Ironically, when he was in school, ophthalmology was not Phil Kraling’s favorite rotation. “When you’re studying to be a certified surgical technician, you’re going to see open hearts, neuro, a lot of orthopedics, a lot of general surgery. I did very few eye cases, and that was the farthest thing from my mind. I loved all of the big procedures. I’m just fascinated by the human body.”
Kraling finished his Surgical Technician diploma program in 1997, graduating with highest honors. Most of his classmates took jobs at the Mayo Clinic, where they had done their clinical studies. Kraling wanted something different, and he heard about a small company that offered a flexible schedule, which appealed to him. He was among the first 20 employees of the company that has evolved into Sightpath Medical, which now offers mobile ophthalmic surgery in 49 states. The company projects that in September 2014, they will have performed surgery on two million eyes.
Kraling soon discovered the special appeal of assisting with eye surgeries. “That patient sits up on the bed after cataract surgery, and we ask, ‘Can you read the clock?’ Many people will cry, because it’s life-changing.
“That’s fun to be part of. I like changing people’s lives — being part of the procedure from start to finish.”
After seven years as a surgical technician, Kraling moved into a manager role. He became Director of Operations five years ago. “Sightpath is the kind of company that promotes from within. We take talent from within the organization and try to grow it. I’m really proud of that fact,” he said.
What does Sightpath do?
Sightpath typically contracts with a facility or doctor. We bring state of the art mobile surgical service to the location twice a month, or once a month. Sometimes we fix equipment into a site. We tailor our services to the needs of our clients.
What kinds of procedures to does Sightpath offer?
Our bread and butter is cataract surgery. We also do Lasik and some ocular plastics — muscle surgery and cosmetic surgery, retinal glaucoma.
What does an ophthalmic technician do?
I manage 15 cataract technicians in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. We hire geographically. There are a certain number of accounts per employee. Typically, the technician has 8 to 10 surgical days per month. On surgical days, the technicians are the first ones there and the last to leave. They might arrive at 6 a.m., with cases starting at 7 a.m. They assist at each case, 25 to 30 minutes. Then they clean up, pack, load the truck and go home or go to the next facility. On nonsurgical days, they do preparation, packing supplies, making sure the clinic preferences are up to date, doing general maintenance of equipment. What keeps Sightpath employees happy is not reporting to the same job every day. They’re going to different accounts. There’s work/life balance. Today I’ve got many technicians who don’t work Fridays. They’re salaried. If they work six days in a month or 20, they are paid the same moneys.
What is the career path for an ophthalmic technologist?
You can become a senior technician, handling training and new accounts. From there you can move up to manager and director. We also have examples of technicians who go into different surgical specialties. We promote on merit — you don’t need X number of years. □