By Cailyn Kennedy

Kinston native Tonya Sutton, a determined woman who has worked in one place for the last 27 years, has decided it is time for a career change.

Sutton worked at Caswell Developmental Center before retiring at the beginning of March this year. She expressed how much she enjoyed working at Caswell. “In my previous job, I was always doing hands-on work with the patients, similar to what a CNA would do. In addition, I liked having a job within my field of interest.”

After taking several classes over the years, Sutton finally found the Surgical Technology Program at Lenoir Community College. Since getting into the program two years ago, she has made her way through the program, all while working nights at Caswell and spending her downtime studying as much as possible. While she was extremely grateful for the years spent at her previous job, she knew it was time for something different.

This past year, Sutton was accepted into the Earn to Learn Program with Wayne Memorial Hospital and began working at Wayne in January. The program allows her to work in her field while she finishes her degree.

“I have loved every second of it. It has helped me prepare myself for the Surgical Technology field in a way that most college students are not always lucky to get,” she said. “Being able to gain some experience and know what my career will look like is something I am very grateful for.”

From January until the beginning of March, Sutton worked at Wayne and worked nights at Caswell, all while obtaining her degree from LCC. “It was exhausting, but I am happy that I can now have a bit of a break. I am even more excited to begin this new journey,” she said.

After graduating this May, Sutton will continue working in her current position at Wayne. When asked if Surgical Technology will be her last stop for employment, she said, “I’m not sure. I plan to work in this field for at least two years. After that, who knows? I have even thought about doing a First Assist Program, but I want to spend some time doing something I know I enjoy first.”

What advice would Sutton give someone who wants to enter this program? “Persevere. I know it gets difficult, and it sure did for me at times. But you must prioritize keeping a solid support system, people who will push you to succeed. You must also have the will and mind to work hard for yourself. It pays off in the end. I know it has for me.”

LCC Surgical Technology Program Chair Ashley Sutton praised Sutton and her work ethic. “We are all so proud of Tonya for what she has accomplished in this program and life. She has started a new career in Surgical Technology. She loves a challenge, and she will do well in this career as she has done in the past. We will miss her in the classroom but are excited about her new journey in the operating room.”