Durham Tech pilots apprenticeship program with Duke Health

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DURHAM, N.C. — A new partnership between Durham Tech and the Duke Health Care System will solidify the first apprenticeship of its kind in the state. 

The Durham Tech surgical technology program gives students the opportunity to complete coursework for a two-year degree while allowing them to gain on-the-job training inside operating rooms. 


What You Need To Know

  • There is a shortage of surgical technologists across the country
  • A partnership between Durham Tech and the Duke Health System aims to fill the need for surgical technologist in the state
  • Maggie Baker and Kilie Fetzer will be the first graduates of the program
  • Duke Tech will host a ceremony Tuesday to celebrate the new program

The two-year school is hoping to fill a national demand for operating room workers. A 2022 survey of medical centers shows hospital chief executive officers are reporting an over 40% increase in the number of openings for surgical technologists.

Maggie Baker and Kilie Fetzer are the first students to enroll. They each said they feel they have gotten real-world experience.

“We gotta move fast if you want to be efficient and ready before the patient comes in,” Fetzer said.

The pilot has given Fetzer the opportunity to learn from people working in her field.

“I would say week two of clinicals, I felt like, ‘OK, this is my new normal,’” Fetzer said. 

The pair take classes on campus while also going through clinical rounds with their future employer. Baker called it a win-win.

“I know that my job is there. I have a job,” Baker said.

To move in a life-or-death setting without paralysis of thought, they must nail down the basics of sanitation and maintenance of a clean work environment.

Part of understanding what can infect a patient on the operating table is to learn the applicable lab science inside and out in their microbiology course.

Students use petri dishes to simulate chains of infectious transmission, a simple yet critical experiment for patient care.

“You don’t want to give them an infection,” Fetzer said.

Fetzer is from Ohio and Baker is from North Carolina. Each is juggling similar yet often distinct responsibilities.

“It’s challenging. It’s very challenging, but it’s rewarding because I know that this was my dream and I wanted to show my kids I could do it. So they could also do it if they ever have a dream. That’s why I did it,” Baker said.

Fetzer’s support keeps Baker going.

“I don’t think I would have kept going if I didn’t build the friendship with Kilie because really it’s not something you can easily do by yourself,” Baker said.

When they complete the program, they will have earned their degrees on the way to realizing their dreams.

“I know that we are doing something that they (the patients) need,” Baker said. The program runs a little more than two years. 

“I know it is cheesy to say, but you are helping people,” Fetzer said.

This pilot is the first partnership between a junior college and major medical network forming a student-to-employee pipeline in the state. Program director Jill Roofner said this surgical tech apprenticeship will prepare students for the workforce, guarantee job placement and reduce the amount of student loan debt upon graduation with an associate degree.

Fetzer and Baker will appear at an event on Tuesday to celebrate the advent of the apprenticeship. The signing day begins at 10 a.m. on the campus of Durham Tech.

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