As a young child growing up on a farm in Kansas, Amanda Heitman remembers visits to her grandfather, an osteopath who worked from his home, as influential in her eventual career in nursing.
“When my mom would go and take me to the house, I would help him in his office,” Heitman said. “Something as simple as that just sparked something in me that I wanted to be a nurse someday.”
On the advice of a working nurse who was a friend of her older sister, Heitman began pursuing her BSN right out of high school, which she completed in 2001 at Fort Hays State University. During the course of her studies, Heitman got the opportunity to work as a labor and delivery surgical technician at Hays Medical Center, which instilled in her a love of the operating room.
“My first case, I’ll never forget it, was a vaginal hysterectomy,” she said. “Working with that team lit that fire for the OR for me. I thought maybe I would work in labor and delivery.”
Instead, fortune dictated that her nursing career would begin in dermatology, where Heitman gained real-world experience in practical skills like suturing and assisting. She also began precepting other colleagues. The foundations she built in both skills came in handy when Heitman and her husband, Josh, moved to Iowa, where she took a job at a Boone County Hospital.
Although the small community hospital hadn’t been looking for a surgical nurse, Heitman’s experience got her a job offer and a place in its OR. There she learned pre-operative care, circulating as well as scrub nursing, endoscopy and perioperative services.
“It was really a great experience to develop me into where I’m at today,” she recalled.
Before the family relocated to North Carolina in 2007, Heitman knew she would have to pursue her certified perioperative nursing credential (CNOR) to advance her career. WakeMed Health and Hospitals in Raleigh, North Carolina, hired her as a clinical circulating scrub nurse. Six months into her third pregnancy, Heitman transitioned from a rural community hospital to a busy Level One trauma center. Fortunately, she was assigned to nurse educator Patsy Davis, who helped fully immerse her in the career.
“I had never seen a nurse educator before,” Heitman said. “She was the motherly figure and the vital source of the OR. She’s very wise; she wasn’t clinical all the time, but was very helpful to new people, providing support and being a role model for them.”
Heitman flourished under the opportunity to learn more and hone her skills further. At Patsy’s behest, she joined Capital AORN, the local Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), and eventually became an active board member, chapter president and newsletter editor. After a year in Raleigh, Heitman moved on to WakeMed Hospital in Cary, North Carolina, where she began as a circulating scrub nurse before eventually following in her mentor’s footsteps to become a nurse educator.
It started with being a resource for peers pursuing CNOR credentials, and evolved into helping new staff orient themselves within the department, and establish their annual competencies. By 2010, Heitman had effectively developed an educator position for herself, and has been an education resource specialist in the department ever since (although Heitman is also quick to point out that she’s very active in the OR, scrubbing and circulating frequently).
In addition to those roles, Heitman established a new nursing graduate residency program for the OR at WakeMed Cary, and helped develop a curriculum specifically to teach her peers what they need to know in the perioperative environment. Using AORN resources and her own passion for the curriculum, Heitman said she’s found her outlet to help her peers grow into nurses “who have rationale and understanding, and who aren’t just task nurses.”
“I always tell them, ‘I know you’re not going to stay here forever, but my goal is for you to be a perioperative nurse forever. I’m giving you the tools so that you can continue this profession,’ ” Heitman said.
“It’s all about the role of the perioperative nurse, specifically the patient safety side,” she said; “developing that surgical conscience that they never had before.”
Patient advocacy is one such fundamental skill for a good perioperative nurse, and it’s among those Heitman said is most important to instill into a young nursing professional early.
“You want to be in perioperative nursing for patient advocacy,” she said. “We’re there for when patients can’t speak for themselves; we all have to be nurse leaders. Most of us are assertive, but some have to develop that. I hope that I give them that voice, and show them the right things to do so they can make those clinical decisions on their own.”
Heitman’s love of education comes from her own lifelong love of learning. From technology, to new procedures, to the steady stream of patients and colleagues who flow through the doors, “all of this keeps you constantly learning, and it helps drive that continual passion to be in the OR,” she said.
“To see the excitement when they come through, and learn, ‘Here’s where you’re supposed to be,’ I want to continue that,” she said.
Heitman believes nurse educators are critical to the function of any good OR because they are plugged into the social and professional networks of the hospital itself, from staff and vendors to surgeons and leadership. They also help evaluate and reform policies, manage a variety of relationships, and even train and develop new nurse educators. Someday, Heitman hopes to become a consulting nurse educator, helping to build other resource specialist programs in hospital ORs across the country.
“Right now, I think an educator is the key person to have in the OR,” Heitman said. “I would love to help be a part of shaping new educators. It’s a daunting task if nobody’s ever helped you get it started. I developed my program from scratch, and I would love to help other institutions do that.”
Similarly, by reaching out to local colleges and universities through the years, Heitman has made the most of opportunities to connect with young nursing students. She provides them with a glimpse of what perioperative nursing is about. She believes sharing real-world experiences is critical to building future OR nurses. When she’s not working, Heitman enjoys returning to Kansas to visit her Extended family. She and Josh have been married 20 years, raising their three children, Kale, Brynn and Lana. Heitman said her WakeMed colleagues also feel like an extended family, and sometimes, the hours they share can be more than they might get to spend with their own loved ones.
“We’re a community hospital in a rapidly growing region,” Heitman said. “There’s a million people in Wake County, but I feel like I’m still in a small community because of the strong relationships I have with my coworkers.”