Vail Valley Medical Center partners with area colleges to offer surgical technology degree | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Medical Center partners with area colleges to offer surgical technology degree

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Surgical technicians prepare the patient and operating room for surgeries, and they pass sterilized equipment and tools to the surgeons during surgery. At the bedside, they may assist the surgical team by holding organs in place, and once surgery is completed, they may help dress the wound and transfer the patient to the recovery room.

Surgical technology is rapidly becoming one of the best health care support jobs in the nation, and now, thanks to a partnership among Vail Valley Medical Center, Colorado Mountain College and Front Range Community College, locals have the opportunity to pursue a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in the field, right here in Eagle County.

Vail Valley Medical Center — which performed more than 6,700 surgeries in 2015 in its hospital operating rooms and at Vail Valley Surgery Center in Vail and Edwards — intends to train its existing sterile processing staff, as well as anyone within the mountain communities, to specialize in surgical technology in preparation for a health care career in the region.

"If we can educate locals who have already made Eagle County their home, we have a better chance at attracting and retaining employees who understand the unique challenges and opportunities of living in the high country," said Doris Kirchner, Vail Valley Medical Center president and CEO.

"For the past eight years, I have been personally committed to finding opportunities for local residents and students to pursue and attain careers in healthcare that keep them in our community. I'm so pleased that VVMC and Colorado Mountain College have collaborated to create this excellent program."

The job

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected surgical technology will grow 15 percent from 2014 to 2024, more than double the average rate for all other occupations. In addition, the bureau reports the median annual salary for surgical techs in 2015 was $44,330.

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Eddie Skinner is a co-lead surgical technologist at Vail Valley Medical Center and one of the future course instructors.

"I love what I do because I get to use my brain — I'm constantly thinking, anticipating," he said. "It's a fun job, and it's rewarding. It makes me feel good when patients are healing as they should. I like knowing that my knowledge and skills are helping others."

Surgical technicians play integral roles in the operating room. They prepare the patient and operating room for surgeries, and they pass sterilized equipment and tools to the surgeons during surgery. At the bedside, they may assist the surgical team by holding organs in place, and once surgery is completed, they may help dress the wound and transfer the patient to the recovery room.

With world-renowned orthopedics and some of the best general surgeons in Colorado performing a variety of operations at the Vail and Edwards surgery centers, Vail Valley Medical Center's surgical technicians gain invaluable experience and assist patients directly in their care.

"Working with some of the world's most renowned orthopedic surgeons gives our surgical techs an incredible opportunity to see some of the hardest cases," Skinner said. "These surgeons are performing procedures that haven't been done in other places, and as surgical techs, we get to see techniques that will be used around the world."

The education

When Vail Valley Medical Center approached Colorado Mountain College about partnering to offer the program, the college also saw the opportunity it would create for the community.

"Colorado Mountain College is thrilled to add this specialized program to our suite of allied health courses," said Kathryn Regjo, vice president of Colorado Mountain College in Edwards. "Working with VVMC allows us to combine our curriculum with the hospital's resources to offer a comprehensive, hands-on experience in a highly valued career field."

Colorado Mountain College also offers certificates and degrees in nursing, nurse aide, medical assisting, billing and coding and phlebotomy. The surgical technology degree is already offered at Front Range Community College, and Colorado Mountain College saw that the fastest way to offer it within its own footprint was to partner with Front Range Community College's existing program.

The surgical technology program is a two-year degree. In the first year, students are required to take human anatomy, microbiology, medical terminology and human growth and development, among other courses already available at every Colorado Mountain College campus or online. In the second year, students will focus their studies on the core curriculum of surgical technology, including clinical lab and robust internship opportunities, all taken either online or in Eagle County.

Students will engage in coursework with experts like Skinner at the Vail Valley Surgery Center in Edwards. Classes for the second year of the program are expected to be available as early as fall 2017, so students who begin their program in January 2017, or have transfer credits, will be able to take second-year courses in sequence without a time gap. Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible to sit for the Certified Surgical Technician Exam, offered through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assistants.

A small pool of scholarship monies is available for students enrolling in winter 2017. Students considering enrolling in fall 2017 may apply for scholarships now, which may help cover tuition, books and fees. For more information on the pathway to an associate degree in surgical technology, contact Mike Trujillo at Colorado Mountain College at 970-569-2908.