Darlene Rishel had always been drawn to the medical field but says she didn’t think she was smart enough to pursue a career in it. But after working in cosmetology and then in an office for nine years, Rishel felt like her careers weren’t panning out. She decided to follow her heart.
The 39-year-old North Ridgeville resident found Lorain County Community College’s surgical technology program to be the perfect fit. And the college was close to home for Rishel who, as an adult going back to school, had to juggle work, raising two teenage daughters and being a student.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have a husband who supported me going back to school,” she says. “I went down to working part time so I could still take care of my kids and study. It was very difficult for us financially, but we made it. Having a strong support system is extremely important when you go back to school later in life.”
Today Rishel, who graduated number one in her program in May 2018, loves her new job at Cleveland Clinic’s Fairview Hospital as a surgical technologist.
“It’s amazing to see what is ailing someone and being right next to the surgeon as he or she fixes it,” she says. “It’s an incredible feeling. No other job compares.”
Rishel says she was shocked when Fairview Hospital offered her a job in February, before she graduated, and held it for her until June. Timothy P. Teets, CST, BS, instructor and director of the LCCC surgical technology program, says Fairview Hospital was Rishel’s first choice.
“It’s not surprising to me that Fairview would hold a job for an individual who has shown as much dedication and promise as Darlene,” he says.
This past year, all of the graduates in this program had offers of employment right out of college, demonstrating the strength of LCCC’s surgical technology program and the growth in the field, Teets says.
A winning 3-D model built in the Fab Lab
Rishel’s enthusiasm came through on her final project, for which students focus on an area of surgery of interest and create a presentation with visual aids. Rather than use PowerPoint, Rishel found LCCC’s Fab Lab, where she could create a 3-D project.
Her interest is in cardiovascular surgery, so Rishel printed a 3-D model of the heart to simulate a double coronary artery bypass grafting.
“The staff in the lab are very helpful,” Rishel says. “They helped me find the 3-D image I needed. It took a few tries to get it right, but when we got it, it turned out great. The biggest thing I learned is that if you have an idea, they really do everything they can to make it work.”
Teets says her project was a wonderful way to use new technologies and the college’s resources.
“Not only was Darlene’s project an accurate description of a very complicated case and the role the surgical technologist plays, but I enjoyed her use of new technologies to help facilitate it,” he says. “3-D printing and other areas of fabrication are becoming more and more apparent in the medical field.”
In his experience with neurosurgery, for example, Teets has used 3-D printed skulls from patients’ MRIs to gain an accurate model to pre-fabricate mesh plates and fill in defects from tumor removals and traumatic injury.
Help from professors who go above and beyond
Rishel stayed on top of her program’s requirements by meeting often with counselors and advisers to remain on track. And when she had family issues and needed to change her clinical location for her last semester, Teets stepped in.
“He really went above and beyond for me and my family,” Rishel says.
LCCC’s surgical technologists earn an associate degree through four semesters of core courses in a two-year sequence. After students are introduced to surgical skills and concepts, they rotate through clinicals, where they scrub in and help perform surgical procedures in a process that moves toward being independent.
“With students like Darlene, who showed in an interest in cardiovascular, we make sure they have a general knowledge to be marketable in any surgical service, but also put them in positions to focus on specialized interests and grow strength in that area,” he says.
The lecture class is one day a week, and blended-style classes include online activities that students can complete on their own time. Open classroom hours let students hone skills and get additional assistance with surgical material, and clinical rotations are typically two days a week.
As for Rishel, once she’s acclimated to her new job, she plans to apply to Ohio University’s nursing program through LCCC’s University Partnership, which allows students to earn four-year degrees from partner universities, directly from LCCC’s campus.
“I have a lot left to accomplish, but I’m looking forward to continuing my journey,” she says.