KOKOMO, Ind. – From the time she witnessed her first surgery, Kelly Whitmore knew she wanted to be an operating room nurse.
A partnership between the Indiana University Kokomo School of Nursing and Indiana University Health Arnett Hospital is giving her a jump start on her chosen career.
“It just really opened the door wide open, watching the R.N. circulator really helped me decide what I wanted to do with my nursing career,” said Whitmore, a junior from Lafayette. After her clinical ended, she was hired as an operating room assistant, gaining on-the-job training to prepare to transition to a nursing role when she graduates in December 2020. Her goal is to be an R.N. circulator, a nurse who manages all necessary care inside the surgery room.
Whitmore was among the first participants in an innovative, immersive clinical rotation in the Lafayette hospital’s perioperative department, which treats patients from check in for surgery through discharge or admittance to the hospital. The students are paired with a nurse to complete 12-hour shifts once a week for eight weeks, experiencing all aspects of this type of patient care, from pre-operative care, during surgery, post-anesthesia care, and post-operative.
Fourteen IU Kokomo students participated this fall semester, with another 16 registered for spring. Each one is paired with a nurse, who has been prepared to teach by IU Kokomo faculty. Working one-on-one means there’s more time for the nurses to teach and allow students to participate in patient care.
The program goal is to give students an inside look at what it’s like to be a perioperative nurse — and to give the hospital a pipeline to hire them if they choose that path.
“It’s essentially an eight-week long interview both ways,” said Heather Hohenberger, administrative director of perioperative services. “We have the opportunity to really see them for eight weeks and see how they interact with the environment. It’s also an opportunity for students to see if they would be interested in working here. They are immersed in the culture, which is a totally different perspective for them.”
April Mouser, associate professor of nursing, eplained that students aren’t just observing — they are learning from doing.
“Having that immersion, and the staff being inclusive, makes a huge difference,” Mouser said. “Most of the time these types of experiences are observation-only, which is very limiting in terms of deciding if they like it or not. It’s fun to see them have their ‘aha’ moment, when they find what they like.”
Neither Mouser nor Hohenberger are aware of any other hospitals and nursing schools providing similar immersive, long-term clinicals. They plan to partner to research and write about outcomes in an effort to encourage others to follow their model.
With an anticipated nursing shortage, in particular in niche fields like perioperative, this program could be a solution to struggles with first-year turnover and retention.
Sarah Norkus, perioperative clinical manager, plans to continue hiring students like Whitmore, which allows her to train them while they are working, and then have a shorter transition into nursing positions when they graduate and pass their state boards.
“My intention is to continue this process, so I have a constant pipeline of nursing students who are fairly committed to staying in the operating room,” she said. “Kelly is already in this job, learning the fundamentals. Typically, orientation lasts six to eight months. I will be able to get her up and running in six weeks.
Samantha Kain planned to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps as an OR nurse before the experience.
“This clinical has given me a chance to self-reflect on if this is what I see myself doing in the future,” the Logansport resident said. “It’s given me an informed way to evaluate my choice. It opened my eyes what it’s like to be an OR nurse.”
She likes that they’ve seen every step of the surgical process, from patient check in to aftercare and discharge.
“When you only see one department, you don’t think about the other steps other departments are doing, to get the whole picture,” she said. “Its’ been eye-opening to see how much collaboration and teamwork there is, not only among nurses, but with the physicians and anesthesiologists. It wraps everything together.”
Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.