Durham Tech grad makes leap from food and beverage industry to operating room

New Hampshire native and Durham Tech graduate Janice Lee came to North Carolina in 2015 and took a job in the food and beverage industry. But in the back of her mind, she knew she wanted to go back to school but she didn’t know what she wanted to study.

Lee began looking into job availability for surgical technicians, salaries and schools where she could obtain her surgical technician certification. Durham Tech was the only college in the area to offer the program.

Lee attended an information session, met instructors, and started the application process.  

“I liked the college from the start,” Lee said. “You had the feeling of a small school, but one that required much from applicants. I did my due diligence and so did Durham Tech.”  

Waitlisted at first, Lee found out she had gotten in by getting a personal phone call from an instructor saying, "Check your email. You are in."  

Lee said when she entered the program what she found most challenging was getting back into the classroom setting and retraining her brain to learn new things.

“The program is intense. We started with 22 or 23 students and ended up with 11. It’s grueling that first semester. You work hard to pass exams and practicals,” Lee said. “The instructors give you what you need — you just had to put in the time and do what you know to do.”

Lee said she found much of the hands-on program enjoyable because of the number of resources available in the classroom, giving students real-world experience to prepare them for their clinical rotations.

“The instructors are strong and the resources plentiful,” Lee said. “I’m a hands-on type of person, so it suited me and seemed only natural when I got to clinical rotations. My first clinical was at UNC Ambulatory and my second and third at Duke Main. I enjoyed those.”

Lee had a job offer with Duke University Hospital at its main location before graduation and now works four 10-hour shifts each week.  

A typical day for Lee consists of getting her assignment, going into the operating room with the doctor to see what will be needed for the day, getting equipment for each surgery for the day, and then, once in surgery, handing correct instruments to the doctor.

“You build relationships with the doctors and surgical teams. You know how they work,” Lee said. “Best pieces of advice from an instructor? Get to know your surgeons, communicate well with your team and meet others in your workplace.”

She also credits her experience in the food and beverage industry with helping prepare her for a career as a surgical tech.

“Skill sets are similar [between food and beverage and surgical technicians],” Lee said. “[Food and beverage] taught me how to be organized, and learn to prioritize tasks, and how making a good first impression makes a lasting impact in any relationship or field you are in."