State and local officials believe that Wallace Community College’s new surgical technology program will aid the Wiregrass’ rapidly expanding healthcare market.
“This is the hub of healthcare in a broad area… and this program is the kind of thing that we want to continue to expand in the state. It doesn’t just come about,” Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker said Monday at the school. “This is a rapidly growing field.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth outlook through 2026 for surgical technologists is 12 percent nationwide, faster than the average for all occupations.
“The supportive group of people that help that doctor may be as much about the success as the doctor is,” Baker said. “That’s what this program is about: taking care of the activities that are required before someone enters into surgery. That’s important… surgery is a major risk. It’s our job to train people to make sure that the doctor’s operation, the doctor’s program is supported with the right kind of care and protection.”
Surgical technologists have many responsibilities such as preparing operating rooms for surgery; sterilizing and supplying equipment; preparing patients for surgery, such as washing incision areas; and helping surgeons and nurses during surgery by handing them instruments and other sterile supplies.
Many local officials, representatives and business leaders joined Baker at Wallace to celebrate the college’s growth and tour the classroom spaces and surgical suites.
Inside of Wallace-Dothan’s Heersink Family Health Science Building, there are two mock operating rooms where students can practice what they’ve learned in their classes throughout the five-semester program. The main operating room is fully functional with an anesthesia machine, OR table, sterile tables, TV monitor to view procedures and other OR items.
“The health science simulation center… has the largest collection of high-fidelity simulators in the Southeast. This facility provides cutting-edge technology for training, for education, for the majority of Southeast Alabama’s healthcare workforce,” said Wallace-Dothan’s President Linda Young.
Surgical Technology Program Director Jamie Snider said she is actively working with officials from Flowers Hospital, Southeast Health, local surgery centers, including Surgery Center South, to provide students with clinical experience.
The new program’s first class of students began this fall, pursuing their associate’s degree in surgical technology.
Abigail Jones, a surgery tech student from Daleville, said she started pursuing this path after spending time as a physical therapy assistant technician.
“I love it. I know for a fact it’s going to be the best thing I do,” Jones said. “It’s always going to be something different. You’re never going to see the same thing twice.”
Upon graduating in May 2021, Jones said she hopes to start her career in the Wiregrass before pursuing work as a traveling surgical tech.
Students completing the program are eligible to take the Certified Surgical Technologist Exam (CST) through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Certification as a surgical technologist demonstrates that the individual meets the national standard.
The surgical technology program will complement Wallace College’s existing seven disciplines in the health sciences area of study: practical nursing, associate degree nursing, emergency medical services, respiratory therapy, radiologic technology, medical assisting, medical assisting, and physical therapist assistant.
The program was made possible in part through a grant of $551,339 from the Wiregrass Foundation.
“We have great regard for the college, both as an institution of higher education and as a major contributor to the economic development of the Wiregrass,” Wiregrass Foundation Barbara Alford told the Eagle in an earlier interview.
“As we go forward, I think there’s a bright future here,” Baker said, “but I think it’s just the beginning of what we can do to make this community a better community by the services we provide to the citizen.”