Berkeley College Surgical Technology Students Play Critical Role in Operating Room

Pamela Kronenberg was awestruck the first time she scrubbed in and took her place alongside the surgeon in the operating room at Mountainside Hospital in Glen Ridge, NJ. Ms. Kronenberg, a resident of Parsippany, was a student at Berkeley College completing the clinical rotations required in order to graduate from the college’s Surgical Technology (ST) program.

“It was exciting being in the operating room for the first time. Everything was so fast-paced,” said Ms. Kronenberg, a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), who earned an AAS in Surgical Technology from Berkeley College in Clifton in June 2014, and now works full time at Mountainside Hospital. “I am so grateful to work in a field that I love and where I can make a positive impact on people’s lives.”

Another graduate of the Berkeley College Surgical Technology program, Ana Campos, chose to round out her educational experience by volunteering for a medical mission in Ecuador through Healing the Children® New Jersey. Ms. Campos recently accompanied a team of healthcare experts from Berkeley College who provided surgical assistance to children in need at Hospital de Niños Dr. Roberto Gilbert E., the largest pediatric hospital in Ecuador.

Under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, and other surgical personnel, surgical technologists, like Ms. Campos and Ms. Kronenberg, perform a variety of critical hands-on tasks, including preparing operating rooms by setting up surgical instruments and equipment, passing instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons during surgical procedures, and monitoring and assessing operating room conditions.

Role of Surgical Technologist Not Always Understood

“Surgical Technology is a critical part of the patient care spectrum and one of the fastest growing professions in the allied health field, yet people don’t always understand the role of the masked person standing right alongside the surgeon in the operating room,” said Carlos Sanchez, CST, Senior Surgical Technologist at Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen, NJ, and a Professor in the ST and Surgical Processing Technician (SPT) programs, Berkeley College School of Health Studies.

Surgical technologists are the patient’s advocate, said Professor Sanchez. Inside the operating room, it’s the surgical technologist’s job to set up and maintain a sterile field, and when necessary, use retraction instruments to hold an incision open. These technicians also are responsible for keeping track of every instrument used during the procedure, and for making sure that all instruments are accounted for when the surgery is over.

Surgical technologists are the patient’s advocate, said Professor Sanchez. They help to reassure patients who are afraid when wheeled into the operating room and surrounded by instrument trays and people wearing masks. Inside the operating room, it’s the surgical technologist’s job to set up and maintain a sterile field, and when necessary, use retraction instruments to hold an incision open. These technicians also are responsible for keeping track of every instrument used during the procedure, and for making sure that all instruments are accounted for when the surgery is over.

“Surgical technologists have to know medical terminology and anatomy. They have to read about a case and understand the instruments that will be used before assisting with a surgery,” said Professor Sanchez, a member of the Association of Surgical Technologists, and a practicing surgical technologist for more than 21 years. “A good surgical technologist will anticipate a surgeon’s every need throughout the surgical procedure.”

Employment of Surgical Technologists Expected to Grow

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of surgical technologists is projected to grow 30 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than average for all occupations. Reasons for the increased demand include advances in medical technology that have made surgery safer and the aging of the baby-boom generation. Some states – including New Jersey and New York – require that individuals graduate from an accredited program and have obtained the CST credentials before they can practice surgical technology in these states.

When it comes to education and training for surgical technologists, not all schools are created equal. In New Jersey, only a handful of schools including Berkeley College offer accredited programs. Graduates of accredited programs are prepared to sit for the CST exams administered by The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.

Professor Brings Real-Life Scenarios into the Classroom

In addition to studying textbooks and role-playing mock surgeries during lab class, Professor Sanchez discusses real-life scenarios from his job with his students. When possible, he also records surgeries and brings the video coverage back to the classroom to help prepare his students for their clinical rotations.

“I want my students to understand that the operating room can be a hectic environment,” said Professor Sanchez, who is the preceptor for ST students from local colleges serving their clinical rotations at Palisades Medical Center. “Doctors might be shouting, there could be announcements over the speakers, or the anesthesiologist could be having trouble with a patient’s breathing – and despite all of this, the surgical technologist has to stay focused.”

Ms. Campos said she was inspired to enroll in the ST program at Berkeley College while working as a sterile processing technician at Chilton Medical Center in Pompton Plains, NJ. Surgical processing technicians are responsible for the critical role of cleaning and sterilizing used surgical instruments and other medical supplies so that they can be safely redistributed and reused.

“I would peek through the window of the operating room when surgeries were taking place, and I wanted to be in there as part of that healthcare team,” said Ms. Campos, who earned an AAS in Surgical Technology from Berkeley College in June 2014, and earned CST certification before graduation. “I wanted to know exactly how they were using the instruments that I had processed.”

Clinical Rotations Provide Valuable Hands-On Experience

Ms. Campos’ clinical rotations were split between Palisades Medical Center and Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY. She has vivid memories of her first time assisting during a surgery.

“It was an umbilical hernia procedure and the surgeon asked me if I wanted to touch the hernia. That was an amazing experience,” Ms. Campos said. “I’m fascinated by the different body parts. It’s one thing to see a heart or a lung in a book and quite another to actually see them in real life.”

When surgical technology students begin their 12-week clinical rotations, they are shadowing practicing surgical technologists. By the end of the rotations, they will have observed and/or assisted with 120 surgical procedures. In the final weeks of the clinical rotations, students typically have gained enough confidence to step in and do the actual job with supervision.

“Some students are more comfortable with this than others,” said Professor Sanchez, who supervised Ms. Campos during her clinical rotations at Palisades Medical Center. “Ana was assertive and very eager to learn. In fact, she did so well that one of the surgeons requested her assistance during a procedure.”

The views and/or opinions in this article are those of the individuals interviewed. The academic achievements and/or employment outcomes described in this article are specific to each individual, and are not a guarantee of similar results for past or current students. For up-to-date and detailed information, please visit BerkeleyCollege.edu and view our catalogs at BerkeleyCollege.edu/publications. Important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who completed the Surgical Technology programs can be found at: https://berkeleycollege.edu/static/school_of_health_studies/aas_surgical_technology_nj_sem/gedt-1.html

Personality Traits of a Surgical Technologist

Detail Oriented and Attentive– Surgical technologists must pay close attention to their work at all times.

Dexterity – Surgical technologists should be comfortable working with their hands. They must be able to provide the needed equipment quickly.

Integrity – Surgical technologists are accountable for their actions within the operating room. They are trusted to provide sterile supplies and quality patient care during surgical procedures and play a critical role within the surgical team.

Physical Stamina – Surgical technologists should be comfortable standing for extended periods.

Stress Management Skills – Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical technologists should be able to work well under pressure while providing a high level of care.