Stephanie Meier has always prided herself in being a strict — but fair — teacher.
Just ask the dolls and imaginary students she taught as a child.
“I was that little kid that would take attendance with my pretend class roster and would send my pretend students to detention,” Meier said. “I would write them up and I would pass out papers to all my invisible students. I guess I always really liked teaching.”
Now an instructor at American Career College-Ontario, Meier comes into contact with all the surgical technology students at some point during their approximate 20-month-long journey through the program.
Meier initially started in the skills lab, sharing all the techniques and tips she had learned in the four years she worked in orthopedic operating rooms. Recently though, Meier has brought her special brand of instruction into the classroom and is now one of the first surgical technology instructors the incoming students get to meet.
“I get them on Day One,” she said. “I do lectures with them for two terms and then in some way, I’m involved in all of the labs from the beginning of their time with us until the end, which usually takes 15 months, plus another five months of clinical experience.”
A 2014 ACC graduate herself, Meier said she tries to impart to her class that if they really focus on what is being taught in class and in lab, they may be able to do some incredible things once they start their careers in the OR.
“You work daily next to very highly trained and highly skilled individuals that have gone to school a lot longer than we have, that have invested a lot more money in their education than we have and that have a lot more responsibility to the patient than we have,” Meier said, “yet we work right next to them. We are a team — with doctors and nurses. That's amazing.”
The passion Meier had as an ACC student learning about surgical technology has carried over into her passion for teaching the subject. And while her youthful exuberance for education has not diminished, Meier is quick to acknowledge this isn't child's play anymore — and the consequences for failure are not imaginary.
“I tell my students all the time that it is a privilege to be in the OR. This is not a right for you to be there and it is certainly not for everybody,” she said. “The fact that you made it through the program, you made it through clinicals, and now you've made it to a hospital that wants to hire you and believes that you would be an asset to their team and your patients. You are privileged to be there — and I hope that they never forget.”
I had planned on being a nurse, but I was talking to my admissions counselor and I said “I want something that is kind of fast-paced.” And she said, “Have you ever thought of surgical technology?” and I’m like, “No, never. I don't like blood and I don't like bones.” She said to think about it and presented me with some of the information and I hate saying this — because it sounds ridiculous — but I don't know how I ended up enrolling. It's kind of like one of those things where someone knew better than I did and just pushed me toward it, because if it was up to me I would have never done it.
The irony is that I said “I don't like surgery, I don't like bones and I don't like blood” and I ended up working in an orthopedic clinic doing surgery on bones — and I loved it. I always tell my students that sometimes you may not realize why you're here, right now, but if you're here and you're doing well and it's coming somewhat naturally to you, ride the wave. Just continue doing it because it leads to bigger and better things. That's what happened to me.
I sing. Singing is in my blood. It's what I do. It's what I’ve loved to do since I was tiny but I what think a lot of people don't know about me is I actually run my own business. I started a women's clothing boutique in 2017 with $500 to my name. It's social media-based right now but it's just growing and growing. Right now, I have about four businesses that I’ve tied together, so I have my women's clothing boutique and then I also partner with a women's body care company. I also partner up with a different company and sell makeup, and then I sell eyelashes. So I kind of put all of them under one umbrella and now I basically sell everything that women love.
There were times when I didn't think I could continue and I see the students struggle with it as well, but I don't feel like my job is to talk them into staying. My job is to hear them out, hash it out with them and be like, “How do you feel when you wake up in the morning and you put those scrubs on?” There's a reason why you're doing this. There's a reason why you get in the car and you come to campus. There's a reason why you studied for this test or there's a reason why you even came into the classroom, so figure out what your why is. I tell them all the time — the saying is so corny because everyone says it — but figure out your why. Why are you here? Why are you doing this? What makes you excited every morning? And if you don't have an answer, we should probably chat about something else because I can't make them love it but I hope that I contribute to their love of it.
It's hard to teach someone how to be passionate about something. You always hope that if they don't understand how big this opportunity is, that at least they're super interested in it — because if they're interested, you can reel them in and you can get them to see it from your perspective, which is, this is a very big deal.
We talk a lot about integrity and a surgical conscience because there's a lot of times where we are the only one in the room setting up a sterile field. If something happens that compromises that sterile field when no one is looking, are you going to have the integrity or the sterile conscience to do the right thing and fix it? I don't think integrity can be taught, from my experience. I think it comes down to as long as you give your students the why behind everything, whatever we're teaching them — especially in lab — that seems to be the only way that they start to grow. I can't just be like “OK, student, you should have integrity — meaning if I’m not looking, you should want to do the right thing all the time. OK? Now I expect you to have integrity.” I can't do that with my students. I can't tell them that, so instead I have to show them through my actions. I have to show them through examples. I have to show them good and bad and be like, “Which one exhibited integrity? What would you have done differently?” Then it starts to help them think and then they grow. That's the only way I’ve found it to be somewhat successful, is by kind of just planting seeds and letting them learn it on their own.
Don't be afraid to make a mistake — and by that, I mean, especially in lab. One of my biggest regrets is when I was a student in lab, I didn't always take my shot every time I had the opportunity to practice. For whatever reason. I mean, I’m not a shy person, but in that instance, I don't think I was as sure of myself as I should have been. So there were a lot of times where I would shy away from practicing and when I got out to clinic I remember there was a day where I really did myself a disservice by not taking every opportunity I possibly had to practice.
We rely on our training. At the end of the day, that's all we have. We don't have a book that we can refer back to when we're scrubbed in. We rely on our training and what's up here (points to head) and so I wish I would have practiced more — because I think my clinical experience could have been even better. I had a great clinical experience. I got offered a full-time job halfway through so I had a great clinical experience but I just wonder how much better it could have been had I taken my shot every single time. I see little wallflowers in the lab and I encourage them like, “This is a safe place. No one's going to laugh at you. If they laugh at you, I’ll deal with them.”
ACC cannot guarantee employment. Programs vary by campus. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.
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