Roane State program is a dream for night owls

By Bob Fowler

Roane State staff writer

For night owls, this Roane State certification program is a dream.

It’s the polysomnography program at the community college’s Knox County Center for Health Sciences campus in Knoxville, where students are taught to study, monitor and help unravel the multitude of ailments that can adversely affect sleep.

Roane State is one of only two collegiate polysomnography programs in Tennessee. And Roane State graduates are the majority of sleep technicians at centers in our area.

Nicole Coleman, director of Summit Sleep Services with Summit Medical Group in Knoxville, said “98% of our technical staff went through the polysomnography program at RSCC.” She graduated from the Roane State program more than 20 years ago.

“We are very fortunate to have a program so close by that educates and prepares students for sleep tech positions in our sleep center,” Coleman said. “We know the students coming out of the program will be a great asset to Summit Sleep Services.”

Roane State President Chris Whaley said the prevalence of Roane State sleep center graduates in the regional job market is a “testament to the strength” of the college’s program.

“The program was very well taught and prepared us for this field,” said Shawn Hopkins, who received his sleep technologist certification after taking the Roane State course. “It was very tough, especially the second semester with clinicals, but they helped me a great deal to be ready for what I was going to do.” Hopkins has been a sleep technician at Summit Sleep Services since 2008.

Donna Plumlee, director of Roane State’s sleep center, is shown inside the center, located in the community college’s Center for Health Sciences in Knoxville.

Donna Plumlee, director of Roane’s State’s sleep center, said there are many different types of sleep disorders, from sleep apnea to narcolepsy to insomnia and “night terrors.”

She said the polysomnography program accepts 15 to 18 students each fall. Plumlee said those who complete the program will encounter a “good job market with good salaries.”

Enrollees learn the various types of sleep ailments and how to use the sophisticated equipment that monitors various stages of sleep along with breathing, leg and eye movements, and how much oxygen is in the blood.

Roane State’s polysomnography program is a one-year certificate program. Upon graduation, students are eligible to sit for their registry exam administered by the Board of Registered Polysomnographic Technologists (BRPT). The program’s four bed simulation lab and elaborate monitoring equipment are housed inside the college’s Center for Health Sciences at 132 Hayfield Road in Knoxville. The college program was launched in the late 1990s, and Plumlee has been its director since 2003.

Students participate in small groups during lab classes in which they assume the role of either technologist or patient. The “technologists” prepare their classmates for the study. The “patients” take naps in darkened rooms with a myriad of electrodes, monitors and sensors applied to their heads and bodies.

This exercise allows for real-time monitoring of their brainwave activity, eye movements, muscle activity, EKG, respiration, leg movements, and oxygen levels while simultaneously observing the “patients” via overhead cameras. The signals are recorded for subsequent review by the physician.

Students also participate in clinical rotations at multiple sleep labs in the area as an important piece of the comprehensive curriculum. This enables the students to experience on-the-job training and accumulate hands-on, real work experiences with actual patients, better preparing them for the job market.

Plumlee said it’s important to remember that while there are a few dayshift positions available, most technologists work the night shift.

Roane State is a two-year college providing transfer programs, career-preparation programs and continuing education. Founded in 1971, the college has locations in Roane, Campbell, Cumberland, Fentress, Knox, Loudon, Morgan, and Scott counties as well as a branch campus in Oak Ridge. For more information, visit or call (865) 882-4554.

Remember, eligible adults can now attend Roane State tuition-free with the new Reconnect grant. Learn more at


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