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Become a Stellar Perioperative Nurse: Education and Professional Development

By Carol J. Alexander, RN, MS, Director of Nurse Accreditation/Lead Nurse Planner, HealthStream

Why settle for being an average clinician when one can be an outstanding, competent performer? Proficiency at an expert level takes self-confidence, personal motivation, commitment, dedication, and time; but it CAN be achieved. Importantly, the benefits to patients, the patient experience, employers, and self in terms of exceptional clinical outcomes, extraordinary job performance, and progressive career advancement makes the journey to become stellar worth any associated struggles and sacrifices.

Becoming a Stellar Perioperative Nurse Requires Ongoing Education

Becoming a stellar perioperative nurse starts with a solid, quality basic nursing education
that instills the belief that there is always a need to seek ongoing continuing education and formal academic advanced educational opportunities, as well as stimulating, complex work experiences that will foster the refinement and enhancement of specialty skills. Capitalizing on guidance from nursing and non-nursing preceptors, mentors, coaches, and leaders throughout your career is imperative. Plus, one must constantly refine interpersonal and interdisciplinary
collaborative skills, so productive collegial relationships and team functioning are cultivated.

The Importance of AORN Membership

Joining one’s specialty organization, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), is essential so that you are fully cognizant of the most current AORN standards and recommended practices, along with professional issues facing perioperative nurses. Being a member of AORN will also assist you to pursue specialty certification. Furthermore, I believe that membership in the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) is critical for understanding the priorities facing the nursing profession at large; since advocacy designed to create the preferred future for the nursing profession is a skill of exceptional nurses.

A Daily Pursuit of Clinical and Leadership Competencies

However, the key principle to becoming a stellar performer is the daily pursuit of clinical and leadership competencies that result in effective outcomes. Competency is the ability to apply one’s knowledge, skills, and behaviors in real life situations in a manner that strives to mitigate or resolve health/illness issues, problems, and challenges that we encounter. Maintaining and enhancing competency occurs on a continuum ranging from taking advantage of onboarding/orientation processes, quarterly/annual competency assessments, performance
evaluations, self-evaluation measures, and available educational offerings/courses.

Online Learning Opportunities

Nurses desiring to refine perioperative clinical competencies definitely want to explore whether their employing institution uses the online resources available through HealthStream which includes five major categories of courses by AORN. Nurses new to the perioperative specialty area want to be able to work with departmental educators/preceptors in taking the 25 online learning modules embedded in Periop 101: A Core Curriculum. The curriculum consists of evidence based topics, such as introduction to perioperative nursing, critical thinking, professionalism, aseptic practice, patient care, patient/worker safety, sterilization, and equipment safety. The modules also include interactive activities, required readings and suggested videos to complement the content presented. Periop 101: Individual Modules allows the purchase of select offerings within the total curriculum that a nurse might want to purchase for themselves. This allows a user the ability to review content frequently at a pace of their own choosing, thus reinforcing retention.

As perioperative nurses become more confident of their clinical competencies, they may want to take the 30 contact hour course called Preparing for the CNOR Exam Online. This self paced course allows nurses to refine their knowledge of perioperative nursing, learn effective test-taking strategies, and review the latest standards and recommended practices in preparation for becoming certified. This process is a major step towards the goal of being a stellar
perioperative nurse.

Some perioperative nurses want to become preceptors to mentor and coach other nurses within the operating room setting. By taking the online course titled AORN-Preparing the Preceptor, they can be effective role models who showcase outstanding clinical skills that result in positive outcomes for patients and family members. They also demonstrate the successful implementation of recommended standards of practice, regulatory criteria, policies, and procedures. There is also a course titled Periop 101: A Core Curriculum for the OB RN-Circulator, that perioperative nurses who further specialize in obstetrics may wish to take to enhance additional competencies.

Testing Your Proficiency

AORN also has a unique Periop Mastery Program that tests both the user’s level of knowledge
and well as confidence in that knowledge, so that knowledge gaps are identified. The mastery program allows organizations and individual nurses to take advantage of additional learning modules on high risk and high or low volume patient care issues such as moderate sedation/analgesia, malignant hyperthermia, or radiation safety that assist with competency validation during quarterly/annual skills fairs or performance reviews. Reports track individual
learner progress, including knowledge gaps, so education can be targeted to remediate those deficits and improve competencies. Finally, AORN offers webinars and journal articles that award approved contact hours. These resources also contribute to becoming proficient.

Refining Nursing Leadership Competencies

Finally, the Frontline Nurse Leader: A Charge Nurse Program course offered by HealthStream
is an online resource that focuses on developing and refining leadership competencies. This curriculum enables clinical nurses to cultivate additional competencies that are pivotal in terms of overall career success. Patient safety, positive clinical outcomes, quality care, and patient/employee/physician satisfaction are strengthened by leaders who create a constructive work environment where such goals can be achieved regularly and consistently. In fact, such leaders often strive to achieve Magnet status, which recognizes a work environment in which nurses can flourish, as well as being creative and innovative. The latter characteristics are hallmarks of stellar performers.

In summary, the above suggestions are only a few among many that enable nurses to far
surpass mediocrity and excel at becoming stellar perioperative nursing clinicians and leaders. Numerous life experiences, along with educational opportunities, will hone the wisdom, skills, and behaviors inherent in seasoned exceptional performance. There will be “high mountains” and “deep valleys” as you progress on your journey toward the goal of being stellar. Remember, proactive actions, plus a mixture of hope and faith, will enable you to be steadfast.

Learn more about HealthStream learning courseware from AORN.

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