By Sandra Lynn Farley, AOT, CST, Department Chair of Surgical Technology at York Technical College

For many years, there has been discussion about an associate degree in surgical technology as the preferred entry-level model. Once stronger language around the subject became more common — words like “recommendation” and “proposed requirement” — we decided to get busy and make the Associate Degree in Surgical Technology (AAS.SUR) a reality for York Technical College (YTC) in Rock Hill, South Carolina. It has been a long process but we are happy to report our first cohort for the AAS.SUR will begin their journey this month on August 19, 2020.

To initiate the process, surgical technology program chairs from across South Carolina worked together to develop a state model for AAS.SUR, which was submitted to the South Carolina Technical College System for approval. The approved model made designing the curriculum and the requirements for the YTC AAS.SUR program very easy. Early in the process, it was important to establish whether any state or regional entities would be involved in the development of a state model, with which the program would have to comply to prevent any delays in approval and implementation. If a state or regional model already exists, it is very easy to select courses that comply with the model.

Implementation of a great idea does not happen overnight; it is a process that requires support and approval. The first layer of support came from discussions with our program advisory committee (PAC). Every step of the way, PAC members who supported the transition provided positive feedback. For example, PAC Members Conrad Carson and Heath Cooper, who are graduates of the YTC surgical technology program, agreed that newly added courses (microbiology, basic anatomy and physiology, pharmacology and medical terminology) will be beneficial for future cohorts.

The AAS.SUR curriculum at YTC also includes a sterile processing practicum as a clinical course, which used to be optional. Cooper, having taken the course electively, cited the advantage of requiring this course. “Taking [the sterile processing practicum] helped with learning the instruments. Students [who took this course] were a little ahead of [those who] didn’t … because they already knew the instruments and could help set up cases more quickly,” he said.

Our division’s dean, Linda Weaver-Griggs, was instrumental in providing feedback as well. She ensured we understood the YTC approval process, through which the proposal would have to pass before it went to the South Carolina Technical College System.

This process included presenting the proposal to and getting approvals from various levels of stakeholders, including:

  • The division dean and the PAC
  • The Quality Learning Council (QLC), consisting of faculty and administrative representation across various divisions of the college
  • The Council on Academic and Student Affairs (CASA)
  • The Executive Committee, which included the president of the college and various associate vice presidents from multiple areas of the college
  • The Commissioners of the College
  • The South Carolina State Technical College System

As the first proposal of its kind in the state, it also had to be reviewed by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education and the Department of Education. All levels of approval were opportunities to promote the profession of Surgical Technology to each member of each committee and board who reviewed the proposal.

We learned much throughout this experience, but there are a few key highlights for anyone embarking on this journey. First, each program, school, state and region has a different approval process. One must determine the entities that will review the proposal and establish a timeline for both internal and external review. Failing to submit the proposal for review in a timely manner could cause it to be tabled for months before the board meets again. Additionally, it pays to reach out to others who have converted from a diploma to an associate degree program. Although their experiences will not be identical to yours, you may learn something new or arrive at a solution from a different angle. Collaboration is key to enhancing our profession, especially when it comes to initiatives of this level.

This process takes time and there will be moments when people’s passion waxes and wanes. Stay the course and remember that everything we do serves to ensure we help advance the profession and enrich our students’ educational experience. This, in turn, will set our students up for long-term success in delivering the best possible patient care to the community.