Student Stories: Angelina Cilella

Angelina Cilella

Major: Surgical First Assistant

Angelina Cilella grew up as a competitive gymnast but suffered numerous injuries, which led to multiple orthopedic appointments. 

“I had always been in awe of human anatomy and the resiliency of the human body,” she said. “Undergoing an orthopedic procedure for an extra bone in my foot when I was 12 years old exposed me to the operating room environment. I was fascinated by how unique it was from an office job.”

Cilella originally thought about becoming a physician assistant. However, she liked that a surgical first assistant program did not require extensive schooling, which meant she could focus solely on the operating room and the variety of procedures done there.

She turned to College of DuPage, which was in her backyard and offered the health care programs she wanted to pursue.

COD helped me receive a high-quality education, with clinical sites at some of the best and well-respected hospitals. This set me up for a strong career.

“COD is an affordable option to develop a good career and allows flexibility to explore or pursue other careers,” she said. “I always felt the class sizes were intimate enough to make learning accessible and productive.”

In addition to completing her general education requirements, Cilella progressed through several programs, earning the Central Sterile Processing Distribution Technician certificate, the Operating Room Patient Care Technician certificate and the Surgical Technology Associate in Applied Science degree. She began working as a certified surgical technologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital specializing in general surgery, and she is dedicated to quality patient care.

“My grandpa passed away from a minor surgery due to complications of an inherited severe reaction to anesthesia called malignant hyperthermia,” she said. “It could have been avoided. My introduction to surgery made me want to avoid complications that could happen while I care for many people. I want to challenge myself and navigate working with others in order to achieve an end goal.”

Cilella is now finishing her Surgical First Assistant certificate and is thankful that COD provided a clear path to her goals.

“Although I knew I wanted to be a surgical first assist early on, COD gave me the opportunity to see and experience the foundation and build-up of careers that support the position of the first assist. This includes sterile processing, OR patient care and surgical technology, which gave me insight to careers related to the operating room and within the hospital,” she said. “Personally, COD helped me receive a high-quality education, with clinical sites at some of the best and well-respected hospitals. This set me up for a strong career.”

Because the learning opportunities in surgery are never-ending, Cilella would like to expose herself to as much as possible without sacrificing time to enjoy other activities.

“There are multiple services, procedures, specialties, conditions and scenarios that will always keep you soaking in information,” she said. “The shift schedules of those working in the operating room have such flexibility, which allows you to find a balance that best suits your needs and to maintain a happiness at any moment of life. I personally work three 12-hour shifts so I can pursue other passions, such as teaching yoga.” 

Cilella advises students considering the Surgical First Assistant program at COD to first work as a certified surgical technologist in order to gain experience and make connections.

“This job exposes you to the role of the first assist and the procedures you will see as a first assist, which aids in learning the knowledge you will eventually need to become a first assist,” she said. “Gaining this experience allows you to work alongside the team that the first assist is part of as well as the nurses, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists, patient care techs, pharmacists, radiologists and, of course, surgeons. The building of this professional network can help you find a mentor when you enroll into the Surgical First Assistant program.

“Always remember to lean in toward what you gravitate to and the rest will follow!”

Learn more about the Surgical First Assistant program at College of DuPage