surgical technology students wearing scrubs conduct a mock operation in a classroom
Jul 6, 2020
Daily Inter Lake

Putting Patients First — FVCC Surgical Tech Program Director Reflects on Career Behind the Scenes

By Mackenzie Reiss

When picturing a surgical team, which specialists come to mind?

There’s the surgeon, of course, along with nurses and the anesthesiologist. There’s also one lesser known party inside the operating room, though no less essential — the surgical technologist.

If you’ve watched any medical TV shows recently, you might be familiar with part of a surg tech’s role. When the surgeon calls out “Ten blade!” before making that first cut, a gloved hand passes over the tool.

That hand belongs to the surgical technologist. But their responsibility encompasses more than handing out instruments. They also prepare the surgeon’s arsenal of tools and maintain a sterile environment before and during the procedure.

Robyn Hoggatt was one of these behind-the-scenes workers for more than a decade and is now taking her expertise to the classroom as the new director of Flathead Valley Community College’s surgical technologist program.

“I have knowledge in so many different aspects of [the profession] that I’ve gotten a really broad understanding. Now I want to show students those things,” she said.

Hoggatt grew up on a ranch near Shelby and developed an interest in the life sciences in high school. She began her career in medicine as a medical assistant — an administrative role that involves taking patient histories and vital signs — before earning her certification in surgical technology. Hoggatt was drawn to the operating room because she enjoyed being an advocate for the patients and working seamlessly alongside the rest of the medical team.

“The best feeling as a surgical tech is when you work with a surgeon so much that it almost becomes like a dance where they don’t have to ask for what they want — you just have it in your hand,” she said. “We’re not there for the glory — we’re there mainly for the patient and to make things go smoothly.”

And when things don’t go as planned, Hoggatt said “everybody puts their heads together” to find a solution. She’s even made suggestions that resulted in better outcomes for the patients, such as avoiding a more invasive procedure by using creative methods to remove a foreign object.

Part of her role also involves keeping a watchful eye throughout surgeries to make sure the environment stays sterile. For example, team members can’t touch their faces in the OR or lower tools below the level of the table. While these requirements may seem overzealous, it’s all for the sake of infection prevention. If the surgical site becomes infected, it could mean anything from a simple dose of antibiotics or in more serious cases, another surgery to correct the mistake, or even death.

“It takes a lot of resilience and learning how to deal with the stressors,” Hoggatt said. “Sometimes it can become very intense during the surgery.”

Unpredictable and sometimes long procedures aren’t the only challenges that come with the job. There is also the sacrifice of family time when Hoggatt is on-call.

One Christmas, she remembers waiting at her in-laws while dinner was being prepared when she was summoned into work.

“We were just all about ready to sit down and the phone rang and I had to go work. You give up a lot, but it’s very gratifying,” she said. “The patients are so thankful and grateful and that’s a really good feeling to know that you helped someone.”

She hopes to take her years of experience in Missoula, Bozeman and Dillon and create a new crop of highly skilled, certified surgical technologists at FVCC. The program started in 2004 and currently accepts eight students each spring. She hopes to grow the program to between 10 and 12 students and continue the school’s 100% passing rate on the certification exam.

“I love explaining things … and seeing the light go on,” Hoggatt said. “I just like to share my knowledge.”