Elisa De La Pena

(HARLINGEN, Texas) – To fathom the idea that a family member will undergo a much-needed surgery can be a disheartening reality.

Elisa De La Pena, of Weslaco, remembered the day her father required surgery at an area hospital. That memory would influence her decision to enroll in the Surgical Technology program at Texas State Technical College’s Harlingen campus, where she is in her first semester studying for an Associate of Applied Science degree.

“My father was bedridden due to a work accident that nearly caused him paralysis,” she said. “I’m grateful for the surgeons and the surgical technologist who saved his life. After I graduated high school, my father mentioned that he used to attend TSTC. I performed an online search, and I noticed the Surgical Technology program. The idea of working in an operating room excited me because it’s a challenge to learn the various tools and equipment that are needed in the event of a surgery.”

She initially became interested in sports medicine as a student at Hidalgo High School.

“I was very active in athletics,” she said. “I found it appealing when I observed how the sports trainers improved the physical fitness of other student athletes after they suffered an injury.”

De La Pena said her program experience has been enjoyable.

“The program is challenging and critical thinking is applied,” she said. “The instructors are easy to approach when we have a question about the assignments. Everything that has been taught during online lectures and hands-on training has occurred in clinicals. My favorite hands-on training has been the surgical case setup. Every student arranges a table with the necessary tools and equipment needed for a surgery.”

She said the program teaches about a family connection in health care.

“The mindset is to treat a patient like a family member,” she said. “I recall my father’s surgery, and that led me to this future career at TSTC.”

She is determined to master the program’s curriculum.

“I want to learn as much as possible so I can become an expert,” she said. “The experience in clinicals is surreal and fast-paced. My preceptors are excellent to work with and provide excellent guidance. They place us in many scenarios for a potential surgery.”

De La Pena said her future career plans include a couple of options.

“I want to gain experience and become a surgical first assistant,” she said. “Another option is a traveling surgical technologist.”

Marissa Gonzales, a TSTC Surgical Technology instructor, said De La Pena shows great character as a self-driven student.

“Elisa does not allow intimidation to overpower her initiative and willingness to try,” she said. “Her ambitions are evident through her attention to detail, picking up on skills, additional practice time and shining in hands-on training.”

According to onetonline.org, surgical technologists can earn a yearly median salary of more than $50,930 in Texas, where projected job growth for the profession was forecast to increase 18% from 2020 to 2030.

At its Harlingen campus, TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Surgical Technology and an occupational skills achievement award in Sterile Processing.

For more information, visit tstc.edu.

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