Georgia Northwestern Technical College’s (GNTC) Surgical Technology program graduates weave their knowledge of human anatomy, surgical procedures, tools and technologies to support a surgeon in the operating room.
Working under a surgeon’s supervision, surgical technologists set up, organize, test and ensure sterilization of operating room equipment and minimize patients’ potential exposure to germs and contaminants during procedures. Graduates of GNTC’s program are prepared for employment in hospital operating rooms and surgery centers, including veterinary practices.
“The primary goal of the surgical technologist is to always ensure patient safety,” said Cinda Cochran, program director and instructor of the Surgical Technology program at GNTC. “Surgical technologists work side-by-side with surgeons and are often referred to as the surgeon’s ‘right- hand.’ They also work closely with Registered Nurses, anesthesiologists, other surgical technologists and additional members of the surgical team to provide patient care before, during and after the surgical procedure.”
Surgical technologists prepare the operating room before the surgery begins by ensuring that all the equipment, necessary supplies and correct instruments are available and ready to be used by the surgeon to perform the procedure, Cochran explained.
During the surgery their primary responsibility is to “maintain the sterile field” by ensuring that any instruments or supplies used on a patient are sterile when opened and remain so during use, she said. Surgical technologists keep account of sponges, needles and instruments; dispense fluids and drugs; and prepare specimens to be sent for analysis.
The exodus of employees from healthcare jobs during COVID-19, coupled with the retirement of Baby Boomers, has resulted in a shortage of healthcare professionals in every allied health field; consequently, Surgical Technology graduates can expect a “very promising” future, Cochran said.
“Usually over half of our class has either already gained employment before they finish the program, or they will be able to enter the workforce following graduation from the program,” Cochran said.
Graduates must pass their board exam to become a national credentialed Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). In 2020, 83% of graduates passed their board exam, and all graduates either obtained jobs in the Surgical Technology field or continued their education.
GNTC established its Surgical Technology program in 1997 and most recently graduated 12 students in December 2022. The associate degree program is offered on the Walker County Campus in Rock Spring.
Classes in Surgical Technology cover microbiology, pharmacology, surgical procedures and clinicals, and helps prepare students to take the national certification exam.
GNTC’s program uses the most up-to-date training tools and prepares students for their jobs through lab simulations, Cochran said, adding that many employers praise GNTC’s Surgical Technology graduates as the best and most prepared.
“We have a very good relationship with our clinical facilities who often contact us when they need staff,” Cochran said.
Hanna Leamon received her associate degree in Surgical Technology in December 2022 at GNTC. She said she felt well-prepared for her job as a Certified Surgical Technologist at Surgery Partners in Chattanooga because “we practiced for weeks and knew all the basics before we even went into our clinical.”
Because GNTC offered the pre-requisite courses online, Leamon was able to keep her full-time job, she explained, adding that she is a single mother. Once she started clinicals and had to leave her full-time job, she received financial help from GNTC. She received a gas card through the GNTC Foundation’s Fuel Their Education campaign as well as reimbursements for gas and childcare through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Program.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Program (WIOA) is a federally funded work training program that assists students who meet both eligibility and suitability requirements. Eligible students learn new skills for tomorrow’s workforce.
“The thing I love most about being a surgical technologist is knowing that I assisted with a surgery that helped a patient,” Leamon said.
Cochran said she joined GNTC about 16 years ago and has worked as a Certified Surgical Technologist and Certified Registered Central Service Technician (CRCST) in sterile processing for more than 20 years.
Surgical Technology instructor Hunter Thomason completed GNTC’s Central Sterile Supply Processing Technician certificate program in December 2018 and earned an associate degree in Surgical Technology in December 2019. He worked under Cochran’s direction on both programs and got the opportunity to work with his mentor when he joined the GNTC team in August 2023.
“Although I am a GNTC alumnus, there are many other reasons why I have decided to come back to my home,” Thomason said. “GNTC’s impact on the community—as well as the overwhelming sense of positivity and drive to guide students to succeed no matter their current situation, background or financial status—is why I have decided to return to GNTC.”
Thomason could not envision working for another college. “This opportunity is going to allow me to be the best instructor and person that I can possibly be,” he said.
Cochran said she has wanted to work in surgery and to be part of a team to help others since she was young.
At age 23, she got the opportunity to make that dream a reality when she was among 35 individuals, including nurses and future surgical technologists, who were selected for a six-week training program coordinated by GNTC and Atrium Health Floyd (formerly Floyd Medical Center) and then signed a three-year contract to work at the hospital to pay for the training, she said. After that period, students had the option of permanent employment at the hospital.
“I don’t think I ever even realized when my three years were up,” she said. “By that time, I had surgery in my blood. It is a true passion, and I have never looked back since making that commitment.”
Thomason said his interest in Surgical Technology was sparked when studying anatomy in high school. Throughout his career, he has developed his knowledge in Central Sterile Processing and has worked with surgical specialties including general, gynecological and obstetric, orthopedic, plastic, robotic and urological.
While attending GNTC, he worked as a pharmacy technician. Upon graduation, he has worked at a small foot and ankle surgery center in Ringgold, worked three years at Erlanger East Hospital and then moved to the Center for Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Surgery Center in Chattanooga.
“I attended GNTC because of the efficient and effective ‘Get Hired’ mentality, and I am honored to join the faculty,” he said, adding that he is excited work with Cochran to grow GNTC’s “Surgical Technology program to be the best in our area.”
For more information on GNTC’s Surgical Technology program, visit https://www.gntc.edu/academics/department-websites/surgical-technology/.
Georgia Northwestern Technical College provides quality workforce education to the citizens of northwest Georgia. Students have the opportunity to earn an associate degree, diploma or a certificate in aviation, business, health, industrial or public service career paths. This past year, 11,601 people benefited from GNTC’s credit and noncredit programs.
GNTC has an annual credit enrollment of 8,071 students and an additional enrollment of 3,530 people through adult education, continuing education, business and industry training and Georgia Quick Start. For more information about GNTC, visit us at www.GNTC.edu. GNTC is a unit of the Technical College System of Georgia and an Equal Opportunity Institution.