The Health Sciences Building on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA photo)The University of Alaska Anchorage is in the final stages of starting a new program that focuses on positions that assist doctors during surgery.Listen nowIt’s called the surgical technology program, and the curriculum will train students for difficult-to-fill positions in the state’s health care industry.Robin Wahto, director of UAA’s School of Allied Health, said the Surgical Technology program was created in response to industry need.“Many of the larger institutions are currently hiring folks from outside to move to Alaska to fill those positions,” Wahto said. “So, we obviously want to be able to help fill some of those positions with people who are here in Alaska.”Surgical technologists assist surgeons in a variety of ways, including preparing the operating room and ensuring equipment is working properly, and by maintaining a sterile operating environment.A survey by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development estimates the need for surgical technologists to grow 13 percent by 2024.Wahto said the program, which the UA Board of Regents approved in March, is going to start small.“We want to make sure that we are producing the number of students that will be able to find employment,” Wahto said. “So we feel as though 12 is a really safe number to start with, both in order to make sure our students are having an excellent experience in the practicum, and also to make sure that those students are able to find jobs at the completion.”The university recently hired an additional faculty member, who is a certified surgical technician. Graduates of the program will earn an associate’s degree in Surgical Technology.For now, the entire program will be based in Anchorage, but Wahto hopes it can expand to other parts of the state that are in need of surgical technologists.“If there’s a student from one of those communities, we hope that eventually they would be able to do at least part of their practicum back in their home community,” Wahto said. “Which also increases their chances, probably, of being able to maybe, perhaps continue to work there after their practicum is completed.”UAA is still awaiting official approval from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, but expects it to come through before June 15, at which point students can be admitted into the program.Several industry groups donated money to help fund the program, including Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Alaska Regional Hospital.