“It has really changed my life.”
That’s how Duluth resident Cinthia Sanchez described the Surgical Technology degree she obtained at Gwinnett Technical College.
“I struggled for so long trying to find somewhere to go,” Sanchez said. “I’m so happy I found this program and actually went for it. I’m in a much better place in my life.”
Preparing for and finding a rewarding career can be difficult. A four-year university degree can be very expensive — and it doesn’t always result in a career in your field of study. Technical and community colleges can provide effective alternatives.
One such alternative is Gwinnett Tech’s Surgical Technology degree. The program has an excellent track record of preparing students for a rewarding, challenging career that pays well.
Theresa Parker is the Surgical Technology Program Director at Gwinnett Tech. Known as “TC” to her students, Parker has seen the degree open many different doors in the medical field.
Of course, program graduates can go directly into becoming Surgical Technicians. That’s what Sanchez did.
“Gwinnett Tech trains you at the highest level,” Sanchez said, “and helps you find a job afterward. TC is very well-connected in the medical field. I’m so grateful.”
Many Gwinnett Tech students attend straight out of high school, but Sanchez had already been working in the insurance industry when she chose to study at Gwinnett Tech at age 28.
“I was an insurance sales rep,” she said. “It was not the thing for me. I was racking my brain, ‘what else can I do?’ I attended an informational session on the Surgical Technology program several years ago and I was interested in it. I’m so happy that I joined the program. I’m actually doing something that I really enjoy now.”
Since graduating, Sanchez has been working as a Neurological Surgical Technologist at Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta.
But other graduates take different paths.
“This associate degree is a great start,” Parker said. “You’re working with surgeons every day that can help you with your quest to get to physician’s assistant, nursing, or medical school.”
Gwinnett Tech has a bridge program where Surgical Technology graduates can go on to study nursing at the school, and there’s an articulation agreement with Gwinnett Community College for those students wanting to become Registered Nurses or get their BSN degree.
Excellent career preparation
The Gwinnett Tech Surgical Technology curriculum includes classroom and bookwork, along with hands-on lab experience and actual experience in hospitals. It’s not easy, but it results in the program’s students being ready for work when they graduate.
Erin Baggett is a Surgical Technology Instructor. She works with the students primarily during their first semester.
“It’s a different environment,” Baggett said. “It’s a steep learning curve. It’s harsh. Stressful. But we’re trying to help them understand what they’re about to be in. And in four months, they are ready to go to the hospital.”
The first semester at school has a 40-hour-per-week schedule. It’s about half classroom time and half lab time. Classes include an introduction to surgical technology, principles of surgical technology, and microbiology. In the labs, students practice what they will be doing during surgeries.
“It starts small and gets bigger and bigger,” Baggett said. “We actually do simulated surgeries by the end of the first semester.”
Although the “patients” on the operating table are medical mannequins, the two labs on campus are identical to a real operating room (OR) in a hospital. That makes Gwinnett Tech different from a lot of other schools.
The furniture, equipment, supplies, beds, and lights are exactly what is used in operating rooms. The Mayo stands, which hold surgical implements and supplies near the patient, and the back tables that the surgical technologist students work off in the labs are exactly what they will use when working at a hospital.
“That’s where we train,” Sanchez said. “Scalpels, clamps, towels. How to drape the patient. We go through the entire surgery process. It’s a chance to put into practice everything you need.”
“Everything is real,” Baggett said. “There’s no pretending here.”
More than just book learning
Parker pointed out that these after-hours lab sessions are also invaluable for building teamwork. “The students usually do a good job about getting together as a group,” she said. “They become friends and stay friends.”
The program includes several activities to promote teamwork. “The first thing we let them do is pick scrub colors for their class,” she said. “We get to see the personalities.”
Teamwork is further enhanced because each class in the program is a cohort. In education, this means that the students attend the same classes and the same labs together as one group.
This is an important part of the student’s education because teamwork is vitally important in an operating room. Parker gave the example of tandem counting, which is how instruments and equipment are counted to make sure nothing is left in the patient. “Everything gets counted and accounted for at three specific times,” she said. “It requires teamwork and rapport.”
The Gwinnett Tech faculty also helps develop the student’s critical thinking skills. Baggett pointed out that errors can happen in an operating room and surgical technologists can help catch and correct the problem. She pointed out that, “there’s not a single textbook method. They have to take the principles they learned and critically think of the best way to fix the problem.”
One additional aspect of the Gwinnett Tech approach is to help the students develop a certain amount of toughness for the job. The OR can be a stressful place. Surgeons can be demanding. It’s important for the people working there to not take things personally and stay focused on their jobs. The faculty in Surgical Technology works to instill that in their classes.
A big part of that toughness is what Baggett called surgical conscience. “It’s the ability to tell on yourself when you make a mistake,” she explained, “even if it’s going to be to your personal detriment.” Through what they learn, and how the program is run, students come to understand how important that is.
The classroom and lab experience students get at Gwinnett Tech, along with the work traits the faculty develops in each class, have combined to make it one of the most successful and well-respected programs in the Southeast.
For 21 consecutive cohorts, graduates of the Gwinnett Tech Surgical Technology program have achieved a 100% pass rate on the national Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam.
Passing the CST exam is a big deal. More and more hospitals are requiring it. Parker pointed out that potential students should be wary of less reputable organizations that offer Surgical Technology training. Many of them do not result in any certification, or they give out certifications that are not up to the national standard.
Area hospitals come to Gwinnett Tech to recruit seniors for jobs because they know the quality of the program and have seen the capabilities of the graduates. Parker said that everyone in the last senior class had job prospects when they graduated.
The Gwinnett Tech Surgical Technology program provides students like Cinthia Sanchez with an education, effective hands-on training, professional certification, and an inside track to getting a great job.
“It’s pretty crazy sometimes to realize this is what I’m doing for a living,” she said. “It’s awesome what they do at Gwinnett Tech. They truly prepare you for what you’re going to do.”
Excellent article! Erin Baggett is my daughter and I personally know what pride she takes in her work in the surgical tech program at Gwinnett Tech! Naturally, I am very proud of her accomp!ishments!
I am a graduate of the program at Gwinnett College. I am now a certified surgical assistant for more than 15 years . Apart from attending Gwinntt, I was a part of the faculty and staff and thought the technology program for a short time . TC is remarkable as a director and a person. Much love goes out to a former professor and program director Ms Ann Rhem who is lo German with us. I would recommend that program to anyone. Keep up the good work guys. My name is David K Merrifield CSA.