Jeff Gruninger, Surgical Technology

photo by Sandi Yanisko

Jeff Gruninger enjoyed his job as a construction project manager, until sales of new homes collapsed with the economy in 2008. Laid off twice, he took his resume to construction sites but found only skepticism.

“It wasn’t so much that people laughed at me,” says the Pottstown father of four boys. “But they would snicker … like, ‘You can try, buddy.’ I cried uncle and decided to go back to school. It’s a ‘life happens’ kind of thing.”

In fact, a visit to a West Campus open house radically changed his direction. Gruninger, 46, made the leap into a completely different profession but one where employment is expected to grow: Surgical Technology.

“Surgical technologists work in the operating room, setting up instruments, draping patients, getting gloves together for the surgeons,” he says. “There are nurses who do it, but quite a few hospitals use technologists.”

Also called scrubs and surgical or operating room technicians, these medical workers hold more than 86,000 jobs nationwide.

Gruninger says he has always had a medical career in the back of his mind because his grandmother, a nurse, told him he would make a good one.

“I have the right personality: patience, compassion, wanting to help people,” he says. “In addition, I’ve always been a technical person and like to work with my hands.”

MCCC offers both an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree and a certificate in Surgical Technology. In the program, students take courses such as anatomy and biology that parallel nursing. They also participate in clinicals, where they work in hospital operating rooms under the supervision of scrub nurses or more experienced technicians.

“One day you could be working with an orthopedic surgeon in a hip replacement, and the next with a gynecologist in a hysterectomy, or in general surgery removing a gallbladder, says Gruninger. “It was something new every day.”

He adds, “The program was phenomenal. The sheer fact that I get to do what I do on a daily basis — helping people who need a surgical procedure. I feel like I’m important in this person’s medical care.”

Returning to school in one’s 40s might unnerve some people, but Gruninger found MCCC bustling with students and professors willing to help him attain his goals.

“People thought it was courageous — I actually had a surgeon tell me that. My willingness to go back to school at my age,” he says. “He seemed to find it particularly fascinating.”

“I never felt out of place, although in most classes I was the oldest student,” says Gruninger, who is married to Shannon, a software engineer. “But I’ve been out in the world and I was never afraid to ask for help. I was never made to feel stupid. The professors were easy to talk with and would clarify things I didn’t understand.”

His fellow students bolstered each other in study groups and Gruninger also joined MCCC’s Meridian Club, a campus organization for non-traditional students.

Gruninger graduated from MCCC in December with an AAS degree in Surgical Technology.  His prospects for finding employment are good, which he might not be able to say if he were still in the home-building industry.

And even if he could, the hours of toil through blazing summers and biting winters don’t spark nostalgia.

Come to think of it, Gruninger doesn’t miss that old career. “A little bit,” says the amateur photographer and rabid Flyers fan. “But not really.”

~ by Rebecca Rhodin

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