Surgical technicians Debbie Kelly, left, and Tommy Hays, right, prepare an operating room at Cherokee Nation W.W. Hasting Hospital. Hays is also an educator who instructs students of the tribe’s new surgical technician program. (Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Nation)

Hospital Program Prepares Cherokees to be Surgical Technicians

ICTMN Staff
7/11/11

A new job training program at W.W. Hastings Hospital in Tahlequah, Oklahoma allows Cherokees to become surgical technicians in just nine and a half months. Most surgical technician programs take two years to complete and require an associate’s degree.

Surgical technologists prepare the operating room, assist surgeons with donning their surgical gowns and gloves, and hand the surgeon medical instruments during a procedure. They may also prep a patient prior to surgery and transport them to recovery afterwards.

The surgical technician program immerses students in classroom education, labs and clinics. Students accepted into the program receive a scholarship for tuition and books from Cherokee Nation Career Services, and Cherokee Nation Health Services provides supplies, scrubs, training and staff. Newly minted graduates are equipped with the skills to become successful surgical technicians at no cost to them, and the training qualifies them to work at hospitals throughout the United States.

“I find it amazing to know the Cherokee Nation has its own program, and we are here to educate people—not make big bucks like a private for-profit,” said Tommy Hays, W.W. Hastings Hospital’s first certified surgical first assistant (CFSA) who started the program.

Hays spent three years establishing the Cherokee Nation W.W. Hastings Hospital Surgical Technology Program. “I took my own money, about $2,000, and went to conferences and started writing and developing the program hand book,” Hays told Indian Country Today Media Network.

“We are providing education for Cherokees, we want to empower them to take care of their own,” Hays said in a statement. “Being Cherokee, when I come to work, I am working for my people.”

Program officials say graduates seeking jobs in the local area can expect to earn an average starting pay of $15 per hour, depending on the facility and the position’s responsibilities.

And the field is growing. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Labor, there will be higher than average demand for qualified workers to fill surgical technician jobs as the population ages and requires more health care such as surgical procedures.

Four students have already completed the program, and three Cherokees will graduate on July 25 during a special ceremony. Five are enrolled in the next program beginning August 15.

“You’re working with a surgeon, and you’re dealing with lives,” Hays told ICTMN. “The challenging part is getting through book work, and then you can see when they get to the clinicals that it’s really rewarding for them.”

One soon-to-be graduate Rochelle Phillips said that without Cherokee Nation she would not have the opportunity to train in the health field, receive one-on-one instruction and graduate debt-free. She says she especially appreciated the smaller-sized class that enabled her to work closely with her instructors.

“I have always wanted to go into the health field, this program is very interesting and challenging and you get to work with a variety of doctors and people,” said Phillips. “I feel like I received one-on-one instruction and if I went elsewhere I wouldn’t get that. It’s been a great experience.”

For more information about the Cherokee Nation’s surgical technician program contact Patricia Sumner at 918-458-3499.

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