Students Learn by Doing
in COT Health Professions
by Caroline Lupfer
Nineteen-year-old Dusty Simons wasnt expecting to be called into action on her
first day as a surgical technician-in-training at St. Patrick Hospital, but the operating
team was short-staffed for a scheduled Caesarean delivery of a baby in a difficult
position. So Simons got to lend a hand in the birth of a healthy boy to first-time
That was amazing, a great experience, says Simons, a third-semester student
in the surgical technology certificate program offered by UMs College of Technology.
As part of her 18-hour-a-week clinical experience soon to expand into a
full-time internship Simons has participated in hysterectomies, gall bladder
removals, hernia repairs and laparoscopic procedures. Her duties include preparing the
operating room and instruments and helping to drape the patient according to the type of
operation being performed. She passes instruments, holds retractors and generally is
available to do whatever is needed during surgeries, some of which last several hours. She
is an indispensable part of the operating-room team.
According to COT Dean Dennis Lerum, the colleges health professions programs are
becoming more and more popular. In addition to surgical technology, there are programs in
medical laboratory technology, pharmacy technology, practical nursing and respiratory
therapy. Both practical nursing and surgical technology will expand from certificate to
two-year associate degree programs soon.
The Department of Health Professions at the college attracts applicants from all over
the Northwest, Lerum says, and usually enrolls students from at least 45 of Montanas
56 counties every year. Each program requires that students complete a certain amount of
course work before moving into the clinical experiences. In the case of surgical
technology, incoming students soon will be asked to add medical microbiology and writing
to other core courses such as math, anatomy and medical terminology.
As technology advances, we need more time to train students and to get through
the necessary material, explains Bobette Pattee, program director and chair of the
COT health professions department.
We hope to have it so that students who are admitted can take their core classes
at whatever institution is closest to them and then come to Missoula for the specific
surgical technology courses. If they cant be here, we are going to try to have Web
As students become educated in their chosen professions, they also provide valuable
assistance in hospitals, clinics and laboratories across the state. A student in the
medical laboratory technology program, for instance, might participate in an internship in
Missoula, Billings, Butte, Helena, Great Falls, Kalispell or Havre. During that time the
students would gain hands-on experience while helping hospital staff collect and examine
blood and other fluid specimens, perform diagnostic tests and distinguish abnormal from
normal test results.
We like to be able to offer a geographic range of opportunities, Pattee
says. And as COT offers the only such training programs in the state, many health centers
in Montana rely heavily on a constant supply of such helping hands. They also would like
to send their own personnel to COT to become educated as clinical instructors to further
support the training experience, she says.
Peggy Hubley, who guides surgical technology interns at Deaconess Billings Clinic
Hospital, gives COT students glowing reviews for the critical thinking skills that the
program emphasizes and actively recruits graduates for positions there.
Were always excited to have these students here every year, she says.
If they like us and we like them, it can be a win-win situation because we are
always looking for quality employees.
A former Billings intern, Mandy Williams, who now works at Missoulas St. Patrick
Hospital, says that the COT program provided great training.
You have to get to know all the doctors and their little quirks, she says.
Its not a stagnant job. You learn something new every day.
For more information about the College of Technologys health professions
programs, contact Bobette Pattee at:
(406) 243-7860 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.