This fall, MD Anderson Cancer Center is collaborating with the Houston Community College (HCC) Coleman College for Health Sciences to offer an education opportunity that until now didn’t exist in Texas — a certificate program for high school graduates seeking employment as endoscopy technicians.
The inaugural Charles Butt, H-E-B Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention, Research and Education Program is the brainchild of Gottumukkala Raju, M.D., professor of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at MD Anderson. It’s made possible in part by the endowed Dr. John R. Stroehlein Distinguished Professorship in Gastroenterology, which Raju holds; the H-E-B Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention, Research and Education Endowment, established by Charles Butt of San Antonio in 2016; and MD Anderson’s Boot Walk to End Cancer®.
The philanthropic funds helped to advance MD Anderson’s mission area of education by enabling Raju to engage two consultants, educator Sanji Suresh and medical illustrator Angela Diehl, in developing 18 credit hours of endoscopy-specific curriculum. The streamlined, visually rich content covers all the necessary cognitive and technical skills to ensure that students graduate fully trained and “ready to do their jobs,” Raju says.
Recognizing a need
A world-renowned gastroenterologist and endoscopist, Raju came up with the idea for the program in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. While working at a community hospital, he noticed a lack of formal training for early-career endoscopy technicians. With support from John Stroehlein, M.D., retired chair of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, he saw the opportunity to set best practices, establish a nationwide certification process and bring increased accountability to this critically needed allied health field.
“Back in 2008, after Hurricane Ike, I saw a lack of quality technical support and career development for endoscopy technicians,” Raju says. “Surgical technicians are required to complete a two-year training program before they may assist in the operating room. There were no such training options for endoscopy technicians, who learn on the job, and there’s been no pipeline for recruitment.”
In 2015, Raju approached Cesar Maldonado, Ph.D., chancellor of HCC System, with an idea to collaborate.
“He was kind enough to introduce me to Dr. Phillip Nicotera, president of HCC Coleman College,” Raju says. “Dr. Nicotera suggested we ask the endoscopy nurse managers if such a program was needed. They all said, ‘Make it happen.’”
An advisory board of endoscopists, nurse managers, technicians, HCC faculty members and industry partners set out to do just that, meeting monthly over the next few years to develop the program. Raju put aside his own clinical research to help develop a curriculum, obtain accreditation, arrange hands-on training in endoscopy centers at MD Anderson and other Texas Medical Center institutions — and cope with the challenges of a global pandemic, which set the launch back a year.
Meeting a growing demand
The one-year curriculum complies with the Texas Core Curriculum for public colleges and universities as established in the Texas Education Code and is approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. It comes at a time of peak demand for endoscopy technicians, Raju says, with the American Cancer Society currently recommending that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45.
As students complete the program, Raju says, this pipeline of trained endoscopy technicians will benefit MD Anderson, Texas Medical Center institutions, and institutions across Texas and beyond that recruit for these high-demand positions.
Raju says he’s put his “heart and soul” into the program, and he’s looking forward to watching the inaugural year unfold. A total of 14 students are enrolled for the fall semester.
“I’m grateful for the philanthropic support that has been key to this collaborative effort,” Raju says. “I strongly believe we should help the community colleges. There is no program like this in Texas, and I know of only one other such program in the United States. It’s been the work of so many to fill a great need and make a truly meaningful impact on society.”
Gottumukkala Raju, M.D., professor of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, holds the Dr. John R. Stroehlein Distinguished Professorship in Gastroenterology at MD Anderson Cancer Center and is a fellow of the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE), the American College of Gastroenterology and the American College of Physicians. Raju considers it his mission to share knowledge that improves health care standards and benefits patients.
Raju has reached millions of patients and health care professionals worldwide via more than 1,000 videos on his educational YouTube channel. He launched the online medical journal VideoGIE in collaboration with the ASGE and recently completed his tenure as editor-in-chief. In 2014, Raju received the ASGE Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to endoscopy, and in 2019 he received the ASGE President’s Award. In 2020, he was a finalist for the Julie and Ben Rogers Award for Excellence in Education.