Kathy Cabai, professor and coordinator of the Surgical Technology program at College of DuPage, has been named the Overall Outstanding Faculty Member for 2015-2016.
Representing the Health and Sciences Division, Cabai will receive a $1,000 award from the College of DuPage Foundation, which annually recognizes outstanding teaching achievement.
The St. Charles resident initially was planning to become a physical education/health teacher rather than follow in her mother’s shoes and become a nurse. However, after earning a master’s degree in education, she returned to school and obtained her nursing degree. That’s when she discovered the operating room.
“I was sold with orthopedic surgery. It was hands-on and there was something different happening every day,” she said.
For the first six years of her career, Cabai scrubbed in on as many cases as she could in the OR and enjoyed making a difference for patients. After working her way up the career ladder, she became director of nursing at a new surgery center and learned valuable skills as a manager.
When a faculty position opened at College of DuPage, Cabai thought it was an excellent opportunity to combine her love for both education and health care.
“I found teaching easy and welcoming,” she said. “It was hard to believe I was teaching people what I had actually done for many years. In the OR, you see the rewards of the outcome of surgery but nothing further. In education, you follow the progression of your students. I get excited when I see my students getting excited as they learn how to successfully work in an operating room.”
When Cabai was hired to coordinate and teach Surgical Technology at COD, the program was located off campus at a site in West Chicago. The program moved to campus in 2009 with the opening of the Health and Sciences Center, which features a state-of-the-art operating room that gives students a real-world learning environment.
“I think we have the best facility in the state of Illinois,” she said. “The new lab and facilities also provided us with an opportunity to expand programming.”
To meet a demand for formalized training and education in a variety of different areas, Cabai has created curriculum for new programs in Central Sterile Processing, Perioperative Nursing, Surgical First Assistant and Anesthesia Technologist. She wrote the self-study for the accreditation of the Anesthesia Technologist program, which underwent its site visit this past fall and became only the third program of its kind in the country to receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
Cabai recently wrote the curriculum for a new Eye Care Assistant program, which is currently working its way through the approval process. She plans to work with colleagues to submit curriculum for an Operating Room Patient Care Technician program.
“I spend time talking with as many people as I can, going to clinical sites, visiting ORs and speaking with area OR educators,” she said. “All health care providers now need some standardized education, which has required the creation of curriculum that never existed before. That’s been a challenge. However, we need to meet and exceed the educational and training needs of our medical community.”
In addition to creating new programs, Cabai also continues her own education. She has earned a master’s degree in Nursing; certification as a Surgical Technologist; certification as a Surgical First Assistant, completing 200 surgical cases; and a doctorate in Education. In addition, she is currently pursuing certification as an anesthesia technologist.
Cabai enjoys her work at College of DuPage and will continue to develop curriculum and champion new ideas and innovations.
“I am a true believer in online learning and believe we’re moving more and more in that direction,” she said. “The Anesthesia Technology and Surgical First Assistant programs are offered in an online format, which allows students to further their education while continuing to work.
“I am very, very happy in what I do here at College of DuPage. It’s such a positive environment, and teaching is rewarding. I have no interest in going back into health care full time. I like what I do right now.”