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Cultivating a New Field

Conquest - Spring 2012

Anesthesiology technologists 
enhance OR contributions


By Julie A. Penne

As Jose “Joey” Herrera Jr. pursued his own aspirations as an anesthesiology technologist, he paved the way for those coming after him.

One of only four certified anesthesiology technologists in Houston and two at 
MD Anderson, Herrera works on the local and national fronts to enhance educational opportunities and push national standardized certification. His goal is to make anesthesiology support assistants acknowledged members of the anesthesia care team.

As clinical manager of Anesthesia Services, Jose "Joey"
Hererra Jr. manages and trains employees and makes sure
the department's complex equipment is working — and
where it's supposed to be.
Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

Herrera’s initiative has broad support — from the 20 technicians and technologists who work with him to the leadership of 
MD Anderson’s Division of Anesthesiology and Critical Care to the American Society of Anesthesiology Technologists and Technicians (ASATT).

Troubleshooters and monitors

Anesthesiology technologists and technicians support anesthesiologists by setting up and troubleshooting their equipment in the operating rooms and by helping monitor patients. They also work alongside anesthesiologists and CRNAs who sedate patients outside the operating room, such as pediatric patients at the Proton Therapy Center.

Constantly on the move, anesthesiology support assistants are among the first employees on the surgical floor every day.

“The most important aspect of our work is to earn the trust of the anesthesiologists and CRNAs and anticipate any need they or the patient may have,” Herrera says. “We support them so they can focus on taking care of patients and keeping them safe during surgery.”

The Pilots of the OR: Anesthesiology Team Focuses on the Patient

Herrera returned to MD Anderson in January to manage the daily work of the technologists and technicians, secure educational and certification opportunities, and build a pipeline for the future.

It’s been a long road since he came to MD Anderson in 1990 as a high school student, exploring health careers and working as a nursing assistant. But Herrera relishes the challenge of making the institution a model for the field that attracted him as a young man.

He is especially well suited for the job.

Besides 15-plus years of practical experience at two hospitals in the Texas Medical Center, Herrera was head of the anesthesiology technician program at Sanford-Brown College-Houston, an accredited school for allied health professions that awards associate’s degrees. He developed the course work, arranged hospital rotations and worked closely with students on their career goals, job prospects and certifications.

Validation through certification

But even before he headed to MD Anderson to lead its program, there already were national changes afoot regarding training and certification.

Currently, there are two levels of certification. A person with two years of on-the-job experience or a recent graduate from an accredited anesthesia technology program can take the technician certification exam. After six months, the technician-certified anesthesia technologist can take the more involved technologist exam.

But in 2015, the technician certification exam will no longer be offered, and technicians will only be able to sit for the technologist level certification exam if they have an associate’s degree or higher in anesthesia technology.

Later this year, Herrera will become president of ASATT, the national organization for technicians and technologists, as the field prepares for the changeover. Until then, he will serve on the group’s education committee, which oversees the national accreditation of programs.

“We’re fortunate that our program is structured under the Division of Anesthesiology and Critical Care. Surprisingly, not every program in the country has that advantage,” Herrera says. “MD Anderson is a great advocate for the field and already recognizes us as valued members of the anesthesia patient care team.”

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