A-Ha Moments and New Experiences to Improve Your Own Program

By Katherine Matteson, CST, BS, Program Coordinator-Instructor of Surgical Technology, Delaware Technical Community College

I had always dreamed of becoming a park ranger. Yet how quickly my 18-year-old dreams were dashed. After speaking to numerous park rangers, I discovered the term “seasonal” meant moving across different parks, and the field was incredibly competitive. Of course, I wanted to live and work in Yosemite Valley where I had been camping most summers since I was six. At the time I had unrealistic expectations and no idea of the future life I wanted to lead. (I did know, however, that working in Death Valley as a seasonal employee was not part of my plan.) As fate would have it, I would soon discover my true calling as a surgical technologist.

I attended Northern Michigan University, which perfectly balanced rigorous academic programs with the outdoor lifestyle I was seeking. After an advisement, I chose surgical technology as my profession and decided I would pursue environmental studies as a hobby. Never in a million years did I think I would end up teaching, let alone becoming a program coordinator or an ARC/STSA site visitor.

I have been working as a surgical technologist since 2009 and began my teaching career in San Diego in 2013. There I experienced my first ARC/STSA site visit as an instructor. I still remember being in the lab and going through every supply and student file, making sure everything was in place. My then program director had been through other site visits. She reassured me that everything would be fine, but also stressed the importance of site visits and accreditation. Overall the visit went well and the administration was pleased with the outcome. I learned that being over-prepared and organized alleviated possible concerns or stresses when the documentation review took place. Being new to teaching, this was my first exposure to the site visit process and it was nerve-wracking.

In 2015, I relocated to Maryland, where I took the job of clinical coordinator at Delaware Technical Community College. About a year ago, I was offered the program coordinator position. As a new program coordinator, I had the opportunity to attend ARC/STSA’s Accreditation Fundamentals for Educators (AFE) workshop in Orlando. I was curious to learn more about accreditation and ways to improve my program since accepting the coordinator position. I figured that taking the beginner site visitor training would only help my understanding of Standards and the accreditation process. The training did an excellent job preparing me for the site visiting process and what to expect, but also how to improve my program.

Fast forward to the present — about a month ago I had the pleasure of going on my first site visit. Despite being on the “other” end of the visit, I was still a bit nervous. I read the program report numerous times to ensure I prepared properly. Keeping in contact with the site visitor chair through email, we went over any questions or concerns I had prior to the visit. After arriving and meeting the lead in person, my fears dissipated. She was a wealth of knowledge and gave me great advice to calm my apprehension. Quite simply she said, “We are here to help.” From coordination to travel, the ARC/STSA staff have been incredibly helpful and encouraging throughout the process.

I had many a-ha moments during the visit and experienced the different ways another program functioned. One thing that I noticed was the organization and storage of documentation. Seeing the various methods of how a program stored student documents and stayed organized revealed a much simpler system than the current one I used. Again, this was an overall eye-opening experience. Professionally, being a site visitor has already improved my program, as I saw Standards and documentation in action. It is vital to the profession to support surgical technology and surgical assisting programs. Site visits make a difference in the quality of programs and student outcomes.

I encourage all educators to consider signing up for the beginner site visitor training. Take the leap! You will be happy you did. I am truly thankful for the opportunity to be a site visitor and look forward to what the future holds.