Forming the Surgical Technology Community in Alaska, Plus Tips for Relationship-Building

From Dawn Burns, Surgical Technologist at Providence Alaska Medical Center

When I arrived in Alaska four-and-a-half years ago, there was no chapter for the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST), no surgical technologist program, and no real requirement for surgical technologists to be or become certified. 

Since this time, we have had major changes in our community of surgical technologists, including the formation of the Alaska State Assembly. Initially the Assembly consisted of only officer positions and a few board of director roles. Today, all board positions are full and we have an attendance of around 30 for our workshop and meeting.

Providence Alaska Medical Center and its surgeons have been extremely supportive of surgical technologists. With help from Dr. Jeff Sedlack, the surgeons created a fund to support surgical technology education and certification. From that fund, the annual surgical technology conference was created and is fully sponsored by Providence. The conference is free to anyone who would like to attend. The fourth annual conference was attended by surgical technologists from all over Alaska, as well as registered nurses and surgical technology students from our University of Alaska Anchorage(UAA) program.

These conferences are an important way to provide continued education and covers a wide range of topics from trauma, to orthopedic, neurology, gynecology and robotics. Additionally, the State Assembly provides a workshop with continuing education opportunities for a small fee.

The surgical technology program at UAA was created in response to a community need championed by the surgical technologists at Providence. They saw the need for a better education program, as well as the need for surgical technologists in general, in the state of Alaska. This was again supported by Dr. Sedlack and Providence Alaska Medical Center, who partnered with UAA to create the current surgical technology program.

The first class graduated in the spring of 2018. All students were hired, with five of the 12 graduates going to Providence. It was a difficult decision, as all 12 students were excellent.

As students transition from UAA to Providence,there are a number of ways they stay involved with the community. Providence’s most recent initiative is the Smiles for Kids program, created by Michael Hill,a current Alaska State Assembly board member. Under Michael’s direction, the surgical technologists collect stuffed animals to give to our pediatric surgical patients and deliver balloons to pediatric inpatients and their visiting siblings. We have also brought balloons to our elderly patients who have no family and spend some time with them.

This is just one way our surgical technologists give back to the community. Many of our surgical technologists volunteer in other ways, too, working with organizations that help combat hunger, bring awareness to and help with the prevention of certain cancers, or participate in local charity runs.

The State Assembly is also working with the Association of Surgical Technologists to pass legislation in Alaska requiring hospitals to hire only certified surgical technologists, to ensure our patients are provided the best possible care.

For those looking to foster stronger relationships with the community and help their program grow, it’s important to actively express your needs or concerns. We never stopped asking for help – we reached out to everyone we could until we found the right people. It proves persistence pays off. In just four-and-a-half short years, our surgical technology community has accomplished so much. I am very excited about the direction we are heading here in Alaska. 

So You Want to Build a Stronger Community?

Featuring Tips from ARC/STSA Volunteers

Building a strong relationship between UAA’s surgical technology program and the community it serves has been one key to the program’s success. Programs cannot isolate themselves and indeed need support from their program advisory committees (PACs) and the community at large. So how do you build a collaborative, sustainable relationship with your PAC and community? We asked a few ARC/STSA volunteers to share tips that have proven successful for them:

  • Show genuine appreciation. Treat feedback with sincerity and make a point to acknowledge all input. Send hand-written thank you notes, deliver treats or create a monthly award (chosen by students) to recognize those who go above and beyond.
  • Show you value their expertise by asking them to share it. Host gatherings where local employers, educators and surgeons can give guest presentations. Leave time for questions, open discussions or networking opportunities. Invite them to participate in career workshops and mock interviews with students.
  • Remember it’s a two-way street. Dedicate time for your program to participate in local charitable efforts, working with food banks, blood drives, or organizations that collect clothes for those in need, for example. Check out this article sharing how the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minnesota, created an annual tradition of community service.