High tech leader: Kristina Stillsmoking

HARLINGEN — Kristina Stillsmoking beamed with pride as she talked about the 15,000-square-foot simulation center she has helped develop.

Part of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, the high-tech teaching facility is located on the second floor of the VA Medical Outpatient building, next door to the Regional Academic Health Center on Treasure Hills Boulevard.

Going from room to room, it is difficult to imagine just two years ago, it was a shell.

That’s when Stillsmoking, a former nurse and 20-year Army veteran, put her personal and experienced touches on the center.

What once were basically empty rooms with real-life, costly simulation mannequins on plain hospital beds, the center now has all the right look and feel.

“They had clothes on, but there were no sheets,” Stillsmoking said. “It wasn’t really set up. There were no personal touches. I was told to take it over and make it happen.”

That’s what she has done and it isn’t the first time.

The director of the simulation center, Stillsmoking has brought a wealth of varied knowledge to the position and to Harlingen.

She’s been in the Army for 20 years through two wars with significant background in emergency responses.

Stillsmoking also has been a hospital educator and a part of disaster response on the West coast and has worked for the Department of Defense.

There, she set up simulation centers before heading to do similar work in Dallas for Baylor University.

About two years ago, she was seeking a new position when the one in Harlingen came up.

“I had no idea where Harlingen even was,” she said. “I came down and fell in love with it because it is like coming home to my roots in Southern California, where I grew up.”

Just recently, her vast experience and knowledge led to another opportunity.

Stillsmoking, who lives in Treasure Hills overlooking the golf course, has been named to the Governor’s Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response.

She said a colleague had nominated her.

“I can’t win a scratch off lotto, so I wasn’t going to get excited,” Stillsmoking said. “Next thing I know, the Governor’s office is calling. I was very honored and excited.”

She is one of 31 on the newly-created group which meets quarterly in Austin.

Stillsmoking said she brings a nursing and educational background to the group, which is different than most of those serving.

“I come from an educational perspective and everybody else is in the trenches every day on the health department side,” she said. “Everybody is more on the global side and I want to be able to apply the educational model and I will look from that side.”

While serving on the task force, Stillsmoking remains focused intently on the simulation center and is eager to welcome the medical students, who are set to start in late July.

In the meantime, she continues to focus on community outreach and working with organizations involved in teaching those of all ages about the medical field.

“Everybody says you have to get them in high school, but I have always said it is about getting the little kids excited and keeping them excited,” she said about the medical field.

There’s little doubt as soon as people of all ages walk into Stillsmoking’s center, they’re as excited as she is.