Surg Tech is perfect career choice for former army medic
Frank Weeden has known since he was 14 years old that he wanted a medical career, but it took him almost 35 years to get there. He got his first taste of what that career might be like during his military service.
He enlisted right out of high school, and after boot camp trained as an Army Medic. “It’s different from being a civilian paramedic,” he explains. “We did stuff that only doctors and physician assistants do in civilian life, like suturing and injections – I delivered three babies.” He spent three years in an Emergency Room and another three years on a helicopter doing medivac (medical evacuation) as a flight medic.
The Army was the best way for Frank to get into the medical field without going to college. “I grew up in a small town where everybody either joins the military or goes off to college,” he says. “We didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t want to stay in a classroom any longer than I had to, and the Army provided education.”
Five years, 11 months and 23 days into his service, Frank was given an honorable discharge. Instead of pursuing a civilian career in medicine, he opted to go to work in Japan for a company that took him from Computer Pneumatic Control machinist, to manager, to running the international marketing division. He was then transferred back to the states to be the president of a corporation in Tennessee, where he retired at age 42.
Frank, his wife Debbie, and their three children Grey, Bradley and Allison, decided to move closer to family in Bakersfield while they figured out their next career step.
Dinner one night with a long-term physician friend rekindled a dream Frank once had about a medical career. “It was always there and hearing him talk about how much he loved surgery reignited a passion for the medical field that had always been a personal calling for me.”
Sensing Frank’s keen interest, his friend asked, “Ever thought about being a scrub?” With that single question, an important seed was planted. Frank’s ambition provided fertile ground.
“I didn’t even really know what a scrub was and started doing research online,” says Frank. “I found SJVC Bakersfield and their Surgical Technology program. They were having an Open House and I decided to take a look.”
What Frank found impressed him. “The Program Director took me up to the lab where an instructor was already scrubbed in and instruments were laid out. I was pleasantly surprised at their preparation.”
Frank went through the school’s interview process and two entrance exams while he waited to see if the Veteran’s Administration would provide vocational rehabilitation funding. Then he was in.
The Surgical Technology program is accelerated and demanding, but Frank had a plan. “I knew I had to hit the ground running or get run over and left behind.”
As a military veteran, he knew the kind of discipline it was going to take.
“The core classes were extremely challenging, and the course is pretty time-intensive,” he says. “In 16 months, you go from knowing absolutely nothing to actually being proficient enough in surgical technology to actually seek a job out in the field.”
There was the potential for an obstacle in Frank’s path that other students would not encounter. “I was three years older than the Program Director,” he laughs. The next oldest student was 30 years old – about 18 years his junior. The youngest student was just 17. “Being an older student is both good and bad,” he says. “It takes a little longer to pick up on skills, but it sticks more easily because it has experience to attach to. No one made an issue of me being older, at all.” Plus, Frank consistently made top three in the class and had a permanent spot on the Dean’s List.
He made his mark. “Frank was a dedicated student who worked well under pressure,” says Saidah Gavin, Dean of Student Services. “He is kind and thoughtful to fellow classmates and was nominated for a Fred Award by the group of students he mentored. The Fred Award goes to people who have gone above and beyond in some way and expect nothing in return. He’ll be inducted into the National Technical Honor Society in December and he did a lot of his community service helping children.”
Frank was able to balance the intensity of the Surgical Technology program with family responsibilities. “Two of the kids were in college and kind of doing their own thing,” he says. “I was home every evening with my wife, so nothing changed that way except, for me, it was late-night homework and studying on the couch instead of watching TV. It worked out perfectly.”
Frank completed his program last September and a month later, he was working at a regional medical center as a Surgical Technologist. He feels fully prepared and right at home.
“They call us the backbone of the ER,” says Frank. “Without us, surgery couldn’t be performed. We do everything except the actual surgery, including checking equipment and machines, setting up the back table, readying sterile fields and instruments, and when patients get into the OR, preparing the surgical site and positioning the patient up to the operating table. During the surgery, we pass instruments and medications to the surgeon, and afterwards, help place the patient back on their bed and break down the sterile fields.”
It is not all mechanical expertise and precision in the operating room, however. “I stay very mellow, focused and professional,” says Frank. “You’re dealing with human life, and there’s always an emotional component too that you have to push to the side to do the very best for your patient.”
Frank’s vision of accomplishment and providing for his family was inspired by many heroes he has witnessed. It started with his dad Roger who gave him plenty to emulate. “Watching him day-after-day going to work; it didn’t matter if he was sick or hated his job, he never missed a day of work.” A month before he retired, Roger began an 8-year battle with cancer.
Frank also reveres all the single dads and moms who go back to school to try to provide better lives for their families. “They’re my biggest heroes because they want to improve their lives while not only taking care of their children, but working nights, doing homework and still pulling good grades. There were a number of those in my class.”
He was lucky on that score. “My wife took care of our kids, ran the house and had supper ready. My only responsibility was to go to school, get the grades and get my homework done.”
Even though Frank is technically retired, he has never been one of those “get-my-fishing-pole-and-head-to-the-water” kinds of guys. He needs to always have something on the horizon. Next up?
“I want to get at least two years of experience, then I want to go back and instruct at SJVC,” he affirms. “I’ve talked with a number of people, and I’ve gotten lots of encouragement.” Imagine all the lives he might touch in that role.
“Touching life is kind of a theme for me,” he says. “It’s symbiotic. Everybody gets what they need from every situation. They learn from me, I learn from them.”
Spoken like a someone with a true passion for teaching.
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