The Program Director in the Spotlight Series will highlight a specific program director who is overcoming a tough challenge, making an impact on the industry, and generally going above and beyond the call of duty. This month, we are highlighting JoLane Collins, surgical technology program director at the Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL) in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina. In this article, JoLane details her arduous and winding journey to surgical technology and the lessons she’s learned along the way: Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something and everything happens for a reason.

Let me take you on a little trip down memory lane. In the early 1980s, I attended Washington State University, and during my first week on campus, found myself going through sorority rush. A gal asked me what I was going to major in and my response was, “I really want to be an orthopedic surgeon.” Her response, “Are you crazy, that’s 14-18 more years of school.” At that moment, I allowed another individual to alter my life course, and I went into education and athletic training. I graduated from Washington State University with a BA in education and obtained my Athletic Training Certification.

Moving forward to the late 1980s, I received an MA in education, with minors in athletic training and health education. After completing my master’s degree, a high school in Greeley, Colorado, hired me as a teacher, and I also served as the athletic trainer with a full teaching load. It’s hard to explain what three years of teaching high school students can do to your psyche, but I also gained valuable insight into the world of teenagers.

Fast forwarding again to 1990, this decade saw my move to Sidney, Nebraska, where I started working at a sports medicine clinic. During my tenure as the director of the sports medicine clinic, I befriended an orthopedic surgeon to whom I referred a lot of my injured athletes. After 10 years, this surgeon approached me with the opportunity to come and work for him as his private scrub. Since I was not a surgical technologist, he paid for the required schooling to obtain my Surgical Technology Certification. At this point, I began working with an orthopedic surgeon, and as far as I was concerned, I’d died and gone to heaven!

But, as we all know, not all good things last forever. Years later, with difficult life changes happening, I found myself in Savannah, Georgia, as a single mother with a 12- and 9-year-old. And I couldn’t help but wonder, “What do I do now?” At this point, my sister also lived just outside of Savannah and my parents were moving from Washington to the area. Finding no new houses to rent, my parents moved in with the kids and me, and I went to work at a level-one trauma center in Savannah. For those of you who have or are currently working as a CST, you know the hours can be horrendous. Everyone was very concerned at the hours I was working and how I was going to juggle the kids, work, life and so forth.

But I learned my next life lesson: Everything happens for a reason. One morning, as my parents were sitting at my kitchen table pondering whether they should cancel their new house and stay and help me, my Mom saw an ad in the paper. This was the ad for the surgical technology program director position in Beaufort, South Carolina. She literally called me at work while I was scrubbed in and told the circulator that I needed to call home as soon as possible. Three weeks later, I started my first day as the program director at TCL.

Ten years and more than 100 graduates later, it’s very surreal to put my story on paper. Reflecting back over my personal struggles and triumphs is the reason I tell my students the two life lessons I live and breathe by:

  1. Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something
  2. Everything happens for a reason.

Being a positive influence and having a lasting impact on so many students is what gets me up in the morning and why I look forward to going to work. Never underestimate the effect we have over our students as instructors. So many of our students persevere through unbelievable obstacles in the hope of getting an education. To all the program directors reading my story, we might not be able to move a mountain but we sure can mold a mind. You are an inspiration and a valuable asset to the profession of surgical technology and don’t you ever forget it!