Looks can be deceiving. Sarah Weishuhn has proven that time and again. As Miss South Carolina USA 2015, the beauty queen holds down a challenging job as a patient support technician at HCA’s Trident Medical Center and continues to silence the doubters who think she’s afraid to get her hands dirty.
The glitz and glamour of the pageant circuit is nothing compared to the work she does now in the operating room of the Charleston-based hospital. Patient support techs are the unsung heroes of the OR, doing behind-the-scenes work that is rarely recognized but totally relied upon.
“The patient doesn’t really see what we do,” Weishuhn said. “We help make sure everything is set up before and after a surgery happens. We’ve removed medical waste, changed soiled linens, made sure the dirty needle containers are emptied and new ones are available – anything the room needs to have in order to be prepared for the next patient, we are responsible for.”
It’s a “dirty job,” but someone has to do it. And Weishuhn is first in line. The 25-year old makes history and breaks stereotypes as the first state pageant winner and only female patient support tech in the OR at Trident Medical.
“I could tell I was being ‘sized up’ when I was in training,” she recalls with a laugh. “I’m the only girl who has worked in the OR in a long time, in part, because of the heavy lifting required. We have to also move patients, transfer them from the operating table to a stretcher…we might have to hold someone’s leg for minutes at a time so the physician can position it for surgery. It’s just a part of the job.”
Weishuhn, a born and bred product of Charleston, S.C., never considered herself a “pageant girl” and wasn’t raised like the reality television series, “Toddlers and Tiaras,” she says. She took the long road and showed ‘true grit’ to get to where she is today – a promising career in healthcare.
“My sophomore year in college a family friend, who was working with the Miss USA organization, asked if I would be interested in trying it out,” Weishuhn said. “I thought, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a shot.’ And I competed for Miss South Carolina three times before I won the title in 2014.”
The following year was a whirlwind of in and out-of-state appearances, not to mention, a chance to represent South Carolina in the Miss USA 2015 competition. All the while, Weishuhn was waitressing and working towards her undergraduate degree in public health from the University of South Carolina.
Healthcare, however, was never far from her heart. She raised awareness for organizations like Tumor Hater and the American Heart Association – due to a nephew with a congenital heart defect and a grandmother with heart disease – during her pageant journey. Then, an unlikely and inspiring monologue from a different national pageant competition – Miss America – sealed the deal for Weishuhn.
The reigning Miss South Carolina USA 2015, admittedly a fan of both national pageants, supported from the sidelines the Miss America contestants, specifically, Miss Colorado, who ditched the “traditional” talent of song or dance and instead used that platform to talk about being a nurse.
“I thought it was incredibly brave of her to share a personal story as a nurse and talk about how a patient’s experience touched her life,” Weishuhn said. “I don’t think people realize how much nurses do behind the scenes. They save lives. I think her speech opened a lot of eyes.”
The pageant business was a busy, amazing (and sometimes stressful) experience, Weishuhn says, and one she will cherish for a long time. But she’s traded in her sashes and tiaras for surgical scrubs and caps, and hasn’t looked back.
This patient support tech now doubles as a nursing student at a local technical school in Charleston.
There is just one lesson left to learn, she shares: “never judge a book by its cover.”
“Pageant girls are not just girly-girls who want to paint their nails and do their hair. We like to hunt, fish, climb mountains and break glass ceilings. We’re CEOs, doctors and nurses. And we’re patient support techs who are capable of pulling our own weight…and yours, too.”
Sarah Weishuhn was the Miss South Carolina USA 2015. She currently works as a patient support technician at Trident Medical Center, an affiliate of HCA, and is interested in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) after she completes nursing school. Watch Sarah and her coworker talk about her role as a patient support tech here.