One way to judge a person’s character is to see how they respond to adversity. Do they give up? Do they pout and complain about how hard their life is? Or do they pick themselves up and learn from their experiences? Nicole Gumke, a graduate of the Fargo Surgical Technologist program, is a great example of someone who went on to persevere despite challenges, such as balancing a full-time job with school work and having no income for six months while going through her clinical externship. While these challenges were admittedly not fun to deal with, Gumke says in the end the effort was worth it.
“My experience, despite all the financial instability, falling behind in class and hours spent studying has been rewarding,” said Gumke. “I feel so good every time I leave work knowing that I helped save someone’s life.”
A lifelong passion for healthcare
While growing up, Gumke always thought she would become a nurse or work in a medical setting, but never knew what her exact role would be. After an attempt at attending nursing school fizzled out – Gumke says her head just wasn’t into it at the time – Gumke’s mother, who had recently graduated from Rasmussen College, encouraged her to see what the college had to offer. Gumke took an interest in the surgical technologist program and decided to make the leap toward being a student again.
“I liked that the work was completely hands on and that I would get to work directly with doctors,” said Gumke. “Even though patients don’t really know what you do as a surgical tech, you play a big role in potentially saving their lives.”
Gumke was slightly more advanced than some of her surgical tech classmates, as she had become certified nursing assistant (CNA) when she was seventeen. The experience Gumke had as a CNA definitely prepared her for some of the more unpleasant experiences that come with working in healthcare.
“Assisting dementia patients as a CNA requires a strong stomach,” said Gumke. “Because of that experience nothing really fazes me or grosses me out now and [as a surgical tech] I definitely see some things that will make you cringe.”
Setbacks lead to growth
During her time at Rasmussen College, Gumke worked full time as a Central Sterile Processing Department technician for Sanford Health. This experience was sometimes useful in the classroom as Gumke was already familiar with sterilization procedures and what different surgical instruments are used for. However, the pressure of having bills to pay, a full-time job and a full course load caused Gumke to fall behind in and eventually fail one of her classes.
“It was difficult making my schedule work – I don’t have parents who can pay for everything so I had to work full time to pay my bills,” said Gumke. “Work had gotten in the way of school and I had to learn to adjust the amount of time I spent working.”
Though failing a class can be discouraging, Gumke managed to pick up where she left off with some encouragement from her instructor, Sallie Vance. Gumke cut back on her hours at Sanford Health and took on her remaining coursework with a new focus.
“[Vance] saw strong points in me that I didn’t even know I had,” Gumke said. “I don’t think I would have graduated if it wasn’t for her and her constant encouragement.”
Challenging clinical experience
There aren’t many professions where interns have a chance to reach in and feel another human’s heart beat in their hand. Gumke says experiences like that show both how exciting and challenging daily work as a surgical technologist can be.
“I really like the rush of surgery and being able to see things inside the body that most people will never see,” said Gumke. “You know your schedule for the day but sometimes a trauma [patient] will come in and it’s something you’ve never seen before. You’re constantly learning in this job because of things that like.”
Gumke also faced the financial challenge of not being able to work at her regular job while doing her clinical externships. Luckily for Gumke, she was able to live with her grandmother during that time.
“The most challenging part of clinicals was the financial instability,” said Gumke. “Some of my classmates were living off of their credit cards. I loved clinicals and it was all worth it in the end but that was tough.”
Though the externship was challenging, the real-life experience it provided was invaluable, as it is impossible to completely simulate what goes on during a surgical procedure in a classroom setting.
“I was prepared education-wise in terms of anatomy and how to prepare instruments, but I wasn’t really prepared for the things I would experience,” said Gumke. “That’s why you do clinicals. I feel like that’s where I learned the most.”
Continuing to learn
Despite the setbacks and challenges along the way, Gumke’s perseverance has paid off. Gumke currently works as a surgical technologist for Essentia Health in Fargo, and says she is still learning every day.
“Today, I’m doing things I never thought I’d be able to do as a student,” said Gumke. “It takes time to catch on because there is so much to learn but eventually the day comes where it clicks and you realize you can do this.”
Gumke says she hasn’t ruled out returning to school in the future to become an RN, but for now she is focused on gaining experience.
“I’d like to work in this field for as long as I can and get more experience,” said Gumke. “There are people who’ve been working in this field for 25 years and still run into things they haven’t seen before. I’m seeing new things every day, so this isn’t a field where it’s easy to get bored. That’s what I love about it.”
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