Passing the baton to the next generation

2015-09-03 07.12.15The Christmas holidays have given me the opportunity to attack the pile of perioperative nursing journals and catch up with my reading (and accrue some CPD hours!). An article that caught my eye was in the Journal of Perioperative Nursing in Australia (ACORN), (vol 29, issue 4, Summer 2016) by Seri Wilson. Whilst the content was related to Wilson’s research into retirement intentions of baby boomers (BBs) at her hospital, I found some of the statistics presented thought provoking. Wilson cites Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) demographic data stating that in 2014, 38.3% (4 out of 10) of the nursing workforce were aged 50 years of age or over. Whilst these are overall nursing workforce figures, they are probably reflected in many of our perioperative environments. Wilson was making the point that the BB generation, if they haven’t done so already, will soon be leaving the profession and posed the question of whether we are doing enough to hand over to the next generation of nurses.

Being a BB myself, I am well acquainted with others of my vintage who have either retired, are about to retire or are still in the workforce. Many BBs are unable to retire due to financial reasons and there are many who just love their work. Such people were gold dust for me when I was working as a Clinical Nurse Consultant, because I knew that they would support, teach and mentor the new graduate nurses who were embarking on their perioperative careers.

The worry is – what happens when such valuable BBs finally do retire? Will we have enough perioperative nurses to take their place and will we have done enough to pass on the baton of safe patient care to them? It is a point made in Wilson’s conclusion – the need to have an appropriate handover to the next generation.2015-03-13 15.07.07

During my career as a perioperative educator, my passion has been to promote the specialty as a career path for both RNs and ENs. Long gone are the days when all student nurses (like myself) gained clinical experience in the operating theatre, where the seeds of a career in perioperative nursing were sown for me and many of my contemporaries. The reduction in the number of undergraduate nurses being exposed to perioperative nursing means that the pool of future perioperative nurses is also reduced. Many operating theatres are crying out for nursing staff, both RNs and ENs and I know, from talking to colleagues in the tertiary sector, that there are many undergraduates interested in the specialty and a clinical placement in the operating theatre. Unfortunately such interest is often not translated into action with many operating theatres being reluctant to open their doors to potentially the next generation of perioperative nurses. Why? Well, I have heard many reasons – ‘students are too much trouble’; ’we are too busy to spare the time to teach’; ‘don’t have an educator’; ‘we only do lumps and bumps’ etc, etc.

Whilst there may be legitimacy in some of these comments, I feel that operating theatres who are short of staff are really missing the opportunity to ‘grow your own’. Yes, visiting undergraduates can add to an already busy workload, but going the extra mile by allowing a them to follow a patient through surgery or providing a short rotation to the operating theatre, can pay dividends for the future. It does not matter that minor or less complex surgery is performed, the undergraduate does not care, they are fascinated by anything and everything. Whilst a CNC at Randwick Campus Operating Suite (RCOS) I assisted in facilitating a twelve month program for new graduates, the majority of whom stayed on staff following completion. They have become valuable team members and many of them are now senior staff within the RCOS.

So at the start of 2017, I have a challenge for those of you seeking staff. Consider ways in which you can ‘grow your own’.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • contact your local university/TAFE and offer options for exposing the undergraduates/EN students to the operating theatre – a patient follow through, a tour, an opportunity to present information about perioperative nursing at the university/TAFE
  • organise an operating theatre open day to which not only undergraduate nurses can be invited, but new graduates and nurses from other departments in the hospital. A number of current perioperative nurses started their careers in other specialties before seeing the light!
  • work with your local NSW Operating Theatre Association (NSW OTA) Zone to consider a united approach to promote the specialty

Many of you will have already tried these and maybe other strategies. Let me know what worked for you and if you haven’t tried these strategies, give it a go. Whilst I am not longer active in the clinical area (though business partner Sally is), through our business we are maintaining our passion to promote perioperative nursing as a career. We will continue to provide education to nurses who seek to enter the perioperative specialty through our Fundamentals program which was the subject of my previous blog. We are keen to run more of these courses in the coming months. So if you know of any colleagues who would benefit from the program, please let us know – we can help them take that first step.

Getting new staff into the perioperative environment is only the first step, we then have to work to educate and support them whilst they settle into their new career. So it is pleasing to see the Nursing and Midwifery Office within NSW Health launch the Transition to Perioperative Practice program. This program, to begin early 2017 and developed by experienced perioperative nurse, Deb Burrows, supported by NSW OTA, will provide new staff embarking on their perioperative careers a structured program, giving them skills and knowledge to provide safe patient care. This will overcome the need for individual hospitals to develop their own education programs and will hopefully encourage operating theatres to take on novice perioperative nurses.

We are at a critical point in perioperative nursing with the BBs moving on and what is required is a steady, ongoing supply of nurses, RNs and ENs – the new generation of perioperative nurses to take their place. The BBs have laid a solid foundation of perioperative practice, it is up to you to build the next generation and ensure the baton is passed on.

Menna Davies