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The UNC Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science program (NDSS), a joint initiative with the UNC-Charlotte’s Department of Kinesiology, welcomes Dr. Sarah Hess as its program coordinator.

A passion for sleep

Hess’s career in sleep began with her own experience as a patient. Hess experienced episodes of blacking out while in high school, and after receiving numerous neurological tests and a diagnosis, she developed a passion for neuroscience.

Beginning as an assistant in a neurodiagnostic lab, she decided to apply for an electroneurodiagnostic technology program. Those first interactions sparked a passion for sleep science. Watching her instructors she thought: “I want to teach this someday.”

15 years of teaching excellence

After attending the Northside Sleep School in Atlanta for further training in polysomnography, she began her career on the clinical side of sleep science. Hess quickly realized that she spent a large portion of her time training allied health providers how to read EEGs and PSGs. She realized the lack of local educational programs, creating a shortage of trained specialists who could interpret sleep and neurological tests. She decided to do something about that.

Hess wanted to create a program that culminated in a two-year degree. After meeting with the dean of Catawba Valley Community College (CVCC) numerous times, they developed a sleep program. They wrote the application to the state and created the curriculum for a program in polysomnography technology. It was approved, and within a year CVCC began offering the program.

Hess continued pursuing opportunities in higher education and went on to obtain a Master’s in Strategic Leadership, as well as a Doctorate in Executive Leadership from the University of Charleston.

She served as the program coordinator at CVCC for 14 years, leaving that position in 2018 to transition to her role at with NDSS program. She started as an adjunct professor in the spring of 2018 and became a full-time faculty member in August. She is now the coordinator of the UNC-Charlotte portion of the program.

Looking toward the future

Hess said she loves educating people in neurodiagnostics and sleep science. When asked what makes it all worth it, she said: “I love working hard to perpetuate learning opportunities that raise the bar in our profession. I love the ‘a-ha’ moments students have when it just clicks.” She’s dedicated to creating the next generation of sleep technologists and outfitting them with the most cutting edge industry knowledge. Hess works hard to ensure that the neurodiagnostic profession is distinct. She is excited to be involved in the journey of those choosing to take their education to the next level by obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Hess wants students to have the best experience possible while enrolled in the program by learning “new ideas, new concepts, and learning to think critically in times of ambiguity.” Her hope is that “every student learns advanced knowledge and gains a desire to conduct research on an under-served population.”

The NDSS program is the first and only one of its kind in the world and is offered completely online to accommodate non-traditional students.

Dr. Mary Ellen Wells, PhD, who oversees the program at the UNC School of Medicine said she is “excited to have such a knowledgable and passionate individual working with our program” and congratulates Dr. Hess on becoming the program coordinator.

-William Early, communications assistant