MARQUETTE, Mich.–Northern Michigan University’s surgical tech program has two reasons to celebrate: it reached its 20-year milestone and began awarding bachelor’s degrees. Surgical technologists play an integral role in the operating room. They ensure a safe and sterile environment, arrange equipment and support doctors and nurses during a procedure.
“The 20th anniversary is a testament to those who came before me,” said Rick Lopez of NMU’s School of Clinical Sciences. He has directed the program since 2009 after working at Marquette General Hospital and with the 107th Battalion of the National Guard, including its deployment to Iraq. “Kim Dunlap started surgical technology at Northern. Sandy Kontio helped her with the clinical portion and then ran the program for many years after Kim left. When Sandy retired, I was appointed. It began as a one-year certificate and expanded to a two-year associate degree. In 2009, we began offering a bachelor’s in clinical health science with an emphasis in surgical technology.”
The first bachelor’s degree recipient graduated last spring. Another is scheduled to receive his degree in December.
“The four-year degree is new enough that I don’t think many people know we offer it,” Lopez said. “It’s mainly for management purposes and the ability to climb the ladder and be on a more equal level with nurses. You can’t get a higher degree unless you shift to a different field. With a bachelor’s, someone could manage a surgery center, do research, assist oral surgeons and veterinarians or work in sales. It can move them in a different direction than staff technician.”
Lopez said most of the course work can be completed online by those working in the field. Beyond classes, the bachelor’s degree requires advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) training, two years minimum experience as a surgical tech, passing the national boards and shadowing a manager in a clinical setting for two weeks.
“Our program would not have reached the 20-year milestone without support from the regional medical community,” Lopez said. “At MGH, we’ve been lucky to have Dr. [Craig] Coccia as our medical director and a strong support group of doctors, nurses and fellow technicians. We’re a feeder program for the hospital, so it’s in their interest as well to have a good selection of surgical techs. We also have agreements with most U.P. hospitals and other facilities in lower Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia and California to place our students for their required two-credit clinical practice internship.”