GBCC Surgical Technology Graduates in High Demand Open Dialog with Hospitals Results in Relevant Curriculum/Qualified Employees


PORTSMOUTH - The Surgical Technology program at Great Bay Community College is successful by many measures: It has a near-perfect graduation rate, graduates begin working immediately at hospitals across New England, and they are among the most prepared surgical technologists to enter the workforce.

Great Bay works closely with regional hospitals to develop and update curriculum and create clinical training opportunities that result in work-ready graduates, who earn a median salary of $43,350 in a field that is projected to grow 15 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That job growth is much faster than the average for all occupations.

“I get calls from hospitals all the time, looking for graduates or students getting ready to graduate,” said Kristin L. Whitney, who directs Great Bay’s surgical technology program. “I can’t get enough of them out the doors quickly enough.”  In 2015, each of the 13 graduates passed the industry CST exam, and at the time of graduation, 12 of 13 were employed at hospitals across the region, including one at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

Surgical technologists prepare operating rooms, pass instruments and assist surgeons and the surgical team during operations. In that respect, surgical technologists play the role of patient advocates.  They play an important role in patient safety, ensuring the best outcome for each procedure by anticipating the needs of the surgeon.

Advances in medical technology have made surgery safer and increased the need for qualified technologists. Surgical technologists also work in ambulatory day-surgery centers, physician offices, transplant and organ donation centers.

Great Bay Community College offers the only surgical technology associate’s degree in science in the area. Although most students are from New Hampshire, the College also draws a population from Massachusetts and Maine.  The College recently announced a new initiative offering in-state tuition to students in Maine and Massachusetts who enroll in one of three high demand programs, one of which being Surgical Technology.

Among the hospitals employing Great Bay graduates are Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Catholic Medical Center in Manchester, Elliot Hospital in Manchester,  Maine Medical Center in Portland, and Holy Family hospitals in Methuen and Haverhill, Mass.

Donna Langlais, clinical nurse educator at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, said Great Bay graduates are valued members of the operating team. “They all came with solid preparatory knowledge. They were motivated, interested and eager to learn,” Langlais said. “They became integrated into the unit quickly.”

As part of their education, Great Bay students are placed in community hospital operating rooms for supervised clinical experiences and labs. Lynne Arnaut, a clinical nurse educator at Holy Family hospitals said the hands-on training that Great Bay students receive is evident in their preparation. “They are proactive, eager to learn, professional and courteous,” Arnaut said.

 Most students work at the hospitals where they studied after graduation, Whitney said. “When they are employed by their clinical site they have less of a training period once they are on the job, because they are already familiar with the procedures, doctors and the layout of the hospital, as well as their policies and procedures,” Whitney said.

Great Bay graduate Samantha Pelletier said her clinical studies at Elliot helped prepare her for her career. She worked on many different kinds of cases and gained confidence in her skills and her ability to anticipate surgeon’s needs and prepare her response.

She worked at Elliot more than two years after graduation. “I got experience doing general, orthopedics, neurology, ENT, vascular, urology, OB/GYN, ophthalmology and even a large amount of trauma and organ procurements,” she said.  “I was a well -rounded scrub and I was on a mission to start traveling, so I did.” She now works 13-week stints as a traveling surgical technologist at hospitals around the country. Recently, she worked in Kauai, Hawaii, and is spending the winter in Bismarck, N.D.

As part of her effort to keep the Great Bay course work current, Whitney meets regularly with hospital supervisors. She hosts educator breakfasts and luncheons to show appreciation to hospitals for their cooperation and keep an open dialogue to the school’s surgical technology program. “We give them the opportunity to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly,” Whitney said. “We hear great things about our students, who they are going to hire, and every now and then they give us a little suggestion on how we can improve things.”

Those suggestions have resulted in the purchase of new equipment and a shuffling of the clinical schedule.  Based on input from hospitals, Great Bay is able to teach the “newest and greatest” technology, Whitney said, including modern laparoscopic and robotic procedures.

It also expanded clinical days from three to four per week as surgery can be unpredictable and many hospitals schedule specific surgeries on certain days of the week.  Expanding the clinical schedule means students gain more exposure to more specialized operations, Whitney said.

And that makes them well-prepared to join the workforce as soon as they graduate.  “Well prepared students require less orientation and training to become and integral part of the operating room” said Susan Gibbs, Instrument Instructor and Preceptor at Elliot Hospital. “Great Bay students are well prepared!”