Specialty Spotlight

Specialty Spotlight: Challenge, Excitement, Change... All in a Day's Work for Perioperative Nurses

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What Exactly is Perioperative Nursing?

The Association of periOperative Nurses (AORN) defines perioperative nursing as: The practice of nursing directed toward patients undergoing operative and other invasive procedures.

The definition went on to say that the perioperative nurse "provides, manages, teaches, and/or studies the care of patients undergoing operative or other invasive procedures, in the preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative phases of the patient’s surgical experience.”


Working closely with surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists and surgical technicians—perioperative nursing can be one of the most stimulating, yet challenging, specialties, according to Pauline Robitaille, RN, MSN, CNOR, chief nursing officer of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN).

"It is one of the most stimulating areas I have ever practiced in, and that’s why I love it; it keeps me learning and growing," confirmed Robitaille, who has practiced as a staff nurse, nurse educator, clinical nurse specialist and director of nursing, as well as held a role in nursing informatics—all associated with the perioperative setting.

In this Q&A, Robitaille provides her insights on perioperative nursing as a career choice, and what new grads can expect.

Q: What do you enjoy most about perioperative nursing?

A: The highlight for me is that it is always changing and, therefore, I find it always interesting. It’s also challenging and gives you an opportunity to be at the forefront of changes in care in practice. As mentioned, you work closely with other disciplines—such as surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurse anesthetists and surgical technicians—so you learn from them all.

Q: What can a new nurse in the perioperative specialty expect in the first few months on the job?

A: A new nurse will learn more theoretical knowledge because there are some things that aren't taught in nursing school that need to be learned, such as the principles of electricity and surgery. And, there’s no better place than the operating room to learn about anatomy because you will see where all the organs are placed.

There are also new technology and new procedures that go above and beyond what is taught in school.

Q: What is the most challenging thing about being a new perioperative nurse?

A: It can be challenging to constantly be in a learning mode. When I was a preceptor and a mentor, I would always tell new nurses not to give up, it will be worth it. In the beginning, it may be challenging and, occasionally, overwhelming, but it is all eventually falls into place!

Q: What advice can you offer a new graduate looking for a job in the OR?

A: Make sure you ask questions in your interview about what the facility provides for orientation. Look for a program that provides theoretical classroom orientation, as well as clinical experience to help you bridge from nursing school to the work environment. Also, be sure to ask about the support the facility provides for new nurses to ensure you are appointed a preceptor to help you during the transition.

For more information about perioperative nursing, visit the AORN Web site, which offers numerous resources for all nursing students and nurses in the perioperative specialty.

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