EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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April 29, 2008

Colleges ramp up medical training programs to meet growing demand

The patient stares blankly at the ceiling, his chest rising and falling in rapid succession.

"Doc, I feel like I could die," he says. "I'm feeling very dizzy."

The voice sounds real and the breathing looks right.

But Sim-Man, as teachers and students call the patient, is in no danger of dying and, in fact, is something of a hypochondriac.

Sim-Man is a simulated man who can be programmed to mimic just about any symptoms imaginable.

"He's great to practice on," said Kristina Farris, 27, a paramedic student from Methuen.

Paramedic, nursing and respiratory therapist students at Northern Essex Community College have been practicing on the manikin and several others like him over the last year as the college's Lawrence campus has expanded its family of manikins due to growing interest in the medical professions.

The growing interest in health careers is one of the factors driving the community college's plan to expand from its single location at 45 Franklin St. to a second location a block and a half away at the site of the old Intown Mall on Essex Street.

Other local colleges are also seeing growing interest in the medical field, from sports medicine at Merrimack College to laboratory services at University of Massachusetts Lowell.

The field is so popular at Northern Essex that some qualified students have to be turned away, said Jackie Long-Goding, dean of health professions at the college.

Currently, about 500 students are enrolled in health professions classes at the Lawrence campus, with about 350 students a year graduating with associate's degrees or certificates.

Once the school's new $22 million facility is built sometime in the next three years, more health professions classes will be offered, enabling more students to enroll and graduate after two years with a good shot at high-paying jobs, Long-Goding said.

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