Learning on the Job

Tarrah Sweatt

Tarrah Sweatt’s 3-month-old son was having emergency surgery for a collapsed lung when she first heard the term CST.

“I had never heard of it, Certified Surgical Technologist,” she said. “I looked it up and decided I wanted to be a CST, someone who supports surgeons and patients before, during, and after surgery.”

A Start in Healthcare

A surgical technician looks over case requirements before each operation, makes sure instrumentation is there, and scrubs in to assist the surgeon during surgery.

“Surgical technicians set up for the operation, checking our instrument pans for sterilization before bringing them up to the sterile field,” Sweatt describes. “A surgical tech sets up the back table, then assists during surgery by holding retractors, passing instruments, suctioning, and cutting suture.”

Surgical technicians, who are sterile the entire case, help maintain the sterile field during surgery and look for breaks in sterility.

“CSTs count all sharps and sponges before each surgery, and one of our main jobs is to make sure all countable items are present upon closing of each incision,” Sweatt said. “At the end of each surgery, CSTs help the PA put dressing on the patient, before breaking down the back table and bringing dirty instruments to central sterile reprocessing.”

But how to get the job she wanted? Sweatt, a Lebanon resident and a graduate of Lebanon High School, asked around. To get your foot in the door of healthcare, she was told, you should take a job at a hospital. She started in housekeeping at DHMC.

While at DHMC, Sweatt enrolled and graduated from the 10-week Medical Assistant program. When it came time for the CST program, she was heartbroken to learn she wasn’t accepted. “I needed operating room experience,” she said. “Much of it took place late at night, and I couldn’t work those hours as a mother with young children.”

Enter APD

Sweatt happened to look at the job openings at Alice Peck Day and found a newly created position: scrub endotech. “I couldn’t believe I found an opportunity in the operating room,” she said.

Her new job at APD provided the hands-on training she needed. With one year of operating room experience, she applied for the CST program for the second time. “I knew I was ready,” Sweatt said. “Surgical technicians do our job best when we can anticipate the needs of the surgeon, which comes with experience.”

APD paid for her education. For 11 months, Sweatt was in school five days a week and worked at APD during her breaks. She’s been a full-time surgical technician at APD for three years.

“I want high school students to know there are ways to continue your education,” Sweatt said. “Not everyone has the means to go to college, and Dartmouth Health and Alice Peck Day have amazing opportunities. But if you don’t know those opportunities exist, like the surgical tech program, our new perioperative assistant position, or sterile processing technician (another great career), you may not find your way into the operating room.”

In the future, Sweatt hopes to attend local high school career fairs to share her story — and ways to find a career in healthcare. It’s another way she plans to give back for the great care her son received 11 years ago.

“I’m forever grateful APD gave me the opportunity,” she said.