Lovers of the TV medical drama Grey’s Anatomy should know it takes some liberties with storytelling, says a Columbia Basin College surgical technology assistant professor.
Doug Hughes isn’t talking about the personal entanglements the show’s characters tend to find themselves in, or the extreme medical cases they contend with.
Rather, Hughes takes issue with how such shows depict doctors — not surgical technologists — as working one-on-one with surgeons in the operating room.
“The reality is that no matter how small or big a surgery is, there’s a surgical technologist,” he said. “You can’t do surgery without a surgical technologist.”
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Hughes, who arrived at CBC last year to be director of the college’s surgical technology program, was recently recognized as one of the top 15 surgical technology instructors in the nation by an online publication focused on the medical technology industry.
Hughes was at the top of the site’s list, noting his involvement in professional organizations, awards he’s won as an educator and his unique teaching style.
It’s a recognition his colleagues and students said is well-deserved, given his commitment to preparing students for a field that is seeing more demand for highly trained professionals.
“I feel like he genuinely cares about all of us and that we’re successful in this program,” said Kara Dougherty, 22, of Walla Walla, a first-year surgical technology student.
Surgical technologists are charged with maintaining surgical equipment and supplies, knowing the procedures and instruments needed for each surgery, preparing operating rooms before surgery and then working with the surgeon and his team during the entire procedure.
The field was once a nursing specialization, but the growing demands of modern operating rooms and their increasing reliance on technology pushed it into its own discipline.
While not doctors or nurses, surgical technologists are just as responsible for a patient’s care during surgery.
“They count all the sutures, the staples, everything that’s going to be used,” Hughes said. “During surgery you don’t want to lose anything in the patient.”
Most surgical technologists are trained at community and junior colleges. The bulk of the instructors lauded by the Medical Technology Schools website also come from those types of programs.
Hughes describes his teaching style as hands-on, charging his students with advancing their own learning and understanding.
While he will lecture students on the main points of a topic to start, he will otherwise break down what they are learning and farm it out to students to research on their own and bring back to the class to show what they learned.
“I think it’s better than reading all the surgeries out of the book and trying to remember them,” Dougherty said.
Hughes’ strong work ethic, positive attitude and rapport with students has made a deep impression on CBC’s surgical technology program, said Mary Hoerner, dean of the college’s health sciences division based in Richland. She also praised his collaboration with healthcare providers and institutions in the region.
“Doug has quickly sought out community partnership opportunities, opening doors for a diversity of clinical experience,” she said, adding that Hughes “listens to community partner requests and was highly motivated to establish a new certificate program ‘Health Care Central Service Technology’ that he will be implementing spring quarter.”
CBC’s surgical technology program is relatively small compared to other similar programs, Hughes said, with only about 16 students per term. But he and others in the industry see that number growing as hospitals and other healthcare providers seek more employees, especially as surgical technologists are relied on to do more tasks.
But for students like Dougherty, who have a passion for medicine, it’s gratifying to have an instructor dedicated to helping students understand the work, rather than just to weed people out of the profession.
“I was afraid I was going to get into this program and it would be either you get it or you don’t,” she said. “It’s not like that at all. He makes sure we get it, he makes sure we’re successful.”