Expanding Nova Scotia Health’s Perioperative Nursing Program to support current and future workforce needs

Fourth year nursing students took part in an in-person session at Valley Regional Hospital this fall as part of the elective Perioperative Nursing Program. The program helps expose students to the role nurses serve in operating rooms and consider this area of nursing as a potential career path after graduation.

Having an adequate supply of skilled perioperative nurses and other care providers is vital to our province’s strategy to improve access and support more timely surgical care.

The Nova Scotia Health Learning Institute for Health Care Providers offers the Perioperative Nursing Program (PONP) that provides registered nurses (RNs) with the advanced education and training needed to work in operating rooms (ORs).

“If a nurse wants to work in one of the operating rooms in Nova Scotia, they must take the PONP program or come from an out-of-province program that's also been approved by the practice educator,” explained Shelley Haynes, PONP nurse educator.

Jessica Mikhael is a perioperative nurse working at the Halifax Infirmary.

“I love the team-based approach in perioperative nursing – it’s my favourite part of the OR,” explained Mikhael. “In the OR, everyone has a role to play, and you can’t do anything unless the whole team is there. As you work closely and gain insight into everyone’s role in the OR, your work becomes more cohesive, and you strengthen your competencies. This was the main reason I was attracted to perioperative nursing.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic in-person programs were restricted which resulted in delays to some programs like the PONP.

Since then, the perioperative network and zone perioperative leaders at Nova Scotia Health have worked with the Institute to identify ways to increase access to programs and offer more flexible enrollment and completion options.

“We provide full-time and part-time programs to respond to the perioperative staffing needs of Nova Scotia Health,” said Haynes.“Faculty at the perioperative nursing program are committed to excellence in perioperative education. We support nurses to advance their clinical judgment, critical thinking, and clinical leadership in the perioperative setting, so they are prepared to meet the dynamic and complex needs of patients in the operating room. “

As a result, in the last six months the PONP has increased the number of program participants and added both part-time and full-time options for nurses interested in specializing in perioperative nursing.

In addition, the Institute has worked collaboratively with operational leaders to stagger the timing of the programming to better align with operational needs and limitations, including clinical orientation schedules.

This fall the PONP expanded access to a perioperative elective course offered to fourth year nursing students from Dalhousie University, St. Francis Xavier University and Cape Breton University nursing programs.

The program exposes students to perioperative nursing to help them explore this career path. The number of seats was increased from four to six per university and will continue next fall.

Mikhael graduated from Dalhousie University’s School of Nursing in July 2021. During her seventh semester of the program, she took the PONP’s perioperative nursing elective. This included a five-week perioperative clinical placement at the Hants County Hospital.

Jessica Mikhael, perioperative nurse at the Halifax Infirmary.

“During my clinical, I learned so much and had hands-on training,” said Mikhael. “With this type of training, I finished my clinical with a strong foundation and it gave me added confidence starting in the perioperative role.”

Mikhael has since gone on to complete the PONP program and even tried the role as a preceptor – mentoring nurses that are entering the perioperative nursing field.

The enhancements to the PONP program and opportunities for increased enrollment are among a number of initiatives and investments being advanced under Nova Scotia Health multi-year surgical access and quality improvement strategy.

The plan aims to improve access to surgical care and reduce surgical wait times. It has received more than $20 million in additional funding this year to support new beds, new ORs, new wait list management processes and more than 250 new full-time staff.