MCC Launches Pioneering Surgical Tech Degree Apprenticeship on May 16

Muskegon Community College (MCC), working in collaboration with West Michigan Works! and several Michigan community colleges and hospitals, will “soft launch” its surgical tech program on May 16, when it becomes the first health care associate degree registered apprenticeship in the United States.

The initial cohort of 21 students, limited to apprentices from the participating hospitals, will begin their five-semester, 62-credit hour program leading to an Associate of Applied Science in Surgical Technology. The graduates will then be ready to take the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting national certification exam.

All the coursework will be taught by instructor Stephanie Allen and offered virtually through Michigan Colleges Online. However, students will be required to attend synchronous classes prepared to discuss the content. One of the program’s cost-saving features making it feasible to organizers is that student labs will be held onsite at the participating hospitals: Spectrum in Grand Rapids, Trinity Health in Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Spectrum Health Lakeland in Benton Harbor, and University of Michigan Health-West in Grand Rapids.

Several years in the making, the proposed program underwent several iterations at MCC since West Michigan Works! first contacted the college after having received interest from both Mercy and Spectrum health organizations for trained surgical technicians.

“We are offering a stacked credential in this program,” said Chris Patterson, director of nursing and health programs at MCC. “The first half of the program is a sterile processing certificate. The students will have that after the first two semesters. Sterile processing technicians ensure that all medical equipment and surgical instruments are thoroughly cleaned, sterilized, maintained, and inventoried.

“Then the last three semesters of the program are the surgical tech classes. A surg tech is responsible for preparing the patient and the operating room for surgery and hands the instruments to the doctor and other members of the surgical team. They set up the back table with all the instruments on it. They are the ones who make sure that a sterile field is maintained. They assist the physician during the surgery.”

Students must complete 4,000 practicum hours and work a set number of cases in orthopedics, cardiovascular, neurovascular, urology, and OB/GYN.

At one time, registered nurses performed the duties of a surgical tech, but no longer. In the interim, creating an educational program to successfully prepare individuals for the newly created surgical technician field presented major challenges, such as funding, facilities and a sustained demand, to a single institution of higher learning.

The answers, explained Patterson, were found in a $5 million Department of Labor Grant, $669,000 of which is available to MCC. The Strengthening Community Colleges grant was the result of an effective coalition of west Michigan colleges and hospitals, and the Michigan College Online program, all of which will benefit from the funding.

MCC worked closely with Grand Rapids Community College and Lake Michigan College in designing the curriculum and obtaining the funding. GRCC took the lead on securing the important Department of Labor grant to strengthen community colleges.

“We are using our portion to pay for everything – the instructor, the books and their exams,” said Patterson. “If we had to do our own surg tech program, the cost just to outfit a lab would have been a couple of hundred thousand dollars, which we didn’t have.  There is no way we could run a surg tech program in Muskegon and have the number of students that would justify spending that much on a full-time instructor.

“The cool thing about this program is that it is a registered apprenticeship. It’s registered with the Department of Labor. Health care is new with apprenticeships. Our medical assistant certificate was one of the first healthcare apprenticeships in the country. There are other organizations and states that are trying this, but ours is a little bit different because it’s a collaborative model.”

As for the curriculum, Allen, who has designed three online programs elsewhere since 2020, developed the surgical technician program coursework being used by the Michigan Colleges Online.

“I am a little excited about this and a little anxious making sure it all goes well,” admitted Patterson, who hopes the excellence of the MCC surg tech graduates will keep them in demand across Michigan.

“I am gratified to see the strength of the partnerships in developing educational programs to meet health care needs and to provide living wages and opportunities for career advancement to program graduates,” said MCC President Dale Nesbary, who chairs the Trinity Health System Michigan Regional Board.

For more information about the program, please contact Chris Patterson at chris.patterson@muskegoncc.edu.