By Dan Bump SA-C, CSFA: Being a self-employed Surgical Assistant changed my life. It’s hard
to recognize that man, the one before I was my own boss. I’d recommend
my journey to you because it shifted my paradigm and gave me personal
and professional growth I could not have enjoyed any other way. Even if
you’re not cut out to be in business, learning to
think like an entrepreneur could be one of the most transformative processes you’ll ever experience.
In the world of the entrepreneur your mindset is everything. Who you are;
what you think; your personal habits; your skillsets; and your belief
system are all within your control and will without fail influence your
results. Isn’t that exciting?! So whether you are employed by a
surgeon, a hospital, an agency, or self-employed, you can grow your professional
life by growing yourself. Your growth has a direct impact on your income,
status, responsibilities, and challenges. Working on your entrepreneurial
mindset and infusing your life with the entrepreneurial spirit is without
a doubt the finest way to prepare for a career as a self-employed Surgical
Assistant. Entrepreneurial zeal gives you a clear-cut advantage. The first
step is to…
Get Passionate! Most of you already have this step covered to some degree. You love and
have an intense passion for surgery. That’s a given or you wouldn’t
be reading this blog post. Otherwise, my objective here would be to help
you figure out what you could be passionate about and encourage you to
chase that dream. So in some ways you’ve made my job easier.
Passion conquers complacency. Once again, you are reading this blog and
considering a change. If you were in a rut, you are now digging your way
out. There was a time I thought I was going to have to get out of surgery
and go into computers. I wasn’t making enough money as a Surgical
Tech to support my family. Then I had an opportunity to become a self-employed
Surgical Assistant with an established group in Denver. When I did, I
tripled my income and cut down on my hours.
As it turned out, it wasn’t so much the money that was life changing.
It was more my ability to continue working in surgery but at an elevated
level where I could contribute more and get closer to the surgical action.
I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I got stuck with
a computer job. Just reigniting your passion will open opportunities to
making your passion a greater part of the work you do and give you chances
to make higher level contributions.
Your Employer Is Your Client. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a ‘client’ as someone
who engages you for professional advice or services; someone who comes
under your protection. Seeing your employer as your client changes everything.
Employee thinking is to do the job as outlined in the job description
well enough to continue receiving a paycheck and to receive raises as
they become available. Entrepreneurs think about how they can go above
and beyond to please their clients and protect them from the consequences
of bad decisions, inaction, or lack of innovation.
There is competition for your services so you work harder, not for a paycheck,
but so you remain relevant to your client and aren’t replaced by
someone who provides a better value. Your employer also has competitors.
Hospitals close on a daily basis, so they can’t just stand still.
They have to continually improve and innovate. That is where you can be
pivotal because you live it. You are in the trenches every day. Who better
to see where improvements could be made?
If you are an entrepreneurial thinker, you’ll be a wellspring of
original, innovative ideas that can solve your employer’s problems
and grow their business, just like it was your own business. Not only
would you think of ideas, you would also think of ways to effectively
sell them to your employer, and offer yourself up as the best person to
implement the ideas/solutions.
You’d be helping your employer while training yourself as an entrepreneur,
becoming seasoned, and getting ready to launch yourself as a self-employed
Surgical Assistant. If you’ve been treating your surgeons like clients
all along, it will be a natural and seamless transition for them to continue
working with you when you are on your own.
Because the entrepreneur wants her business to be profitable, she can’t
tolerate costly inefficiencies in her own operations. That’s part
of her mindset. When she discovers inefficiencies and problems in her
client’s business, she sees it as an opportunity to solve those
problems with a product or service tailored to the client’s specific needs.
In the Operating Room, you’ll see no shortage of problems in need
of solutions. Just look around. You can also ask your supervisors what
challenges they are dealing with. Ask your surgeons too. Then ask if there
is anything you can do to help (they might have some ideas you can add
to your list). Since yours is such a rare question, they may not know
how to react to it. You may have to take the initiative to show you’re
serious. Sell them on an idea or two and offer to implement it for them
off hours (this may be hard for some readers to wrap their minds around,
but entrepreneurs do free work sometimes).
When I was a Surgical Tech in a Connecticut hospital, one of my specialties
was ophthalmology. I was probably thought of as a little bit of a weirdo
because I actually liked eyes when most others hated it. Around the mid-1980’s,
Medicare stopped paying surgeons to assist each other on eye cases such
as cataracts. As you can imagine, there was a precipitous drop in surgeons
available to assist. Go figure!
Who do you suppose had to step in and provide those services? It wasn’t
the PA’s. They apparently wanted nothing to do with it. So it fell
to the Surgical Tech or scrub nurse. And not a second one either. No,
the scrub person had to both first assist and hand instruments at the
What does an entrepreneur do with something like that? Was there a problem
to be solved? There certainly was. Oddly, nobody was complaining about
it so the powers-to-be didn’t even know they had a problem. Somebody
was going to have to come up with an idea, educate administration on the
problem, sell them on the solution, and then offer to implement it themselves.
I loved working under the microscope! And I was doing pretty good too.
Maybe even better than good because all the eye surgeons started requesting
me for their cases. In fact, if I couldn’t be there, some surgeons
were rescheduling their cases for a time when I could. When that starts
happening to you, you should say to yourself, “Hum… I wonder
how I can capitalize on this newfound popularity?” Haven’t
you noticed how surgeons become addicted to their favorite assistants?
If you are thinking that I was the solution to their problems, you’re
going to have to look a little closer. You’ll find I was actually
part of the problem (or anyone else that would have been in my position).
Because I had to both hand instruments and first assist, I could be working
under the microscope and holding something on the eye. Then when the surgeon
needed something, I’d have to take my eyes off the operative field,
reach for the instrument on the Mayo Stand, and then hand it to the surgeon.
I may think I’m pretty steady when reaching for an instrument, but
under intense magnification it looked like an earthquake, AND WE WERE
WORKING ON SOMEONE’S EYE! My surgeons needed me to return something
back to them that they’d lost. They needed a first assistant with
micro skills (not necessarily a surgeon) that didn’t have to split
their attention between assisting and handing instruments.
Now that I had clearly identified the problem, I spent a lot of my own
time working off the clock to create a solution and a strategy for selling
it to my surgeons and hospital administration.
My idea was to take a couple of days off during the week so I could first
assist and the hospital would provide another person to hand instruments.
I had the perfect selling point too. This service would be absolutely
FREE to the surgeons. I would just charge the patients. Well, instead
of a selling point, surprisingly enough, it turned out to be a sticking
point. They were concerned they might lose business to other surgeons
whose patients didn’t have to pay this extra fee.
Wow! I never imagined FREE would be a problem, so I didn’t have a
plan B for a backup. I would suggest you have 2 or 3 plan B’s so
you never get caught off guard like I did. Fortunately, my surgeons liked
the rest of my idea so much they came up with a plan B themselves. They
said, “Well, why don’t we pay you?” They just about
had to pick me up off the floor! I don’t think fainting has ever
been described as an effective negotiating technique. Turned out, what
they were willing to pay was about the same for those 2 days as I was
making from the hospital working 50 to 60 hours a week and taking everybody’s
call. Sounded like a pretty sweet deal right?
I wish I could tell you how it worked out in the end. But I accepted a
better offer to move to Denver and join a first assisting agency before
I could complete the negotiations. When you unleash your passion, you
open yourself up to opportunities you didn’t expect or envision.
Sometimes the challenge is to not let yourself get so distracted by the
sheer volume of opportunities that you never do anything at all. What
I hope my story does for you is to provide a clear illustration of entrepreneurial
thinking so you can model it and start benefiting – right now.
I’m going to be completing this discussion on thinking like an entrepreneur
in the next blog post. I hope you’ll join me and start your own
journey down the path to becoming a successful self-employed Surgical
I look forward to reading your comments and continuing our discussion.
Are you interested in becoming a Surgical Assistant? Contact
ACE Surgical Assisting
request more information
and to learn more about advancing your career.