The new school

Nurses, including Heather Wyers (right), work on a training manikin in the Nancy Bell Advanced Training Suite at Toronto Western Hospital. (Photo: UHN)

By Glynis Ratcliffe

When COVID-19 hit Canada last March and operating rooms (ORs) slowed down, nurses from all over University Health Network (UHN) were redeployed to units where they were needed most. Since nursing colleges across Ontario were forced to stop in-person learning, which effectively shut down the clinical portion of their schooling, ORs in the Sprott Department of Surgery at UHN couldn’t hire from the traditional source of new talent. That was a problem for Rose Puopolo, Clinical Manager of Perioperative Services in the Sprott Department of Surgery, who had to redeploy 30 nurses during the first wave and needed to continue hiring qualified perioperative – a term used to describe the entire surgery journey for a patient – nurses for the anticipated ramp up of surgeries.

“I couldn’t find qualified perioperative nurses. The colleges, because of COVID-19, could no longer meet our immediate needs,” she says.

Given how vital these nurses are to the surgical journey – they’re an integral part of the surgical team, also providing psychosocial support to patients along with being the surgical safety ambassador – Puopolo needed to find an innovative solution to recruit and retain perioperative nurses. She and Heather Wyers, Advanced Practice Nurse Educator at UHN, had wanted to continue to develop a program – Periop 101 – which was accredited by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses to supplement existing programs, in part because they needed a way to bring in students throughout the year instead of just when courses are on. The pandemic was the perfect opportunity to expand and continue their plan.

This three-month Periop 101 course gives new recruits a unique opportunity to learn core competencies in an actual OR environment.

New hires also use the Nancy Bell Advanced Training Suite at Toronto Western Hospital, a lab where they practice their skills and start to develop crisis management skills in a safe environment. “Incorporating Sprott Surgery nurses in the simulations allows for team building among colleagues,” notes Wyers, making it an easy transition when UHN hires them at the end of the course.

A total of 25 new recruits have come through Periop 101 since November 2019. The program has been so successful that hospitals across the province have reached out for advice on how to implement similar training efforts.

“It just makes sense,” says Puopolo. “You can start it whenever, you tailor it to any specialty. It’s not only about timing, it’s also about integrating a team more efficiently.”

Both Wyers and Puopolo decided to expand and continue the program as a more comprehensive Intro to Periop course for students in their final year of nursing school. “This is to give more nursing students an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the OR,” explains Wyers. “We hope they will discover their passion for it and return once they become a registered nurse.”

The future is bright, Wyers says. “We have now recruited summer [nursing students] through the Intro to Periop course with the goal of stimulating interest in the perioperative specialty.”

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