November 21, 2022

Gerardo Montes has worked for 13 years as a nursing assistant in the operating room at Mass General Hospital in Boston. His job involves wheeling patients in and out, assisting them in any way, and helping them feel better before, during, and after surgery.

It’s a great job. He loves making sure patients are comfortable, and respects and admires his colleagues. To become more useful in the OR, and to improve his earning potential and career options, he enrolled in the surgical technology program at Great Bay Community College.

“I realized that I needed the degree to solidify my knowledge,” said Montes, who enrolled at Great Bay with his girlfriend, Kriss Silva, who is studying accounting. Four months after they enrolled, the pandemic hit.

Montes’s job changed, and so did the path of his education.

At work, surgeries stopped. Instead, he was assigned to what was known as a proning team, which consisted of nurses, respiratory therapists, and others who turned critically ill Covid-19 patients from their backs onto their stomachs, or in the prone position, to improve oxygenation. Doing hands-on work at the front edge of an evolving massive public health crises, he felt more useful – and more certain of his decision to improve his skills and potential.

At Great Bay, classes quickly moved online — and Montes quickly realized how committed the college was to the outcome of his education. “Great Bay is doing an amazing job. They really want us to succeed,” he said. “After a short pause, we all figured it out. We persevered.”

Montes, who lives in Dover, expects to graduate in late 2023 or early 2024 with an Associate in Science degree in surgical technology.

Working closely with the surgeon, anesthesiologist, registered nurse, and other surgical personnel, surgical technologists ensure that the operating room is safe, that equipment functions properly, and that operations are conducted under conditions that maximize patient safety.

They are experts in sterilization, human anatomy, surgical procedures, and the handling of instruments and technologies. With a two-year degree, they are qualified to work in hospitals, surgical centers, and private practices.

Over the course of 13 years at Mass General, Montes has first-hand exposure to everything that happens in the OR. The pandemic reinforced how valuable he was – and how valuable he can be.

“That is what brought me in and what has kept me in this amazing program at Great Bay,” he said.