ST. PETERSBURG — Doctors and surgeons save lives, but often do not do it alone. Assisting them at important procedures and critical operations, a surgical technologist requires poise, steadiness and perhaps above all—preparation.
“You’re right in there with the surgeon,” said Peggy Gould, director of the Surgical Technology program offered at the St. Pete campus of Pinellas Technical College (PTC). “It’s more than just passing instruments, you have to be responsible for every supply that you need in each case with that particular patient and doctor.”
The program takes about 15 1/2 months to complete, as students typically put in about 25 hours per week. Initially students take the Basic Healthcare Worker course, which covers medical terminology, communication with employers and coworkers and safety procedures, among other rudimentary topics. It is in the Central Supply Assistant (CSA) course that students get to put in hours at actual Bay area hospitals, including All Children’s, St. Anthony’s, Morton Plant and Mease Countryside.
“It consists of 210 hours and 66 hours of it they are physically in a central supply department in a hospital,” Gould said of the CSA course. “They have to learn the instruments and they have to learn the sterility of instruments. We also offer them a chance to take the central supply certification technician test.”
Gould, who along with clinical coordinator Jen Lowe, serves as course instructor, added that students aren’t required to take that particular exam and get certified, but it’s to their advantage. If they opt to take it, students do so in the second month of the program. Gould added that only after they graduate do students take the surgical technology certification.
The final segments of the program are the three Surgical Technologist courses. Here students will cover anatomy, basic physiology, microbiology and biomedical sciences. They’ll move on to operating room theory, proper use of surgical instruments, sutures and needles, techniques associated with the surgical technologist’s role, and a review of anatomy and various specialties. Legal and ethical responsibilities are also covered.
Even when students are not putting in time at a hospital, the hospital can come to them, so to speak.
“We have a full lab presented like a regular operating room,” Gould asserted. This spacious lab comes complete with an operating table and life-like mannequin for a patient to give students a hands-on experience even on campus.
And to make learning about anatomy and other specialties more enticing and interesting, the instructors use games as a fun teaching tool.
“When we get to specialties we do different lectures on each specialty,” Gould stated. “And we do fun things like Jeopardy! for almost every specialty.”
Students range from ages 18 to 58, Gould said, affirming that often many people will turn to surgical technology as a second career. Once they graduate, students with hopes of finding a job in the medical field can get help with their resumes from the college. Gould stressed that time spent in the actual hospitals can go a long way in determining if they can secure a job after graduation.
“We tell them from the very beginning — even when they go to Central Supply — they’re on a job interview immediately,” she said. “You don’t know who you’re going to run into in the hallway, so if they like you and you go there, they will be willing to put the time in and train you. Just because you graduate and you get your certification, doesn’t mean you’re done with your training. You have another six months at the hospital to be trained in different specialties and things like that.”
Gould noted that of the seven students that graduated in January, all seven of them found work. And since there are always people in need of medical attention, she said, there is always a demand for these crucial skills.
“With the economy, people got tired of being laid off,” she averred. “And in the medical field, you won’t get laid off.”
If students want to become surgical technologists as a second job, they can often find the hours — whether it’s morning, afternoon or even graveyard shifts — that work best for them.
“You always can supplement your income,” Gould pointed out, “because you can work as much as you want!”
If you’re interested in exploring this career path, please visit myptec.org or call 727-893-2500. Financial aid is available.