Ulster BOCES Grad Becomes Essential Part of Hospital Surgical Team

Ulster BOCES means different things to different people. For Paige Zorij, it was a way to find her niche in the healthcare field.

Inspired by her mother's reputation as a well-respected registered nurse in western New York, Paige began pursuing her own career by enrolling in the A.A.S Nursing program at Rochester's Monroe Community College after graduating from high school.

When personal challenges demanded her attention, Paige put her post-secondary education plans on hold and relocated to Saugerties, where she worked two jobs to make ends meet. She was a full-time veterinary assistant at a local animal hospital, as well as a part-time stable hand at a nearby horse farm. While she says she enjoyed working with animals and valued the on-the-job training and transferable skills she acquired, she aspired to earn a higher income.

From 280 miles away in upstate New York, Paige's mother heard about the Ulster BOCES Adult Career Education Center's rigorous Surgical Technology program and suggested it might be a good fit for her daughter. "She said, 'You should look into it. It's a short ten-month program, and you would be great at it,'" recalls Paige.

Paige missed the enrollment deadline that year so she continued working in the animal care industry. Then, in September 2017 she began taking classes at the Ulster BOCES Adult Career Education Center. She vividly remembers her first month of classes, which were held in a local hospital's unused operating room (OR) a few times a week. The venue allowed students to hone their scrubbing techniques for their roles in the OR, taught them how to avoid contaminating a sterile field, and helped them cultivate their operating room etiquette.

"You have to not only represent yourself, but your program, too," says Paige, explaining that the experience prepared her for the reality of working in an OR.

Paige is now employed as an Operating Room Surgical Technologist at Rochester General Hospital. She was offered this position, along with another job at a local hospital, while she was still in school.

She attributes her success to the Ulster BOCES Surgical Technology program, where she participated in 12 robotic-assisted surgeries, 15 laparoscopic gallbladder removals, eight Caesarian sections, and various other procedures for a total of 155 operating room cases. "I am very grateful for having these two hospitals interested in me before I even graduated and took my national certification exam," Paige says.

"Paige was a tireless student who went above and beyond both in the classroom and in the clinical setting of the operating room, and it was noticed by not only her instructors, but the operating room directors as well," says instructor Penny Foody. "She was not only offered a job at one of our local hospitals before she even graduated, but that hospital vigorously pursued her because they saw what an asset she would be."

Paige now enjoys the perks of earning a higher salary. "I don't live paycheck to paycheck now, thanks to this program. I can support myself and put money away," she says.

Today, Paige is part of a cardiothoracic team that performs two to three open-heart surgeries a day, and she is the personal scrubber for one of the hospital's cardiac surgeons.

"I knew when I graduated from this program that no matter where I go in my travels, I have the reassurance that I received the knowledge to thrive in my career," Paige affirms. "It has changed my life and I can't express how grateful I am for receiving such a wonderful education."

Ulster BOCES Director of Surgical Technology Barbara Maderi says she knew Paige had a calling for this career path. "Paige truly was one of the exceptional students. She carried forth a sincere passion for this profession. From her first day in class to the last day, her commitment to her studies never faltered. To us [the instructors] she was uplifting. In my 11 years as director, I have never seen a facility actually pursue hiring a student upon graduation as they did Paige. She is unforgettable," says Maderi.