Hands-on learning: After vocational school, students can hit the ground running

Resident Mickel Jourabchi adjusts an X-ray while Dr. Jaleh Pourhamidi prepares to work on patient Madison Szczublewski in the orthodontic clinic at Roseman University of Health Sciences in Henderson. Students gain practical experience working in the clinic.

The orthodontic clinic at the Roseman University of Health Sciences is quiet. The room’s 20 chairs are empty.

Student orthodontist Melineh Dereghishian prepares for her day. She can’t wait to start meeting patients.

“I get to do what I love,” said the UCLA alumna, who is set to graduate from Roseman in 2015. “I’m helping patients have the smile that they dreamed about, increase their self-confidence and image, and have fun at the same time.”

Dereghishian is one of 30 residents working to become board-certified orthodontists at the Henderson university. Roseman, which has a second campus in Utah, also offers degree programs in nursing and pharmacology. Both require clinic work that typically is done off campus.

When the Roseman clinic is up and running, it looks like any other orthodontist’s office. Dentists interact with patients, affix braces to their teeth, adjust devices and treat problems that arise.

But the dentists are orthodontic students, and the patients get work done at a bargain price.

“We’re an education center,” said Jaleh Pourhamidi, Roseman’s dean of dental medicine. “The cost can be significantly lower.”

“There is interactive learning going on, so it’s good for the patients and students,” she added.

The residents are licensed dentists who work under the supervision of board-certified faculty members.

Interactive learning is far from a foreign concept in Southern Nevada. An Internet search for local vocational schools yields a long list of results. Valley schools offer classes in bartending, gaming, jewelry repair, cooking, Web design and more.

While some schools offer instruction strictly in a classroom setting or simulated environment, a few, including Roseman, allow students to interact with people seeking a service.

Economist Bill Robinson, who teaches at UNLV, called those schools essential to the economy.

“You need people to come into the field without having to be trained,” Robinson said. “You need people who can start a business and operate independently.”


Money is tight for many people these days, and consumers have cut back their spending on non-essentials.

But there’s still a market for many personal services. And if those services come cheap, consumers see that as all the better,

Enter Paul Mitchell The School. The beauty school on South Eastern Avenue in Las Vegas serves as hair salon and classroom. Cosmetology students learn cut and color techniques, while clients get pampered for a fraction of the typical cost.

“Everyone always needs a haircut,” Admissions Leader Stacie Paul said.

At the school, a style and blow dry costs $10. Basic hair coloring starts at $27. The same services can cost more than $100 at a typical salon.

The low price draws customers such as Tamalii Saole. Saole, a regular, said she was impressed with the care she received.

“I’m retired, and I can’t afford to go anywhere else,” Saole said. “This is the best. All of the girls are good.”

At Roseman, orthodontic customers pay $140 a month, no matter how much their total bill costs. No interest accrues and no hidden fees are added. For example, if a patient’s care costs $3,000, he or she would pay $140 monthly for just under two years, until the amount is paid off. Patients with insurance only pay the remaining balance after what their policy covers.

“We want to give as many people this benefit,” Pourhamidi said. “We make sure we work with people so they can afford what we have to offer.”

Students at Las Vegas’ European Massage Therapy School offer a bit of luxury at a low cost.

“I always say, ‘Massage is the best preventive medicine out there,’” Director John Teng said. “Once they find out the benefits, they keep coming for more.”

An 80-minute massage at the European Massage Therapy School costs $45; a 50-minute massage runs about $30. Both are considerably cheaper than at most salons and spas. The school also offers specials for return clients.

Bruce Gelb has been a regular client of the school since it opened in 2006.

“It’s very reasonably priced,” Gelb said. “I’ve had maybe five or six different therapists, and they have all been good.”

While the prices are affordable, some customers initially are apprehensive about getting care from students.

To be sure, some services take longer — instructors have to check students’ work and advise them on techniques. But for the most part, the clinics mimic a professional environment. Help is readily available, and instructors focus on efficiency without sacrificing quality.

“When people hear of schools, people think that things aren’t run as efficiently or things aren’t as nice,” said Pourhamidi, whose orthodontic clinic averages about 80 patients a day. “Unfortunately, sometimes you affiliate a school with a lower socioeconomic status. That’s not the case at all.”

Adding to Pourhamidi’s confidence is the equipment the clinic has secured. Roseman strives to keep on top of dentistry trends.

“We have amazing equipment that some free-standing orthodontists don’t have,” Pourhamidi said. “The facility is top notch. It’s brand new. It’s beautiful, and we don’t skimp on anything. The care is not subpar to anything.”

Once people visit the clinic, their fears typically are allayed. They see how quickly things move and how polite and professional the students are, Pourhamidi said.

Paul said the same about the Paul Mitchell school.

“Once our guests experience the service at the school with the educators being part of every step, the apprehension is eased,” she said.


Click to enlarge photo

From left, Ninette Suetos, Marilyn Barry and Supakullaya Pannok knead patients’ backs at the European School of Massage Therapy.

Still, first days are always tense. Teng recalled a former student whose nerves got the better of her the day she gave her first professional massage.

“She threw up,” Teng said. “Several times on the first day. The first one is the hardest. Everyone is nervous. But by the time she graduated, she had over 200 hours of clinic time.”

Clinic is where students cut their teeth learning the skills they need to succeed in the real world. It’s arguably the most important aspect of their education.

“Clinic is where I see them mature into massage therapists,” Teng said. “It’s exactly like they’re working in a spa.”

The same thing happens at Paul Mitchell. Working on a doll’s hair or role playing in class is one thing. Cutting and coloring a customer’s hair is quite another.

“It’s stressful and irritating,” Paul Mitchell student Nathan King said. “But you have to learn what you’re doing.”

Robinson says clinics are a great place to train prospective employees without passing the cost and burden onto employers.

“If these schools didn’t exist, the business would have to figure out how to train these folks internally,” Robinson said. “It would be bad for the customers.”

Aside from learning how to deal with clients, the schools teach students business skills to make them more marketable.

At Paul Mitchell, students learn how to handle large amounts of cash. The European Massage Therapy School teaches students how to cope with appointment changes.

At Roseman, all the students in the three-year orthodontic program receive both an orthodontic certificate as well as a master’s degree in business administration.

“We did that so we can create great clinicians and great business people,” Pourhamidi said. “So they won’t be afraid to open their own clinics and businesses.”


Tuition at Roseman costs $59,400 a year for the three-year program, although students receive a $12,000 annual stipend that includes health insurance. At the European Massage Therapy School, tuition runs about $8,500 for the 8-to-10-month program.

The valley’s down economy has had little effect on admissions at the vocational schools. Administrators say enrollment remains fairly constant from year to year, despite the economy.

At UNLV, enrollment is on the upswing because more people are taking classes to increase their chances of landing a job. Enrollment dipped during the recession as money became scarce, after an uptick in the early- to mid-2000s.

“They’re coming back to us now and trying to get new jobs,” said Emmanuel Saris, director of continuing education at UNLV. “They know there is a market for (specific) jobs.”

People have begun to realize the benefits of a specialized education, said Robinson. He expects enrollment at vocational schools to remain steady, even when the economy improves and jobs become more readily available.

“People are figuring out that those are good jobs that people don’t get laid off from,” he said. “Plus, higher education is getting more expensive. People may prefer a career that pays well but doesn’t have the tens of thousands of dollars” in tuition.

UNLV has a continuing-education program for people looking to change careers or learn new skills. The school doesn’t run clinics, but it does arrange for student internships and jobs.

“We’re creating these certificate programs for them to enter the workforce. We’re trying to get partnerships that will allow students to get real experience,” Sarris said.

Anna Arfaras studied wine in UNLV’s continuing education program and received a certificate in the field. She now works as a sommelier at Babbo Ristorante e Enoteca in New York City.

She credits her schooling for helping her break into the real world.

“It really rounded out my wine education and helped get my foot in the door for wine jobs,” Arfaras said.

All the schools try to find jobs for their graduates and maintain working relationships with employers. Once alumni land jobs, the schools survey the students’ bosses to get feedback about how the graduates are performing.

“We ask them, ‘Are there any classes they feel we should add to the curriculum?’” Teng said.

Tatiana Leon, one of Teng’s students, said she can’t wait to start working as a massage therapist and trusts that her education will help her find a job.

“It’s the best thing in my life,” said Leon, who moved from Florida in July to attend the school. “The teacher knows exactly what direction every student needs.”

Some students are lucky and talented enough to bring clients with them to their professional jobs.

“Sometimes they really like a student, and when that student graduates, gets licensed and gets their own practice, the client will follow the student,” Teng said.

Other students prefer to stay in school past graduation, as instructors.

King, for instance, hopes to parlay his beauty knowledge to teach a new generation of students at Paul Mitchell. The European Massage Therapy School features instructors who all are alumni.

“The best way to learn something is by teaching,” said DanaMarie Telfer, a massage school graduate who now works at the school as a receptionist and massage therapist.

Either way, the schools do what they can to prepare students with hands-on experience before they enter the job market.

“It’s the best of all worlds,” Dereghisian said.

Tags: Business