EICC healthcare grads rise to the challenge
When Shalla Catalono graduated from Scott Community College’s Surgical Technology program last December, she never could have predicted where her new career would take her. In healthcare it’s no secret every day is different. She just didn’t know how different things would become in a few short months on the job.
“I started at Genesis East on January 6,” Catalano recalled. “It was really overwhelming, I was on the orthopedic team and I was still trying to learn and navigate through that specialty when COVID hit.”
COVID-19, or coronavirus, began to spread across the country and by March businesses, schools and more were shutting their doors. Meanwhile, hospitals geared up to care for sick patients by securing PPE and cancelling non-essential visits and procedures. The highly contagious and sometimes deadly virus presented (and is still presenting) a host of unknowns. Despite the risks, with the majority of surgeries cancelled and the Emergency Department (ED) in need of help, Catalano did not hesitate to volunteer for the COVID unit.
“We had more patients and they needed someone to help triage patients,” she said. “It was very out of my comfort zone, but I did the best I could. I made sure we had correct PPE on, brought patients back to the room and took basic vitals.”
She said the hardest part was coming from the OR to the ED and learning a completely new set of skills at a time when she was still so new to her role as a surgical technologist.
“It was overwhelming learning it, but I’m the one usually running toward a problem instead of away from it, I just like to help in any way I can, especially with people.”
Eric Scholting, a cardiac echo technician at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa can relate. He’d been on the job less than a year when COVID-19 rocked the nation. As the only male in a unit of women who all have children, he immediately volunteered to take the COVID patients who needed ultrasounds.
“At first it was pretty scary because protocol would change on an hourly basis,” he said. “It was scary because we were kind of in the dark with what was going on and how we should do things. Being on the front lines, you hear stories of healthcare workers getting sick. Doing an echo you spend almost an hour face-to-face and you wonder how easy is this going to be to contract if I make a mistake?”
Scholting performed ultrasounds on COVID patients with preexisting conditions. While the start was rough with changing guidelines and lack of PPE, he said things have improved significantly since then.
“It’s definitely fulfilling especially during these times, who would predict a pandemic happening? It does make you feel like you’re participating and bettering the community just by being a healthcare worker. It’s extremely rewarding with all the chaos right now.”
Catalono agrees. Now back to assisting in surgeries such as hip and knee replacements, tendon repairs, nerve repairs, broken bones and more, she feels grateful for the opportunity to make a difference during a difficult time.
“I feel like COVID has given us all perspective,” she said.
From precision parts to precision in hearts
Unlikely path leads to dream job
Long before he was suiting up in hospital PPE, Eric Scholting was suiting up in another kind of personal protective equipment – the kind that protects you from chemicals, liquids, oils, heat, sharp edges, moving parts, punctures, welding sparks, noise, vibrations and flying debris.
If it sounds like a far cry from his current job as a cardiac sonographer you’d be right, and well, a bit wrong too. Scholting was a machinist working at John Deere when he was laid off indefinitely. Machinists use machine tools, such as lathes, milling machines, and grinders, to produce precision metal parts. A graduate from the University of Northern Illinois with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology, Scholting had taken the job to get his foot in the door with the hopes of moving into a human resources position.
“A lot of times John Deere will hire from within if you have proper credentials,” he said. “I joined all the groups John Deere offered, working side-by-side with sales people.”
Unfortunately, instead of finding internal opportunities more closely related to his degree, after several years of working for the company he was laid off indefinitely. Worried about job security, he began researching high-demand jobs. That’s when he discovered radiology and sonography. Despite having no background in healthcare, he set up a meeting with Scott Community College to learn more about programs and job opportunities.
“It almost seemed like it was unattainable,” he said of going back to college. “The last time I was in school was in 2011.”
“I interviewed for the radiology program first, but then was told about the opportunities in sonography, especially the specialty of echocardiography.”
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound for the heart, and it takes highly skilled technicians to gather the pictures doctors use to diagnose a wide variety of conditions and diseases. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists is project to grow 12 percent from 2019 – 2029 with a median annual wage of $68,750 per year. Scholting said starting the program was intimidating at first, but his instructor Jodi McGivern encouraged him every step of the way.
“I didn’t have any healthcare background, and she took a special interest because she saw something positive I would bring to the field,” he said. “I think it is a phenomenal program, the instructors have plenty of experience and are willing to put forth extra effort in order to make us successful. Without her there’s no way I’d be able to finish it.”
In just one year, Scholting has proven McGivern’s hunch was on point. He is now working as the lead technician for aortic valve replacement surgeries known as TAVR. It’s a job that requires extreme attention to detail. To sum it up in one word? Precision.
“It’s a new program the hospital just started doing. I work side-by-side with surgeons and a cardiologist during a procedure. The cardiologist and surgeons are relying on me to do an efficient job and a good job because if I don’t get good pictures they don’t see the aortic valve. It makes me feel like I’m part of this phenomenal team,” he said.
Scholting admits when he first started down his new career path he never imagined there would be any correlation between his psychology degree and experience as a machinist, but as it turns out his unique background has prepared him well.
“Patients will get there and they’ll be crying. They’re in a very vulnerable position so I use counseling techniques to kind of calm them down and ease the mood. The best part is just interacting with patients and knowing you’ve made a difference in someone’s life.”
Scholting’s story proves it doesn’t matter where you start, it’s where you want go. Eastern Iowa Community Colleges offers dozens of high-demand career programs, as well as college transfer options. To learn more visit eicc.edu/getstarted