By Silviana Vina, CST

As program directors, our line of work educating and having the power to make a difference is pretty awesome, but very imperfect! Giving back to the healthcare community and training the new generation of surgical technologists and assistants is very rewarding even when it has its challenges — but challenges are nothing new to us, right? We all strive to make the year ahead of us as positive as possible.

As a director, I have encountered obstacles, but also achieved great successes. As a result, I have been asked many times for suggestions and guidance for new directors and have a short list of “must haves.” Reflecting on, embracing, and integrating the following tips into your regular routine will make a big difference in the efficiency of your program.

  1. A “CAN-DO” ATTITUDE. I encourage everyone to believe things can be done, no matter the obstacles. You can fix something you did wrong, and you can make poor judgment a lesson learned. Just simply staying away from using negative type wording is a good exercise of a positive attitude and communication. Teach your team to adopt the same kind of attitude, and your students will automatically adapt to those leading the class, the lab or the clinical rotation. Yes, you can!
  1. BE A LEADER TO YOUR TEAM, NOT A BOSS. Find the strength of your leadership and have a clear awareness of it. Through mentorship, help your team discover their strengths, too. Strong teams can stay focused on results and not break down under pressure. Your team needs to look up to you, trust you and see that you will be an honorable leader. You can accomplish this not by what you say, but through actions, accomplishments and on how you treat everyone. If your team is failing, you are, too. Lead them to success and they will follow you.
  1. PRIORITIZE AND SET GOALS. The retention of your student population, the quality material involved in learning, prep classes, tutoring, surveys, spreadsheets, clinical affiliations updates and communication with your team are absolute priorities! Be ready to get organized and multitask. Set aside time for didactic reports from instructors and make sure if something needs your attention to get on it right away. Double check clinical paperwork; whether or not you have a clinical coordinator in your team, remember it is ultimately your responsibility to document clinical experience properly and stay in compliance. Set aside administrative review of the program for the week when possible. Stay organized to meet your goals.
  1. DELEGATE EFFICIENTLY. Remember: you can’t run your program by yourself! I have noticed many directors developed the habit of double-checking everything when they worked in the operating room, and then taking this obsession into the world of education. This habit should end now. You taught your team almost everything you know, and now it’s time to step back a little bit and have them step in and help.
  1. HAVE THE FOUR P’S: professionalism, personality, patience and passion.

Your professionalism sets the bar within the program, and students and staff pick up on that quick; they will act the way you do. I am sure by now, if you are a program director, you’ve earned the job in a very honorable way. Keep it up, no matter how hard things get.

Your personality is what identifies you as an individual. Be a teacher, be humble, tell a story or teach a lesson in a way people remember you tone, your humor, your positivity and your willingness to help.

Be patient, things can get rough! You might be running short on staff, short on clinical sites or have an upcoming accreditation visit — or all of these things. Does that sound familiar? You are not alone! Patient or impatient, the situation is the same – so choose the path that is best for everyone and the work environment.

Your passion will be obvious starting with the way you even call the roster at the beginning of the class session. Please remember the first time you thought about being an educator. Why did you make the move? If your answer is because you want to make a difference, love surgeries and teaching about it, feel good inside when a student thanks you for your hard work or were involved when a student finds a great job in this field and they love it, then there is no reason for you not to show your passion every day.

This year can be the best year so far if we choose to be great directors. Our students inspire us daily to be better and work harder to make a difference. Plan, prepare, act and be involved in all aspects of the program to have outstanding outcomes and make 2017 the best year yet!

Silviana Vina, CST, is the surgical technology program director at the Nevada Career Institute (NCI) in Las Vegas. A Romanian immigrant in the United States, Vina discovered her passion for surgical technology at Glendale Career College in California under the mentorship of Connie Bell. She worked at Beverly Hills Surgery Center and the USC University Hospital before taking her first job as an instructor at Concorde Career College. She later became a director at Career Colleges of America before her role at NCI.