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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Quitting the Surgical Technology program was never an option for this determined student

September 22, 2020

Quitting the Surgical Technology program was never an option for this determined student“Nothing comes easy, and I’ve failed before,” says Vanessa Gatchalian who constantly challenges herself to reach higher in her life and work ambitions.  “You pick yourself back up again and you learn from that failure. That’s part of the process.”

Strong words and even stronger determination from someone who at 23-years old has felt the pain and disappointment of struggling to reach goals and expectations. But she is a scrapper. “You get over this hurdle, then you have to make new goals again.” That determination has served her well.

Since experiencing a surgery at just 3-years old, Vanessa has been fascinated with working in an operating room (OR) environment.  That attraction became a career goal that led her to earn an Associate’s degree and Nursing Assistant certification toward that position.

The pace quickened and the career dream took greater form when Vanessa enrolled in SJVC’s Surgical Technology program on the Temecula campus a couple of years ago. She continued to work as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in an acute care hospital and enjoyed the insights her new education and practices brought to her level of patient care. “I started to realize how all these things fit, how it became full circle.”

Vanessa felt confident in the education direction she had chosen. “I always wanted to specialize in surgery, and this gave me the opportunity to do it sooner, since SJVC (Surgical Technology program) was a fast-pace program. It would allow me to get into the OR – maybe not as a nurse, but definitely hands-on.”

Now came the hard part. Fifteen months of classroom lectures and study, lab instruction, ‘surgery’ experience, homework, and seemingly endless study for exams. It could be overwhelming.

“You can’t just throw these things in your brain once; it takes time and you just have to keep going,” says Vanessa. “I’ve taken anatomy like four times over the years! You think, ‘wow, I should get this’, but you don’t. You have to be open to getting help and you should never be ashamed to ask for help. Mr. Martin (faculty) understood our struggle and made it easier to ask for help.”

“Vanessa was our hard worker,” says Alfonso Martin, Surgical Technology Clinical Coordinator. “She always wanted to learn more, how things work. Vanessa is the student that makes you want to be a better instructor. You never want to let a student down, but it is students like Vanessa that fill your day with light bulb moments.”

“Mr. Martin was there for everyone,” says Vanessa. “The way he taught, the examples he uses just made more sense and connected better with students. He even offered to open up the labs to practice before clinicals.”

Clinical externship takes Surgical Technology students into the real world of medical and surgical environments within participating health care facilities. “You definitely learn a lot there, but the clinicals wouldn’t have come together without learning from the book. You do mock procedures in lab (SJVC program laboratories) and then you do that with an actual patient. It clicks for students in a way you can understand it better.”

There was a lot of information, hands-on experience, and medical/surgical protocol to absorb. But failure was not an option for Vanessa. She had strong support and a clear example of what hard work might earn right in front of her.

“My mother (Bonnie) started from the bottom and made her way up to nurse because of her work ethic,” says Vanessa. “Just seeing her be successful by herself and supporting herself inspires you to be a better version of yourself.”

Bonnie’s words of encouragement were always ready to nudge her daughter, too. “You can do it, you’ve come so far,’ she would tell me,” says Vanessa. If that didn’t inspire an attitude adjustment Bonnie might try another approach. ‘You can’t back out of this or you’re paying for the whole thing!’ Vanessa was never sure if that threat would really land, but she was not going to test it.

In reality Vanessa only had to remind herself of one thing. “At the end of the day you want to see those three letters at the end of your name: CST (Certified Surgical Technician). That’s my greatest motivation.”

Four months after Vanessa completed her Surg Tech program, she took her certification exam. “I knew the day of the test that I’d passed it,” she enthuses.

Vanessa currently works in the operating room of a women’s medical center where she assists with obstetrics, gynecological and robotic surgical procedures in the operating room. “This is the door-opener for me,” says Vanessa. “I’d like to go into the main OR after this and want a lot of exposure to everything before deciding on a specialty. “I would like to learn open heart surgery eventually.”

She is stretching her knowledge and experience in preparation for a future yet to be determined. “There’s always that hump of the learning curve when you’re doing something new,” says Vanessa. “The first time you go into a procedure, you’re not used to it. But by the second one, you’re anticipating a lot more. That’s the whole thing about this job; you’re anticipating your surgeon’s needs. You always have to be a couple of steps ahead.” That’s the excitement the operating room brings to the job and the edge Vanessa likes to feel.

This is a nice moment in Vanessa’s career arc, but she may decide to aim just a little higher. “I’ve been going to school and working ever since I got out of high school,” she reflects. “This is the first time I’m out of school and it feels weird. I will eventually go back to school to do a RN (Registered Nurse credential). Whether as soon as tomorrow or a couple of years, I’m not putting a time frame on it.”

Vanessa has the right attitude for a life-long learner. “You finish something, then you start something new,” she says. She sees many doors yet to open.

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