Parkland surgical technology on cutting edge
Surgical technologists are responsible for ensuring that medical operating procedures are safe and effective. There are many facets to their job. They are in charge of making sure that the surgical equipment is functioning correctly. During the operation, they pass the surgical equipment to the surgeon, who is their direct boss. They maximize patient safety and the efficiency of the operation, which keeps costs down.
Carolyn Ragsdale, the director of Parkland’s surgical technology program, says surgical technology is different from other careers in the health profession, because surgical technologists do not specialize in certain areas of human’s anatomy; instead surgical technologists are supposed to have a workable knowledge of the entire body. As such, surg-tech students take many anatomy and physiology classes.
Ragsdale says becoming a surgical technologist is a good position, if a person likes “a fast paced environment that is always changing.”
Ragsdale believes that someone who is in the field of surgical technology “has to work well with a team of people, they have to be willing to work off hours on call,” and to be able to “always think on [their] feet.”
Ragsdale believes that the field of surgical technology has a lot of job security. She says there are many full-time jobs that come with full benefits.
Ragsdale believes that the advantage of the Parkland program, when compared to other surgical technology programs at other colleges, is the community’s commitment to helping Parkland’s surg-tech students gain their footing in the field.
“[W]e have a group of committed surgical technologists, nurses, and surgeons at area hospitals that mentor and help train our students,” she said. “Parkland students are able to be involved in the highest level of surgical cases giving them an advantage over other programs.”
Ragsdale is proud that in the 2015-16 academic year, 100 percent of Parkland students passed the national board exam to become surgical technologists. Nationally the average of passing the exam is 70 percent.
Amy Pratt is an alumnus of the Parkland surg-tech program. She now works as a surgical technologist in cardiac surgery at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Pratt describes a typical day for her in surg-tech. She says she works with a cardiac surgeon who sees “complex” cases sent from across the country, which can mean a simple surgery could develop complications in the blink of an eye.
“At this time, I am usually asking the nurse a million questions about the patient,” Pratt said. “Understanding the history and physical (health) of the patient beforehand can save a lot of frustration for the nurse, surgeon and myself later. During this time, I am thinking about every step of the operation and what we need. I also think about what could possibly go wrong and how to solve those problems.”
Pratt says she begins her workday by making certain the proper equipment is prepared for the first surgery of her shift. She takes count of everything to be used in the operation and ensures it is all sterilized.
Once the operation begins, her role changes.
“For the next few hours I watch, listen, and anticipate every move the surgeon will make,” Pratt said. “All the while I am thinking about what could go wrong during the surgery, making sure no one touches my stuff and everyone in the room is on the same page with what is going on with the patient.”
Leslie Zapf, also a Parkland surg-tech graduate, works as a surgical technologist in cardiac surgery at the renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She describes her job as very similar to Pratt’s.
“My job is to set up the sterile field for surgery, and in addition to that I grab any extra items that may be required based on surgeon preference,” Zapf said. “I then assist the surgeon through the procedure. I hand any and every instrument used during the case which means I must be knowledgeable about the procedure.”
Surg-tech can be a good stepping stone to careers in other areas of the health profession.
Shawna Waterstradt, who is a certified registered nurse anesthetist, says going through the Parkland program and working as a surgical technologist for 20 years, including 15 years teaching at Parkland, gave her a “head start in healthcare and the confidence to go back to school.
“I worked as a tech while going to nursing school,” Waterstradt said. “I’m proud to say I started out [in] surgical tech.”