not intimidated by their surroundings in a prison that includes killers such as Sen. Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan among its residents.
“I feel very secure here,” said medical assistant student Christina Escobedo. “I’m never here by myself – there is always a guard nearby. And the inmates have been very respectful. I have not gotten any inappropriate questions.”
Besides working in the prison’s four clinics, students also care for inmates at RJD’s Treatment and Triage Area (which serves as the facility’s emergency room), and Correctional Treatment Center, a 28-bed center for in-patient care.
“Our close affiliation with major health care institutions in the greater San Diego area offers our students required clinical training in all areas of specialization, and prepares our students for certification and or licensure immediately after graduation,” said Mesa College President Dr. Pamela T. Luster.
Background: As the second largest of California’s 72 community college districts, the San Diego Community College District serves approximately 130,000 students annually through three two-year colleges and seven Continuing Education campuses. The three colleges, San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, and San Diego Miramar College, offer associate degrees and certificates in occupational programs that prepare students for transfer to four-year colleges and entry-level jobs. Continuing Education’s Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) also hosts credit and noncredit classes leading to associate degrees and certificates.
The primary mission of the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (RJD) is to provide housing and supervision for inmates classified as minimum - high custody, encompassing a Minimum Support Facility; one (1) Level III, General Population facility, one (1) Level IV, Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY) facility, and two (2) Level III, SNY facilities. Designed as a training and work-oriented facility, the RJD provides vocational, academic, and industrial programs.
Photos: Medical Assisting Intern-4 Misty Herrera; Medical Assisting Intern-1c unidentified; Dental Assisting Intern-2a Stephanie Delletorri (center); Health Information Management Intern-3 Yeun Lee
Director, Communications and Public Relations
San Diego Community College District
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San Diego, CA 92108
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