Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy


Get the gloves, the scrubs, count the instruments one-by-one out loud, and most importantly, don’t touch anything.

The patient is anesthetized on the table and is ready to be sliced open for an appendectomy.

It’s imperative that nothing is contaminated.

The surgeon knocks on the door — it’s preparation time in the mock operation room Monday at Glendale Career College.


She’s flat-lining.

The dummy is lying on the table, exposed guts and all, to be the learning instrument for three students studying to be surgical technicians, and for the faux-surgeon and aesthetician who, in reality, are their teachers.

Agnes Ibay is today’s circulator.

She’s making sure Arbi Baghalian and Edwin Carrillo have the right amount of instruments sterilized.


She makes them count each sponge and suture out loud to ensure nothing gets left behind in the patient’s body.

“Communicate,” instructor Matti Maya said to Ibay.

Students get a couple of months of lectures, a few months in the mock surgery, and then the last five months of their college career is spent interning in operation rooms at Glendale Adventist, Providence St. Joseph and Cedars-Sinai medical centers.

They learn to help set up the operating room, prepare instruments and patients for surgery and how to pass instruments, and other supplies, to surgeons.

When students are done with their 15-month surgical technician program, they’re ready to start their career.

Connie Bell has been an instructor at the college for almost 15 years and had 23 years in the field before falling in love with education.

“The population of students we serve is very different than the population that goes to community colleges or four-year universities,” Bell said. “We have students that have been pounded by life and have made some wrong choices.”

The instructors do more than create “real-world settings,” Bell said.


They teach them how to interact with surgeons and how to fit in to the elite operating room staff.

“By the end of their externships, they go golfing and play basketball with the surgeons,” Bell said.

Baghalian, 29, has to memorize details about each surgeon he works with at Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

“In the beginning it’s hard to remember what surgeon likes what instrument or type of glove,” Baghalian said. “[The surgical technician’s] purpose is to protect the sterile instruments. We’re the only person that can touch them before the surgeon.”

It is a surgical technician’s responsibility to protect themselves, protect the surgeon and protect the patient, said Sarkis Yeghnazar, instructor for 12 years and Glendale Career College graduate.

“The smallest mistake will make surgeons go crazy,” Yeghnazar said. “The probability of a patient dying increases when there is infection during surgery.”

In the operating room, you never know what’s going to happen, Maya said.

“[Surgeons] are expecting that you know this stuff,” Ibay said. “It’s kind of pressure, but they are very helpful, especially at Glendale Adventist.”


What drives the students to go to Glendale Career College is that baby boomers are on the way out of the medical field, and these twentysomethings are ready to tackle new instruments in the operating rooms, Bell said.

Technology is second nature to them, and the college is there to guide them in any way possible.

Surgical technicians make $18 an hour on average, depending on the hospital and shift to which they are assigned.

“There is a lot of potential for upward mobility for the students,” Bell said.

“We truly change these students’ lives.”