Meet the Abbys' of Sleep Technology
by Debra Steilen
December 2010 Profile: Abby Kinyon, Polysomnography Student
She says she’s outgoing, opinionated, and a little bit bullheaded. She says she likes to get things finished as efficiently as possible. And she admits to spending a lot of time thinking about sleep.
She is Abby Kinyon, a Mercy College of Health Sciences student who earned a certificate in Polysomnographic Technology in August 2010, will complete her Associate’s degree in December 2010, and is on track to complete her Bachelor’s degree in Allied Health starting in April 2011.
What is it about the nature of sleep that intrigues Kinyon? It all started with her fascination with the human brain.
“It’s just so complex,” Kinyon says, who recalls watching Science Channel programs about the brain when younger. “There are so many things going on in the brain that we can study. And if the brain is sleep deprived, it can’t function as well as the brain of someone who is sleeping normally.”
Kinyon, who works at a sleep center (night shift, of course), can tick off the dangers of a sleep disorder at a moment’s notice. The effects of sleep apnea, for example, can worsen diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, and lead to depression. “Because when your body and brain are sleep deprived, you’re not in your best shape,” she says.
It’s with these patients that Kinyon is at her best, using her outgoing personality – and stubbornness – to get to the bottom of a patient’s problems. “A lot of people I see are sleep deprived, so they’re not always the warmest and most friendly,” she says. “They don’t realize how tired they are until they’re asked; they think their fatigue is normal. I want to help them individually, hear them out completely, and see the best way to help them. I just want to get them feeling their best as efficiently as I can.”
As a sleep technician, Kinyon introduces patients to the sleep lab and the purpose of the study, which is to look for indications of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders. She talks about the wires patients will be connected to while they sleep. She describes the possible treatments, such as medication, behavior therapy, or continuous positive airway pressure (a type of ventilation therapy that uses mild air pressure to keep airways open).
Then Kinyon answers questions, the most common of which is: “Can you see my dreams?” She can’t, Kinyon says to the patient, she only sees brainwaves on the computer monitor in the control room where she works while the patient sleeps. She also documents the patient’s heart rate, breathing patterns and other physiological parameters. Kinyon provides all the diagnostic data, along with her direct observations, to a physician who diagnoses the sleep disorder and prescribes treatment.
"Successful treatment for sleep disorders leads to an improved quality of life for the patients", says Auburne Overton, MHA, RPSGT, Program Chair of the Polysomnographic Technology Program at Mercy College of Health Sciences. “Treating a sleep disorder successfully can save jobs and families. We can give patients back their lives.”
Along with the emotional rewards it provides, polysomnography offers almost unlimited career opportunities in clinical settings and research, Overton says. But because the field is relatively young, formal programs are rare. Mercy’s program, which is accredited by the Committee on Accreditation of Polysomnographic Technologists Education Programs (CoA PSG), is the only one of its kind in Iowa. Graduates can expect to make $15 to $18 an hour as a sleep technician, Overton says. Once they pass their boards, they’ll start out at $17 to $21 an hour.
“Abby Kinyon’s formal education at Mercy College will really give her an edge in the field,” Overton says. “Many of the people she’s competing with for jobs have on-the-job training. She should be able to find a job very quickly anywhere she wants to go in the entire country.”
Overton says the coursework Kinyon is taking as part of the Associate’s degree program will help prepare her for management. “And once Abby finishes her bachelor’s degree, she’ll be the cream of the crop,” Overton says. “Very few people have the formalized education in the field that she will have. She’s guaranteeing herself a spot in management within five years.”
It’s also clear that Kinyon is driven, Overton adds, because Kinyon is adamant about getting her bachelor’s degree even though she already has a job. “That says a lot about her character,” Overton says. “She’s very determined to create a career.”
But it’s also Kinyon’s willingness to get involved that Overton identifies as a quality that sets the student apart. “She’s active in her profession, works with the student senate, and volunteers,” Overton says. “That’s important because there are so few of us in the field and so much to be done. We need someone who is willing to move the profession forward.”
Which is exactly what Kinyon has in mind. Although she enjoys her job at the sleep center, what she really wants is to manage a sleep center. “The field is expanding every day,” she says. “There’s so much research behind it. I learn more every day. I want to expand with the field.”