At this year’s commencement, students from a new bachelor’s program will be the first in the nation to graduate as trained intraoperative neuromonitoring clinicians. This field concerns recording bioelectrical activity of the spinal cord, nerves and brain structures during surgery.

The IONM program, within the movement science major in the School of Kinesiology, trains students to work as clinicians in the operating room as they monitor patients’ nervous system functions. It is the only undergraduate program in the country that offers this type of training.

Joshua Mergos, adjunct clinical assistant professor of movement science, is the educational coordinator and primary faculty member teaching program classes. He said students learn to prevent injury that occurs during surgical procedures and alert surgeons to neurological changes during the surgery.

“The science we apply in the operating room has been around for a while but our field has not had a formal education track developed for it,” Mergos said.

Previously, hospitals had to train students with a background in the life sciences to perform these specific operations. They often invested in a clinician who was likely to transfer jobs in two or three years.

Now, these graduating students are encountering promising career opportunities, Mergos said. Students who are trained in the field are in high demand; neuromonitorist salaries average between $60,000 and $70,000 annually. The training can also lead to medical school or hospital management.

Kinesiology senior Ryan Winn, graduating from the IONM program next month, is interviewing for jobs at the Beaumont Hospital’s Royal Oak campus and the University Hospital, among other hospitals.

“Everyone is really impressed and interested to learn more about the program,” Winn said. “(University of) Michigan Hospital offers all kinds of surgeries that you don’t often get to see.”

The main types of surgeries IONM specialists are involved in are orthopedic spinal surgery and neurosurgery. These seek to aid patients with scoliosis, brain tumor resections, spinal tumors, peripheral nerve tumors and other diseases.

In Fall 2013, the program piloted with a class of four students. Two of these students are graduating in May; one student switched fields and another is staying to take additional classes.

There are 17 students in the second class participating in the program, which capped at 18.

“We are limited by how many students we can allow into the program based on how many clinical sites are available for those students,” Mergos said.

Though there was no formal application process previously for the program, there will be an application process beginning in Fall 2015, Mergos said.

“We want to give everyone the opportunity that is interested and has the ability to do the program well,” Mergos said.

Winn heard about the program from a Kinesiology career fair and shadowing a clinician in the operating room.

“I cannot get enough of being in the operating room, it is just so awesome to experience,” Winn said.

Mergos said she hopes to expand clinical sites, incorporate international opportunities and expand research opportunities for students.

“My hope is that there are more directed study opportunities for undergraduate students to be involved with the research that is pushing our field forward.”

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