This release ran in the Nov. 14, 2016 edition of the Vail Daily. 

VAIL — Surgical technology is rapidly becoming one of the best healthcare support jobs in the nation, and now, thanks to a partnership between Vail Valley Medical Center and Colorado Mountain College, locals have the opportunity to pursue a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in the field, right here in Eagle County.

Vail Valley Medical Center—which performed more than 6,700 surgeries in 2015 in their hospital operating rooms and at Vail Valley Surgery Center in Vail and Edwards—has been facing the challenge of recruiting and retaining high quality clinical staff for their operating rooms, primarily due to the high cost of living in Eagle County. The goal of the hospital’s partnership with Colorado Mountain College  is to train VVMC’s existing sterile processing staff, as well as anyone within the mountain communities who completes a core curriculum, to specialize in surgical technology in preparation for a career in the region.

“If we can educate locals who have already made Eagle County their home, we have a better chance at attracting and retaining employees who understand the unique challenges and opportunities of living in the high country,” explains VVMC’s President and CEO Doris Kirchner. “Vail Valley Medical Center is supportive of employees who seek growth opportunities, and this is a great one!”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected surgical technology will grow 15 percent from 2014 to 2024, more than double the average rate for all other occupations. In addition, the BLS reports the median annual salary for surgical techs in 2015 was $44,330.

Eddie Skinner is a co-lead surgical technologist at VVMC and one of the future course instructors. He says, “I love what I do because I get to use my brain—I’m constantly thinking, anticipating. It’s a fun job, and it’s rewarding. It makes me feel good when patients are healing as they should. I like knowing that my knowledge and skills are helping others.”

Surgical technicians play integral roles in the operating room. They prepare the patient and operating room for surgeries, and they pass sterilized equipment and tools to the surgeons during surgery. At the bedside, they may assist the surgical team by holding organs in place, and once surgery is completed, they may help dress the wound and transfer the patient to the recovery room. With world-renowned orthopedics and some of the best general surgeons in Colorado performing a variety of operations at the Vail and Edwards surgery centers, Vail Valley Medical Center’s surgical technicians gain invaluable experience and assist patients directly in their care.

“Working with The Steadman Clinic gives our surgical techs an incredible opportunity to see some of the hardest orthopedic cases,” says Skinner. “These surgeons are performing procedures that haven’t been done in other places, and as surgical techs., we get to see techniques that will be used around the world.”

When Vail Valley Medical Center approached Colorado Mountain College about partnering to offer the program, they also saw the opportunity it would create for the community.

“Colorado Mountain College is thrilled to add this specialized program to our suite of allied health courses,” says Dr. Kathryn Regjo, vice president of Colorado Mountain College Vail Valley. “Working with VVMC allows us to combine our curriculum with the hospital’s resources to offer a comprehensive, hands-on experience in a highly valued career field.” Colorado Mountain College also offers certificates and degrees in nursing, nurse aide, medical assisting, billing and coding, and phlebotomy.

The surgical technology program is a two-year degree. In the first year, students are required to take human anatomy, microbiology, medical terminology and human growth/development, among other courses, all already available at every CMC campus or online. In the second year, students will as part of a partnership between CMC and Front Range Community College, focus the studies on the core curriculum of surgical technology, including clinical lab and robust internship components, all taken either online or here in the Vail Valley.  They will engage in coursework with experts like Skinner at the Vail Valley Surgery Center in Edwards. Classes for the second year of the program are expected to be available as early as fall 2017, meaning students who began their program in January 2017, or have transfer credits, will have be able to take courses for the second year, as early as fall 2017.

Upon completion of the program, students will be eligible to sit for the Certified Surgical Technician Exam offered through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assistants.

The courses in the program are highly affordable as is the model at Colorado Mountain College. In addition, a small pool of scholarship monies is available for students enrolling in winter 2017. Students considering enrolling in fall 2017 may apply for scholarships as of November 2016, which may help cover tuition, books and fees. More information on  the pathway to an associate degree in surgical technology can contact Mike Trujillo at 970-569-2908.