By Betsy Slagle, MS, RN, CST, FAST

It seems like just yesterday that I stepped into my new role as the director of a surgical technology program.  Like many of you, I had been a clinician and had to adjust not only to teaching, but the administrative duties required of a program director. The way the program was designed at the time, a part-time instructor and I had the students in class or clinical 40 hours a week. It was hard to even conceive of doing the administrative duties. As a mother of young children, I worked 10 hours a day, then spent most evenings at the dining room table preparing my next day’s lessons. In spite of coming into a program that was established and well organized, I was totally exhausted. Why did I do it? I felt I had a calling. I enjoyed working with learners in the OR, I liked passing on my knowledge to others and helping them apply that knowledge. I also felt I had some leadership skills that would assist me in managing the program.  I had no idea of all the work involved, but in the long run it was worth it. It didn’t take long for my job to become my third “baby” that I nurtured, developed and loved just as I did my two sons.

So, how do you care for your new baby? And yourself?

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are in new territory. Your administrators understand that you are new and expect you to need assistance. Go to your dean or division chair prepared with specific questions and possible solutions. You can also seek guidance from an experienced allied health program director at your college. He or she can help you with the business aspects of your job and can certainly commiserate with you on the joys (!) of maintaining compliance with accreditation standards. And don’t forget to contact the ARC/STSA when you have questions about accreditation requirements. The staff is there to assist you and I guarantee a friendly, patient response!
  • Prioritize and organize! Just as you do at the mayo stand, only this time it applies to the many duties involved in teaching and managing an educational program. Make “to do” lists. My successor, Theresa Sorgen-Burleson, MBA, CST advises, “Create a good timeline of important items needed to be done throughout the academic year. I suggest keeping a large monthly calendar and listing when you send out surveys or when you schedule group testing, when to send in AST applications, etc. It makes it easier to remember when items are due to AST, ARC/STSA, and NBSTSA.”
  • Be a sponge. Absorb as much as you can about the requirements for accreditation and educational principles. This means becoming totally familiar with CAAHEP’s Standards and Guidelines for the Accreditation of Educational Programs in Surgical Technology, the ARC/STSA’s Standards Interpretive Guide, and the most recent edition of AST’s Core Curriculum for Surgical Technology. In addition to your college’s policies and procedures, these are what guide your program’s activities. You cannot afford to let them sit unread until your next accreditation visit. Learn them, live them, love them!
  • Network with other surgical technology educators. They are a friendly, generous bunch, willing to share ideas, success (and failure) stories, and of course, clinical evaluation forms, etc. The trick is meeting them. A few of you may be employed in a system of colleges that has regular meetings or communications between ST educators. Most program directors aren’t that lucky. So, you must make it a priority to get to national or state meetings where you can meet fellow instructors. This requires two steps on your part:  getting the funding to attend and giving yourself permission take the time to go. Work with your administration to provide funds, which will take planning and justifying the value of your attendance. Secondly, when overwhelmed with work it is hard to take time away. Give yourself permission to go. Believe me, you will be energized by what you learn and the connections you make. It’s worth it!
  • Nurture relationships with your clinical sites. This may be easy if you have had an employment relationship with your sites. Remember, however, that you are now representing your college and are interacting with OR management as a peer leader, not as a staff CST. You and your students are guests in their facility. If you don’t have an instructor on site, visit frequently. Make sure your clinical sites are involved in your Advisory Committee, solicit honest input from all spectrums of hospital personnel and show your appreciation for the time they take with your students. (Treats are always appreciated!)
  • Educate your administrators about our profession. The more they understand, the more likely they are to support your program. Take them to the OR, show them graduates and students in action. I guarantee you they will be impressed. I still remember the response of my Vice President of Academic Affairs when she saw CSTs at work. She still talks about her visit to surgery years later. No matter our role, surgical technologists are ambassadors for our profession. We are still educating society on what we do!
  • Lastly, celebrate your successes. And your first one is right around the corner. There is no greater pride than walking into an OR and seeing your grads, the ones you taught, challenged and laid awake at night worrying about, performing as valued members of the surgical team. And as you compile your accreditation outcomes data and meet thresholds, feel good about what you and your program have accomplished.

Before you know it, you will be a seasoned program director. Repetition helps, just as in the OR. Each year you will grow in your knowledge, skill and confidence. You can do this! Good luck caring for your “new baby.”

Betsy Slagle, MS, RN, CST, FAST is Associate Professor Emerita and former Chair, Department of Surgical Technology at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She has performed over 80 visits for the ARC/STSA as an on-site evaluator and served for six years on the ARC/STSA Board of Directors, two years as President.  She currently represents the ARC/STSA as its Commissioner to CAAHEP and is in her first full term on the CAAHEP Board of Directors.