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Staffing Shortage Solutions: How Education and Training Help

By Don Sadler

Kristin Leavoy

A lot has been written about the nursing shortage in the U.S., with a projected shortage of more than one million nurses by 2022. The nurse staffing challenge extends to the OR where half of all OR leaders say they’re having problems recruiting perioperative nurses.

“The quest to find qualified, well-trained nurses, coupled with the growing baby boomer nursing demographic, has elevated the OR staffing shortage to unprecedented heights,” says MD Publishing Vice President Kristin Leavoy.

“As a result, current OR staff are stretched thin as they are tasked with longer shifts, increased responsibilities and the burden to hire their replacements as retirement approaches,” Leavoy adds.

A Solution: Training and Education

Maria Morales, MSN, RN

One solution to this crisis is providing OR nurses with ongoing training and educational opportunities.

“High-quality and continual training is a must in health care today,” says Maria Morales, MSN, RN, CPAN, Executive Director, Healthcare Programs with OnCourse Learning. “Education and training are of utmost importance in laying a solid foundation for practice.”

A particular challenge when it comes to OR nurse staffing is the fact that the principles of perioperative practice are not included in undergraduate nursing programs.

“This makes it difficult to hire new nursing school graduates into the perioperative setting,” says Susan Bakewell, MS, RN-BC, the Director of Perioperative Education & Professional Development for the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN).

The good news is that there are more opportunities for ongoing perioperative training and education today than ever before. These include industry conferences and workshops, online webinars, preceptorships, residencies and continuing education programs.

“When hospital administration encourages and supports staff to participate in continuing education opportunities like these, they are paving the way for better facility management, higher employee satisfaction and improved best practices,” says Leavoy.

“In addition, participating in industry conferences and taking advantage of educational resources gives nurses the opportunity to earn or maintain their certifications and learn best practices from their peers,” Leavoy adds. “It also allows nurses to share the struggles they face on a day-to-day basis with each other and steps to overcome them.”

Preceptorship and Residency Programs

Morales is a strong proponent of preceptorship and residency programs for new nursing school graduates who want to enter perioperative nursing.

“A high-quality preceptorship or residency program helps nurses learn the technical, communication, critical-thinking and practical skills needed in today’s health care environment,” she says.

According to Morales, there is a gamut of research-based information to support how preceptorships and residency programs should be administered. She points specifically to the Nursing Preceptor Specialty Practice Focused CE Series offered by OnCourse Learning.

“It’s not enough to just pair a nurse or physician with a trainee and hope for a good educational experience,” says Morales. “We need prepared and trained preceptors to deliver research-based educational programs of a sufficient duration to help yield prepared, astute health care professionals who are ready to provide clinical care.”

Susan Bakewell, MS, RN-BC

Bakewell says that AORN has developed a standardized, evidence-based program to help close the education gap for new perioperative nurses.

“The use of this program – which is titled Periop 101: A Core Curriculum – eliminates the need for the perioperative educator and staff to develop a home-grown course,” says Bakewell. “This saves time and money for the staff and hospital and focuses the efforts on the development of the students.”

According to Bakewell, new nursing school graduates and registered nurses moving into the perioperative specialty can learn the foundation of perioperative practice in a supportive environment by completing this six-month, blended online program.

“A critical element of the clinical practicum is the assignment of an experienced preceptor,” says Bakewell. “He or she works side by side with the novice nurse to ensure safe implementation of perioperative practice, culture and patient advocacy during a time when the patient is most vulnerable.”

The Periop 101 course is continually updated when new or revised guidelines are released and other evidence-based clinical practices are adopted, Bakewell adds.

“And all Periop 101 students receive a free one-year membership to AORN,” she says.

OR Today Live!

Another terrific training and education opportunity for perioperative nurses is the OR Today Live! Surgical Conference. This year’s conference will be held August 26-28 in Nashville, Tennessee. “OR Today Live! hits the trifecta of conference must-haves,” says Leavoy.

“There’s a top-notch educational line-up and an exhibit hall offering the latest technologies in the marketplace,” says Leavoy. “Also, the conference takes place in an intimate setting that allows attendees to network not only with their fellow nurses, but also with presenters and vendors.”

“Perhaps best of all, the organizers at OR Today Live! strive to make the conference affordable and value-packed by keeping admission prices low,” Leavoy adds.

For more information or to sign up for this year’s OR Today Live! Surgical Conference, visit

Leavoy points out that pre-conference workshops like the CSSM Exam Prep Course at OR Today Live! often provide opportunities for nurses to earn certifications in specialty areas of expertise. Morales also encourages nurses to pursue specialty certifications.

“If you have worked in a certain area of health care, don’t be afraid to pursue certification,” she says. “Begin earning continuing education credits. Attend conferences and participate on a practice council committee.”

“The more you can hear good teaching, watch good practice and demonstrate proper skills yourself, the more you will grow in your specialty,” Morales adds.

Bakewell says that simulation labs are being used more and more to assist perioperative staff in learning new specialty techniques and procedures in a safe, supportive environment.

“There are online education activities that can help perioperative nurses prepare to go into a specialty area by learning about highly specialized equipment, such as lasers and robotics,” she says.

“Once the theory behind the equipment has been mastered, the nurse is ready to go into a room with a preceptor to use the equipment,” Bakewell adds. “An online activity can provide the content nurses need to practice safely, such as learning about the growth and development of the pediatric patient.”

Sources of Training and Education

Bakewell encourages hospitals and nurses to seek out training and education opportunities available through continuing education medical groups, hospital education departments and publishing companies.

Meanwhile, Morales lists a number of training and education programs offered by OnCourse Learning, including the following:

  • The Focused CE Series offers a blended learning format where nurses can study on their own, watch or participate in customized webinars, and interact with a subject matter expert and peers.
  • The Charge Nurse Focused CE Series is designed for nurses who want to pursue a charge nurse or manager role.
  • The Adult CCRN/PCCN Certification Review Focused CE Series is designed for nurses who want to strengthen their critical care knowledge.

“If you would rather pursue a shorter, self-study option that you can complete on your own schedule, a PearlsReview course might be right for you,” says Morales.

These are offered in the areas of operating room nursing (CNOR), Hemodynamics Review, Nurse Manager and Leader (CNML) and Preceptor Specialty. To learn more, visit

Finally, don’t forget about CE Direct.

“This is a great website and continuing education solution that offers a massive inventory of quality nursing articles, recorded webinars, self-study slide presentations and more,” says Morales.

To learn more about CE Direct, visit

Of course, AORN is also a goldmine of training and education resources for perioperative nurses.

“AORN members have free access to numerous tools and education resources that are evidence-based and present current practice standards,” says Bakewell.

“Members can also access the peer-reviewed AORN Journal with up to 200 free CHs in its 12 monthly issues,” she adds. “And throughout the year, AORN presents workshops in cities across the country supporting management growth and providing hands-on and didactic clinical practice support along specialty areas such as infection prevention.”

To learn more about AORN training and education resources, visit



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