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A Sheridan County native helped launch a master's program in cardiac function and technology

Professor Ken Turley
Dr. Ken Turley

Dr. Ken Turley is a 1982 Sheridan High School graduate who is a professor at Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Over the last 13 months, he’s helped to launch the country’s first master’s degree program in cardiac function and interventional technology. The program aims to equip graduates and those already in the field to develop technologies to treat patients with cardiac disease and improve their quality of life.

Turley has been at Harding for the past 25 years and has taught a variety of courses in the exercise science department. The master’s program will be offered for the first time in the fall semester.

“I jumped in on a Zoom call with our exercise science club, which I had never really done, but I knew the two girls that were going to be talking to our students and I kind of had an idea of what they were doing,” Turley said. “They were talking about how they went to this certificate program, and they did this training and they felt really well prepared from the training they received here at Harding. They just starting thing about, ‘I wonder if we could do that here instead of sending these great kids off, having them leave here.’”

Turley asked university administration to give him a sabbatical, which was granted. This gave him the opportunity to visit other universities that grant certificates for existing cardiac and technology-related studies. After taking some online training courses related to the subject and making some additional visits, he was able to make contact with Mark Sweesy in the field who has helped create Harding’s program.

Currently, a number of universities across the country offer certificate programs, which last approximately six months and don’t require prerequisite courses. Harding’s program will last for 10 months and will require that applicants have a few prerequisites met before being allowed into the program.

“What we have to offer here that certificate programs don’t is [that] we already have a physician’s assistant program, we have a nursing program, a pharmacy program, and we have a PT [physical therapy] program,” Turley said. “We’re trying to expand the depth of training with the resources that we have to draw from here at Harding.”

The demand for a workforce for cardiac functioning and interventional technology is only increasing. Turley said that because the demand outweighs the number of qualified workforce, students who obtain a certificate or who will graduate from Harding’s program are almost guaranteed a job in the field.

“Literally a study came out last year that [show] it’s a $53 billion market, and that’s huge,” he said. “I talked to a lady, she’s the global director of education for Biosense, [and] she hires between 150 to 200 [to work on] cardiac devices into her company. I talked to a similar lady with Medtronic, [and] they hire between 200 to 250.”

Turley said most students who graduate with certificates or future degrees go into cardiac device manufacturing, which includes pacemakers. But because Harding’s program and institutions offering certificates differ a bit, Turley said that he doesn’t view them as competition as they’re contributing to the workforce demands. He also stated that cardiac issues are one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with approximately 25 percent of deaths in the U.S. and approximately one third worldwide caused by cardiac-related issues. He hopes students will go out and have a global impact, helping improve and save patients’ lives.

“There’s just this huge need out there and so we just want to be part and help the industry fill those roles,” Turley said. “It’s unique at the academic side of this, but this is an industry-based program. We have industry on campus, they’re actually donating the programmers we’re going to use for the training because they want to know who these students are so that when it comes time to interview, so they can hire them right out.”

So far, about 25 students have applied for the master's program, which Turley found popular among those already working in the field. One of those turns out to be from Sheridan. He said many are seeking to obtain a graduate degree for career advancement and there is a sizable demand for an online program, though it wouldn’t be implemented for the first year. Several students have already been accepted, with about 15 being the first class size.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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