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Four registered nurses and a nurse educator inspect equipment on a table in the West Lincoln Hospital new operating room. They are all dressed in scrub gowns, masks and surgical caps.
Jennifer Pettit, education and development clinician (far left), demonstrates surgical equipment in the newly renovated operating room at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital. Registered Nurses Michelle Dawson, Deborah Thompson, Crystal Iannotta, and Milena Kiperovic have all been hired as interns in a first-of-its-kind program to recruit and retain OR nurses.
November 24, 2020

New hires in OR nurse training program glad to ‘pay it forward’ at WLMH

It’s a home-grown solution to a national problem. The innovative operating room (OR) nurse internship program is essential to bringing surgeries and obstetrics back to West Lincoln Memorial Hospital after a temporary closure for safety upgrades in the ORs, with staff who are “paying it forward” in their home community.

With a shortage of OR nurses across the country, Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) has invested to create a first-of-its-kind program that combines paid training, certification, orientation and a commitment from the nurses to give back to the hospital and work there for three years.

Program solves more than one problem

Caroline Mitchell, clinical manager of perioperative services, is one of the drivers and creators of the internship program.

“I think this solves more than one problem,” she says. “First and foremost, it’s the OR nursing shortage. That’s the big one. But if we speak specifically to West Lincoln, it solves our inability to not only recruit but to retain the right nurses within our facility.”

The internship includes the perioperative 101 theory course, clinical placements and orientations in labour & delivery, gynecological surgery, endoscopy and more, across all HHS surgical sites. A key factor in the program’s success is the dedicated clinical educator, Jennifer Pettit, who is able to provide highly personalized attention and training to the small group.

“How perfect could this be”

Deborah Thompson and Michelle Dawson are two of the four nurses hired into the program, which started at the beginning of 2020.

Thompson has more than 15 years of experience as a nurse, including five providing critical care in the intensive care unit at McMaster University Medical Centre. For the last ten years, she has worked with heart patients to support pacemaker implantations and other devices in the Arrhythmia Service at Hamilton General Hospital.

“The OR is something I’d thought about doing,” she says. “It was always this thing in the back of my head and I’d look at postings and think, oh I wish I could do that course. And then when I saw the internship come up, it was just ‘how perfect could this be.’ Without sounding too corny, I think this was really meant to be for me.”

“Important to be part of my community”

Dawson, too, is an experienced nurse who is passionate about the program and giving back to her home community.

“To have the time to hone your skills and learn new things and have the support of Jen always being there is amazing,” she says. “And I’m so appreciative to HHS for this opportunity, because, you know what, I don’t think I would have made this huge of a change out of my scope of nursing if I didn’t have the support and this wonderful program. I probably would have not even have stopped on that job posting.”

The Beamsville resident worked for 20 years in pediatric oncology in Hamilton with both inpatients and outpatients and says she’s delighted with the chance to grow in her career and be closer to home.

“We have two daughters and live with my parents, so I have extended family both older and younger,” Dawson says. “It’s so important to be part of my community and support all our friends. I’m excited to be part of the new build and to watch all that change and that growth. As far as I can tell, I’m here to stay until I’m done with my career. I’m really excited to be part of my community.”

Broad support for the internship model

Mitchell points out that the internship model has the support of the Ontario Nurses Association, the family physicians in the community who make up most of the hospital practitioners, and Hamilton Health Sciences overall, who is funding the program and considering expanding it to the Hamilton General site. She says this program helped to boost recruitment for the West Lincoln Memorial Hospital site and stabilize staffing before the hospital rebuild.

“This program really gave us the time to choose the right people and get key people from within the community,” she says. “Because West Lincoln is very unique. While we are part of HHS, West Lincoln holds its own character and its own uniqueness and is very important to the community.”

Three-year commitment “the least we can do”

As they developed the program, Mitchell and her team wondered if nurses would agree to the three-year deal. But she needn’t have worried.

Dawson says she didn’t give it a second thought.

“Three years in my career seems like nothing. It goes by so fast. And so signing the contract for three years was not even a blip in my mind. It wasn’t even something I worried about,” she says. “I thought, of course, if HHS is going to spend this much time and effort, and of course money, on us, then that’s the least that we can do to pay it forward.”

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