Mock operation highlights surgical technologist issue

7:05 PM, Apr 11, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Great Hall at the State Capitol was converted into an operating room, of sorts, on Thursday.

The orthopedic surgeon was real, as were the instruments. And a real, living person was on the table throughout the procedure.

But the knee undergoing the drilling, hammering and sawing was a model.

The point of the mock arthroplasty -- or full knee replacement -- was to call attention to the role that surgical technologists play in an operation.

"I feel the mock surgery really demonstrates what a certified surgical technologist does," Sara Vodnick of the Minnesota State Assembly of Surgical Technologists told KARE.

"A lot of people think we've just got nurses in the OR, or doctors."

Vodnick was among those promoting a bill that would require that medical technologists be professionally certified in Minnesota.  Currently there's no such requirement statewide, but some hospitals only hire those with the certification.

"What it means you've graduated from an accredited program, and you've gone through your training, and then you're able to continue your training after you sit for that certification exam," Vodnick said. 

Maintaining that certification requires 60 continuing education credits every four years, to ensure technologists are keeping current with changing technology.

A study commissioned by the Association of Surgical Technologists found that Minnesota hospitals using only certified technologists had 32 percent fewer adverse events, which is the terminology regulators use to describe medical errors.

"There have been some wrong site surgeries in Minnesota," Vodnick said, referring to patients who had surgeries performed on the wrong parts of their bodies.

"And that's what we're here to prevent, pushing for mandatory certification for surgical technologists."

Curious Lawmakers

Unlike a real operating room, state lawmakers could come and go freely.  And, at times, they'd hover over the patient to ask the surgeon questions.

"They just wanted to know what was going on in the knee replacement, what are the steps that we were doing," Dr. David Rust, an orthopedic surgeon who conducted the operation, told KARE.

"And they wanted to get a look for themselves to see just how technical this operation is, and how many moving parts there are."

Dr. Rust said he was surprised to learn that medical technologists don't have to be certified to work in operating rooms in Minnesota.

"Most surgeons assume that the surgical technologists that are provided to us are certified and that they're well trained," he said.

The writers of TV medical dramas give most of the speaking roles to doctors and nurses, but the technologists play a vital role in prepping patients for surgery and getting the instruments lined up in the order they'll be needed.

"We depend on our surgical technologists to have all that equipment laid out, to have it accessible, and to deliver it to us in a timely manner," Dr. Rust explained.

"We depend on that team work for efficiency. And it allows us to focus our concentration on the patient and on the surgery in front of us."

The legislation was introduced this year, but has a better chance of being passed in the 2014 session because lawmakers are busy performing fiscal surgery on the state budget.

(Copyright 2013 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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