Providence Alaska’s OR apprentices help save lives in surgery

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Providence Alaska’s OR apprentices help save lives in surgery

By KTVA Sierra Starks 9:55 AM November 5, 2015

ANCHORAGE – Before surgery even begins inside any one of Providence Alaska Medical Center’s operating rooms, Rhonda Corson and her fellow scrub tech apprentice Shawna Borgen are helping to set up.

Corson says preparing for surgery is like making a meal.

“It’s like a recipe,” said Corson, who is just six weeks into her apprenticeship at Providence. “If you have all the ingredients, it’s going to go great.”

The scrub tech apprenticeship program has allowed Corson and Borgen the opportunity to get hands-on learning almost immediately. They’ll spend the length of their apprenticeship alternating between the classroom and the operating room.

In the OR, day-to-day procedures consist of scrubbing in, suiting up and getting everything ready for surgery to begin.

“We have to do a soft count and a surgical count of all the instruments … anything like that that might be used before the patient gets here,” Borgen said. “And that’s generally about the same time the surgeon will show up as well.”

When the surgeon shows up, Corson says she, the operating room techs, the nurses and the surgeon must work as a team in order for surgery to go smoothly. She adds the fast pace and the real-life component of the job have allowed her to learn quickly.

“I couldn’t do any of this when I first started,” Corson said. “Now, I’m gaining confidence … We are taking a more forward approach and getting involved and passing instruments and actually assisting the surgeon, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Corson’s instructor, Dawn Burns, has been working in operating rooms for almost 30 years. Burns got her start in a formal setting at a school on the East Coast, but she says learning as an apprentice has its benefits.

“As long as they’re focused and we’re focused on teaching them, they’re gonna get a good experience,” Burns said. “One of the best OR techs I’ve ever worked with in my entire life was a woman in Philadelphia who was on-the-job trained.”

With most of her instructors having been in the field for decades, Borgen says it’s an honor to be able to learn from the best in Alaska.

“We’re coming in without the background that they have, and they’re giving us all their knowledge,” Borgen said. “Not everybody gets an opportunity like this.”

Both Borgen and Corson say the operating rooms they work in almost daily have become home. Which is fitting, as after they graduate from the program, they’ll have a job at Providence waiting for them.

Contact Sierra Starks at and on Facebook and Twitter, @SStarksKTVA