New surgical technology program to launch in fall

The surgical technology program, a new program added to the School of Allied Health, will be one of 11 programs within the School of Allied Health, beginning this fall. This is a 63-credit program covering three semesters with didactic and practicum components to prepare students in becoming a surgical technologist.

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UAA’s Allied Health Building is home to several academic programs including dental, medical, surgical and pharmaceutical. Photo credit: Jay Guzman

The surgical technology program started in response to the need of healthcare industrial partners. According to the Alaska’s Health Workforce Vacancy Study in 2012, there was a 15 percent vacancy rate for surgical technicians and technologist in Alaska with an overall of 13 percent vacancy statewide, which showed the highest vacancy rate reported in the Allied Health occupations.

Due to the need for surgical technicians in Alaska, hospitals and surgery centers were often hiring outside of the state, which resulted in expensive recruitment costs.

“You’re looking at about 20 to 30 thousand dollars to get somebody up here, so that’s a lot of money, and if we can teach a program right here in the state of Alaska, it’s going to save the hospital and the surgery centers all kinds of money because we’re going to be producing surgical techs that live here in the state,” Kristi Brooks, Director of the surgical technology program, said.

In the past, individuals that were looking into becoming a surgical technologist had to leave the state to attend school to become certified. The surgical technology program will not only help students in proper training but also help local healthcare facilities hire within the state.

“It is my personal belief that this program will help build a stronger sense of community through the creation of local jobs. Those interested in this career field will now be able to stay in Alaska and work locally. Those interested in the career field no longer have to move out of state, and pay out of state tuition, to complete their education,” Alexis Rasley, administrative assistant to the Surgical Technology Department, said.

To be a surgical technician, there are many crucial skills that can be taught within the surgical technology program to help meet the high standards of hospitals and clinics.

“Students learn to assist with preparation of a surgical room and the surgical patient. Surgical technicians develop skills to assist the physician during elective or planned surgeries,” Robert McClung, Director of School of Allied Health, said. “Among the skills needed include, critical thinking, life-saving techniques, donning personal protective equipment and identification of equipment and instruments.”

Students in the program will be working closely with professionals in local hospitals and surgery centers. By doing so, students will be working with potential employers which can help them in their future careers.

“Everyday they are at their clinical site is a job interview every single day because these clinical sites are getting to see them work in action and they get to see what their work ethic is and how passionate they’ve become about their job,” Brooks said.

As of now, only 12 students will be accepted into the program. This will be Alaska’s first surgical technology program at an institutional level. After completion, students will be eligible to take a surgical technician exam that will certify them through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. Currently, there are no requirements for licensing surgical technicians.

“What I would really like to see is the state of Alaska requiring licensing for surgical techs so they are held more accountable, so there’s a lot of growth here and we have a national organization which is the Association of Surgical Technology which Alaska has the very last state to form an AST organization here so that’s been exciting. We’re hoping with that we can go to our representatives and get it mandated eventually that they do need to be licensed,” Brooks said.