"I believe Penn College and my wonderful instructors took an initiative to care about my development, and that support allowed me to learn to be the best surgical technologist that I and they believed I could be."
- Surgical Technology
- Healthcare Leadership & Administration
- Applied Health Studies
Surgical technologists must expect the unexpected. That's how Alexis keeps patients safe in the operating room. She is grateful to impact lives, even if her patients are unaware. The Surgical Technology graduate, who added a bachelor’s in Applied Health Studies 2020, offers an inside glimpse into her work.
Applied Health Studies is now being offered as Healthcare Leadership & Administration.
Q&A with Alexis
I'M SURE THERE'S NO "TYPICAL" DAY IN THE OR, BUT WHAT DOES YOUR WORK ENTAIL?
Working as a surgical technologist entails going to work every day and not knowing what to expect. There are certain basic principles of surgical technology that can be anticipated to occur each shift: you will go to the OR, you will collaborate with a surgical team and create and maintain a sterile field, and you will be that patient’s advocate when they are unable to speak for themselves.
That means checking the surgical supplies and instrumentation picked for each case prior to setting up. It means knowing the specifics of what every doctor prefers and making sure to have it available. It means anticipating each step of the surgical procedure from incision to dressings and being consciously aware of sterile technique throughout, all while having the surgical conscience to know that you are responsible for monitoring other’s sterile technique as well.
DO YOU HAVE A SPECIALTY? CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT WHAT THAT INVOLVES?
I would say I do about 90% of my work in orthopedics. These procedures tend to be lengthier and at a higher pace than other specialties, and I can honestly say I have developed skills of speed, dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and intuition above all else to a level that I never realized I could accomplish.
In a typical week, I do numerous total joint replacements, including knees, hips, and shoulders, fixations and stabilizations of fractures, and probably my favorite, spinal fusions.
What I like about orthopedics is that you develop a certain comradery with the doctors, assistants, nurses, x-ray techs, and even sales reps. They can be high-stress and chaotic, but everybody understands their role and how it needs to be done so that we can accomplish our goals efficiently and safely.
HOW DID PENN COLLEGE HELP PREPARE YOU TO EXCEL AS A SURGICAL TECHNOLOGIST?
Penn College helped prepare me to excel as a surgical technologist by not only giving me every opportunity to train in a clinical setting but by really caring about the skills that I believed needed the most enhancement throughout my training. My instructor went out of his way to ask what worked best for our learning preferences and how he could improve his class structure towards our success.
More than that, my clinical advisor took the time to speak to my peers and me regarding our strengths and went out of her way each week to make sure we were assigned adequate case placements throughout our clinical rotations.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR WORK? OR, WHAT IS THE COOLEST PART OF IT?
It might sound strange, but I love the thrill of emergency cases. They can be incredibly stressful and I definitely do not know every doctor’s preferences, but there are basic supplies that I know I will need and it truly is just figuring out the rest as you go. I know I will need cautery, sponges, and clamps. Everything else comes as we progress because sometimes you do not know what to expect when you open these patients.
I have done emergency fasciotomies listening to DMX, and I have done cases where we looked inside and there was nothing more we could do to save this patient. To learn and see certain landmarks, structures, and malignancies within the body is a humbling experience. Every time I do cases such as these, I find myself appreciative for my life and grateful for the opportunity to save somebody else’s. That is without a doubt the coolest part of my job.
WHAT TRAITS DO STUDENTS NEED TO BE SUCCESSFUL SURGICAL TECHNOLOGISTS?
To be successful, requires drive, confidence, and resilience. You have to be committed to an environment of constant learning. You have to strive to be independent, but capable of admitting your mistakes.
The OR can be a tough environment, it is not for the faint of heart. My preceptors and instructors always told me to be confident, but willing to take criticism. It can take a while to develop trust from your colleagues in the OR. Even after being in the OR for more than two years, I still make mistakes from time to time and I definitely don’t know everything, but I correct these inadequacies for next time.
It is all about mindset, really!
ANY ADVICE FOR SURGICAL TECHNOLOGY STUDENTS?
Well, as my instructor told me on my first day of clinical rotations, it does not matter how much you are able to do today…just don’t pass out! But in all seriousness, don’t be discouraged by a bad day. Take each mistake as an opportunity to improve yourself. Don’t be fearful for the next time you scrub that case, be optimistic to prove that you have improved since the last time.
And one last thing, don’t be afraid to take a moment to breathe. Learning to work at such a high speed with a whole new skillset can be overwhelming. So take each case one step at a time, and don’t give up on yourself.
YOUR PATIENTS ARE USUALLY NOT CONSCIOUS AND ABLE TO EXPRESS THEIR GRATITUDE, CORRECT? WHAT MAKES UP FOR THAT?
To be frank, every moment of being in the room makes up for that. You don’t become a surgical technologist with the intentions of being given gratitude for the work you do. But when a patient looks you in the eye, and you see the nervousness or fear in their expression, either in that moment right before the anesthesia hits, or when they just wake up, it's all the gratification I need. When I am not scrubbed in, I like to stand by my patients and hold their hand or smile as we prepare them for surgery. Sometimes they smile back or say thank you and it’s those little moments that make me know that my job is worthwhile and that they appreciate the care they are about to receive.
HAVE YOU HAD ANY PARTICULARLY REWARDING EXPERIENCES AT WORK?
I would say that I have had numerous rewarding, and memorable experiences at work. As a surgical technologist, you are part of an amazing system of saving lives and impacting those who are not always aware of your impact on their health and well-being. One particular experience comes to mind when I think about this question. Organ harvests come in sporadically and without preparation, whoever is working that shift is in that case. I was still on orientation and was only in the room to observe the ebb and flow of these unique cases. But when they requested an additional set of hands, I was ready to scrub in. We worked from easily 2200 that night to nearly 0600 that next morning without a break. We ran on adrenaline and whatever caffeine was still in our system from the beginning of the shift. A couple weeks later, the OR received a letter from Gift of Life describing the lives that had been impacted by our efforts, those who had been given a second chance from somebody who no longer needed those organs. It was that impact, that knowing that people’s lives were ultimately changed for the better because of what we accomplished that night, that makes this job truly rewarding.
WERE YOU INVOLVED IN ACTIVITIES OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM PENN COLLEGE?
I was a student representative for the Surgical Technology Advisory Committee which allowed me to see firsthand how the Surgical Technology board and directors structured their teaching around student feedback and results. Overall, I have heard and seen nothing but positive commentary regarding the excellent students Penn College produces as Surgical Technologists, and I am proud to be one of them.
From procedures and protocols to specialty instrumentation, surgical technologists master it all.
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