Residency programs address OR nurse shortage

When nurse recruiters at Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut were struggling to fill operating room positions in 2016, Reynaldo De La Cruz, RN, CNOR, suggested starting a new residency program.

The program would allow nurses with no perioperative experience to learn the skills needed to work in the specialized operating room environment.

For years, the hospital had been unable to compete with salaries for seasoned OR nurses offered in nearby Manhattan, New York.

Reynaldo De La Cruz, RN

“We often had great, experienced candidates and offered them positions, but when they heard the salary, they would back out,” said De La Cruz , an OR nursing education specialist at Greenwich Hospital.

In an era when fewer nursing school programs or hospitals offer OR training, the residency would allow potential OR nurses a much-needed opportunity to learn.

The interest in the program was clear when 50 nurses applied for six positions.

As the program’s creator, De La Cruz was careful to select nurses who were both talented and passionate about working in the OR because the participants who completed the residency would be offered full-time positions in the hospital’s operating room.

OR nurse shortage is regional phenomenon

Like Greenwich Hospital, facilities throughout the country are struggling to fill OR nurse positions as more RNs reach retirement age.

According to a survey of more than 3,700 perioperative nurses conducted by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) in 2018, 73% reported that the OR nurse shortage has had a moderate-to-crisis effect on their working environment.

A total of 34% reported retirements were one of the reasons for the shortage, according to the survey.

OR nurse

Linda Groah, RN

The demand for OR nurses also has increased in recent years as more surgeries are performed in the outpatient setting, said Linda Groah, MSN, RN, CNOR, NEA-BC, FAAN, CEO and executive director of AORN.

The number of ambulatory surgery centers grew from 3,000 to more than 5,600 in the last three years, she said.

The OR nurse shortage is projected to be most acute in the same states that are experiencing the general nursing shortage, Groah said.

The states include:

  • California
  • Texas
  • New Jersey
  • South Carolina

As facilities grapple with vacancies for OR nurse positions, an increasing number of hospitals have started developing nurse residencies, but these programs require funding, hospital space and instructors, Groah said.

At Greenwich Hospital, De La Cruz successfully advocated for funding and he agreed to teach the residents.

The first cohort, which included medical-surgical nurses and a cardiac telemetry nurse, learned about topics such as the principles of sterility, sutures, anesthesia and how to prepare for cases.

In addition to classroom lectures, the 12-month program included clinical rotations with preceptors from different surgical specialties, such as general surgery, gynecology, urology, orthopedics and ear, nose and throat.

The students also spent time in all three phases of surgery: preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative.

Elizabeth Vitale, RN, one of the participants in the first cohort, had worked in …read more

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