Sleep apnea technicians, also known as polysomnographic technologists (PSTs), use electronic equipment and observation skills to monitor patients undergoing sleep studies. Programs in this field are not typically offered fully online. Students looking for completely online degrees in a similar field may be interested in medical assistant associate's level programs.
Distance-education certificate and associate's degree programs in polysomnographic technology, also referred to as sleep diagnostics technology, can prepare students for entry-level PST positions wherein they ready patients for sleep studies and record information about patients' sleep patterns. Their findings are vital to physicians making diagnoses of sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, insomnia, snoring and restless legs syndrome.
Students interested in this type of work can find distance learning one-year certificate and two-year associate's degree programs in polysomnographic technology at community colleges. Applying to these programs requires CPR certification, a background check and drug screening. These programs are offered as hybrid options, which means students must complete some lab-work on campus. Due to the nature of the field, hands-on clinical experience is also a standard requirement.
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Most online certificate and associate's degree programs in polysomnographic technology require applicants to hold current CPR certification; some seek high school graduates who already are working in the allied health field or who have completed some college-level coursework in math and science. In general, students also need to undergo a background check and/or drug screening before beginning clinical experiences.
Distance learners in an online PST certificate program usually earn 31-44 credits and take just a small selection of general education classes whereas associate's degree programs require several more; this is the main reason why the latter takes that extra year to complete. As for the polysomnographic technology coursework, students take introductory courses like medical terminology and polysomnography technology basics in addition to studying the following:
- Anatomy and physiology
- Clinical sleep disorders
- Sleep-monitoring equipment
- Reporting and managing data
- Sleep disorders specific to infants, children and women
Online & On-Site Learning
Distance learning students usually receive and turn in assignments within a virtual classroom environment. Communication with professors and fellow students can take place via discussion boards, chat rooms and e-mail. In addition to online coursework, polysomnographic technology candidates generally are required to attend on-campus lab classes.
In some programs, these classes meet on weekends or during the summer. Students also might need to visit campus to complete practical and written exams, in which case they need to find an approved hospital or sleep-disorder facility at which to complete their clinical training.
Prospective students might want to choose an online polysomnographic technology certificate or associate's degree program that's accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP). Completion of a CAAHEP-accredited program is one of four paths to certification as a Registered Polysomnographic Technologist (RPSGT) through the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (www.brpt.org). While this certification is voluntary, some states have established or are developing licensure programs for PSTs, most of which require graduation from a CAAHEP-accredited program and/or RPSGT certification.
Sleep apnea technicians perform a particularly hands-on occupation, so fully online programs in the field are not typically available. Most programs involve on-campus labs and clinical work to better prepare students for work with patients and specialized equipment.