Any surgeon would tell you a good surgical technician is critical to executing a good surgery. Offered only at the Oxford Center, the Surgical Technology program prepares students for a career where they can be well paid and make a difference in the lives of others by assisting medical professionals in patient care.
The Surgical Technology program prepares an individual to serve as a member of the surgical team working with surgeons, anesthesiologists, certified register nurse anesthetists, registered nurses and other surgical personnel in delivering patient care by assuming appropriate responsibilities before, during and after a surgery. The program at Northwest includes the education of all aspects of surgical technology including the role of second assistant and circulator.
The program takes one class per year, according to Gwen Shirley, surgical technology instructor. Students begin in August and complete the school year until May, and then an eight-week summer term in order to earn a certificate. In order to complete the Associate of Applied Science degree, students must continue in their sophomore year, which consists mainly of core classes and electives for the degree.
According to Shirley, the first year of the program is extremely intense. “This is a strenuous course. I don’t want people to be fooled by the certificate. You have to learn surgical instrumentation, and I tell everybody you learn several ‘foreign languages’ when you come to this course. You need to learn instrumentation, medical terminology and the actual surgeries so that you know what instrument to pass to the doctor and then you have to learn sterile techniques,” Shirley said.
Shirley said that students don’t realize how much outside practice is required. “They have to purchase a kit that has gowns and gloves, among other things. They can practice putting on gloves and gowns properly, how to do a sterile scrub with the brushes in their kits and also they can find objects at home such as scissors and butter knives and practice passing them to family or friends. It kind of helps them hone their techniques. I think it is critical to succeeding in this program, ” Shirley said.
During the first semester, students learn in the classroom and through observation at local hospitals and clinics to prepare them for clinicals, which they will usually begin in January. In clinicals, they are actually getting hands-on experience in surgical technology roles. Students are exposed to several different kinds of surgeries, including C-Sections, orthopedics, urological and cardiac cases. “They will have a competent surgical technician or two with them who are there to assist them, but they don’t do it for them,” Shirley said.
Shirley, who holds a bachelor’s and master’s in nursing began teaching at Northwest in 2010. She saw 100 percent job placement of her students last year and 100 percent passage of their national certification test for the past three years.
Chad Russell, a student from Olive Branch is one of very few male students in the program. He became interested in surgical technology after meeting people in that career during his mother’s illness with ovarian cancer. “She had a lot of operations, and we met a lot of good people along that path. It kind of changed my life, and I knew I wanted to do something in this line of work,” Russell said. Northwest was the closest program to him.
Russell agrees that the program is very intense, but feels like it has helped him to grow. “I guess it stretches us to get outside our comfort zone. This has kind of pushed me out there and made me feel like I could do more than I thought I could,” Russell said.
He likes the clinical setting. “We get to experience a lot of different surgeries and get a feel for places we’ll be working. We also get to experience the different personalities of the doctors. I think that’s probably the most important thing – working with different personalities,” Russell said. Shirley agreed with her student. “After a technician has worked with a surgeon for a long time, they begin to know and anticipate what that surgeon needs. There are hand signals they learn, or they call out the next thing they need,” Shirley said. She also pointed out that this is why technicians have to learn so much about different instruments used in each type of surgery.
Shirley said she has seen some changes in technology taking place in her field with the advent of laproscopy and robotics being used in the surgical ward. One robot that is used in Northwest’s clincials at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Oxford is the DaVinci Robot, which can be used in such surgeries as gallbladder, prostate, lower colon resections, gastric sleeve, hysterectomy, partial nephrectomy and Salpingo – oophorectomy. “My students are getting real world experience with robotics and minimally invasive surgery. I forsee robotics as the thing of the future,” Shirley said.
She would like to see more male students enter the program. “There are certain areas of this career that require lifting of much heavier instruments and would be easier for male students to navigate, but I just feel like it is a good career for everyone,” Shirley said. Russell said that when he comes into the surgery room, the reception is always warm. “ I know they look for males in a lot of the bone cases, but everywhere I’ve been, there’s been a need for males. They are uncommon in some the areas, and I was even told that I was the first male student that had come through in a lot of years,” Russell said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for surgical technicians in 2012 was $41,790 per year or $20.09 per hour and expected job growth from 2012 – 2022 is 30 percent, which is higher than average.
Pictured: Northwest Mississippi Community College Surgical Technology Instructor Gwen Shirley, left, with her student Chad Russell of Olive Branch. The Surgical Technology program prepares an individual to serve as a member of the team working with surgical personnel in delivering patient care by assuming appropriate responsibilities before, during and after a surgery. (Photo by Sarah Sapp)
Story by LaJuan Tallo, Communications Assistant