Grow your own nurses for your facility’s OR

Technology, training attract students

It’s easy to say that attracting more students to nursing programs will help address the nursing shortage in the future, but how do you inspire high school students? Use television to show them what a typical part of a workday is like, decided the staff of Kent Hospital in Warwick, RI, and the Hospital Association of Rhode Island in Providence. A live statewide surgery teleconference broadcast to seven school sites served as a virtual job shadowing program for 140 high school science students in Rhode Island.

"We were approached by the director of work force development for the hospital association when her husband was scheduled for rotator cuff surgery," says Linda Sebastian, RN, BSN, CNOR, director of perioperative services for Kent Hospital. "Both her husband and his surgeon agreed to the procedure’s broadcast, and our nurses were excited about the opportunity," she adds.

After preparing information packets for the students and making technical arrangements for the broadcast, the procedure was performed, says Sebastian. "We asked for volunteers because it was broadcast, but all of the nurses wanted to be involved," she says. Not only did the project give the high school students an opportunity to learn about perioperative nursing, the Kent nurses obtained a new perspective on the importance of their jobs, she adds.

Another way Kent Hospital gives high school or college students an opportunity to explore the operating room (OR) as a potential career is a summer orderly position, Sebastian says. "We also give nursing students and pre-med students a chance to do on-the-job [OR] tech training," she adds. "We select the most motivated, serious students to scrub on some cases."

These programs have paid off, with one former orderly now an RN and working at Kent, she adds. (To see other ideas for attracting high school students, See "Think outside the box to find and keep OR nurses," Same-Day Surgery, December 2001, p. 149.)

Another way to attract nurses is to give them a chance to see the OR before they graduate from nursing school, says Lori L. Ingram, RN, BSN, MSN, CNOR, perioperative clinical nurse specialist at Presbyterian Hospital Matthews in Matthews, NC. An 11-week summer program gives junior- and senior-level nursing students an opportunity to combine classroom and lab experience with rotation through the different clinical areas of the operating room with preceptors. It has resulted in two new operating room nurses and four other students who decided to train to become nurse practitioners and certified registered nurse anesthetists.

Not only does the 11-week program give staff a chance to evaluate the students as potential employees, but it also is cost-effective, Ingram says. "We pay the student nurse salary for the 11 weeks, and we know that these students are interested in the OR and are going to be looking for jobs after graduation," she says. "This compares to training a floor nurse for perioperative services and paying the RN salary during the training period and not knowing if the nurse will stay in perioperative services."

Students have said that the program gives them a chance to tie concepts together with real life, says Ingram. "They get practical job experience, and we get extra help in the OR," she adds. Although the nursing students get a chance to see inpatient and outpatient surgery, most of them prefer the same-day surgery setting, says Ingram. "They like to see the patient through the whole pre-op, surgical, and recovery process," she explains.

When the program was first made available, 40 nursing students expressed interest, Ingram says. "We reviewed their applications and interviewed them to choose 15," she says. Next time, Ingram says that she and the others selecting students will ask for more information. "We did require a 3.0 grade point average to make sure they weren’t struggling academically, but we’ll also ask for information that indicates work ethic," she says. "Some students didn’t approach the program as employment with real job responsibilities, so we need to make sure they understand that it is a real job before we select them," she explains.

Ingram discovered that three of the students they chose had never held any type of job prior to the perioperative program. Information about involvement in school activities and prior work experience will help in the selection, she adds.

If you are considering using student nurses in the OR, be sure to check with your state board of nursing to clarify the activities that students can and can’t perform, Ingram suggests. "In many places, students can give medications and document patient care activities, but you need to be sure," she adds.

An added benefit of the program has been the need to train staff nurses to become preceptors, Ingram says. "We offer workshops that teach how to mentor, practice issues that preceptors need to know, and suggestions on how to orient the student," she says. "The nurses become energized, realize how much they have to share, and take their role seriously when we explain that these students are their future colleagues and their replacements when they want to retire."


For more information about programs to attract students, contact:

Linda Sebastian, RN, BSN, CNOR, Director of Perioperative Services, Kent Hospital, 455 Toll Gate Road, Warwick, RI 02886. Telephone: (401) 737-7010 ext. 1390. E-mail:

Lori L. Ingram, RN, BSN, MSN, CNOR, Peri-operative Clinical Nurse Specialist, Presbyterian Hospital Matthews, 2023 Bluebonnet Lane, Matthews, NC 28104. Telephone: (704) 384-6254. E-mail: