Sutter Health is expanding a training program for its nurses that is aimed at staving off an expected statewide shortage of operating room nurses.
This year, the Sacramento-based system of 24 hospitals in Northern California boosted its offering of an accelerated operating room training program from once to five times a year. Sutter Health officials say the system will lose 300 of its 800 surgery nurses to retirement in the next five years, while the need for nurses in the specialty is expected to increase.
The 2-year-old program, which graduated 62 nurses as of Thursday, trains its nurses in half the time of traditional programs.
“If we really look at what is happening with the aging workforce we can either do something about it now or wait until it happens to us,” said Yvonne Gardner, vice president of talent management and organization development at Sutter Health. “And by the time that happens, we’re going to be behind the curve, and more importantly we’re not going to be able to deliver the care we need to.”
Perioperative, or operating room, nursing is a specialty area that is increasing in demand, thanks to the population of aging baby boomers that is leading to an increased rate of retiring nurses and more surgical procedures.
Renee Dodge, program director of the training program, and four retired Sutter Health operating room nurses teach in the training program, a 12-week course of hands-on skills workshops, simulations and classroom learning.
In addition to educational material provided by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses or AORN, “we rely on the facilities to provide the hands-on skills lab” and clinical training, said Linda Groah, AORN executive director and CEO.
Some medical facilities have neither a budget nor the teaching staff large enough to offer this type of training, said Susan Root, manager for perioperative education at AORN. Costs include teacher compensation, equipment and AORN instructional materials, which range from $400 to $800 per student.
Dodge considers the program an investment that will allow the Sutter Health system to fill its expected deficit in five years by graduating 60 nurses a year.
Openings left by soon-to-be retired nurses with about 30 years of surgery experience will be some of the hardest to fill, Gardner said. Fewer nurses have the skill set required to work in the more technical, higher-stress environment of the operating room due to a shift in nursing schools’ education, said nurse educators.
In the mid- to late 1970s, nursing programs across the country started to cut perioperative clinical rotations from their curriculum. As these programs began to prioritize fields like community and ambulatory nursing, three months of hands-on surgical experience was reduced to one or two days of observation.
“It’s really hard to find placement as a new grad because people don’t want people with no experience,” said Melody States, executive director of Sutter Health’s six surgical centers. “So they’re really stuck in a hard place.”
While the interest of working in the operating room is not diminishing among new registered nurses, many institutions have been hesitant to train them. Gradually, however, programs are opening to younger nurses.
“People are just realizing that there’s really not a down side to taking new grads in those specialty areas so long as you’re providing a robust education and a good clinical” training, Groah said.
Thirty to 40 percent of nurses going through the AORN’s perioperative instructional program are new graduates. Sixteen of 62 nurses who have completed Sutter’s surgery training program since its start in 2012 have been new graduates.
“You get this fresh new ‘sponge’ who does not bring in any bad habits or poor practices, and we’re able to mold them into being the very best nurses from day one,” States said.
Contact The Bee’s Vanessa Ochavillo, (916) 326-5510.