Supporting novice perioperative nurses

Nick Nijkamp

A perioperative nurse of five years in Bundaberg, Nick Nijkamp is currently conducting the research which seeks to identify how healthcare facilities can better support and educate nursing staff who are new to roles in the perioperative space (within the first three years).

“I was looking at novice nurses and thought how could we help them enter this environment better? It’s quite a unique specialty; during your undergraduate nursing degree, you may not get to experience it unless you’re lucky enough to have a clinical placement in perioperative.

“For lots of people who come in, it’s brand new. They’ve never seen it before which led me to think, they must need a bit more support and education to settle in and assimilate themselves to the environment,” says Mr Nijkamp, a CQUniversity lecturer.

While still in the early stages of data analysis, an initial scoping literature review found that no program is alike, and everyone does something different.

“We are examining first what programs are available and then talking to novice perioperative nurses who just completed a program, to evaluate their experiences. I want to qualify these experiences so that I can help to identify ways in which universities and workplaces could facilitate a smoother entry and transition period into perioperative care settings for novice nurses,” says Mr Nijkamp.

The research is studying two groups – new graduates and those new to the specialty from other nursing backgrounds who have decided it’s time for a career shift.

“These nurses have skills, experience and knowledge but it is still a very new environment for them. One of the difficulties is the learning curve going into that environment because it’s almost like starting fresh again. You still have all your nursing principles at play, but there’s so much extra that you suddenly must learn as well.”

Early exposure

Perioperative care is generally not covered in depth in undergraduate nursing programs and lack of exposure to the specialty means it is often overlooked as a first career choice.

“I think from the outside it can seem like a closed off environment and that’s why it’s even good for student nurses that are doing a ward-based placement early on to find a patient that might be going to theatre and just asking can I follow that patient through their theatre journey to see what it’s all about,” says Mr Nijkamp.

“I was very glad when I was an undergraduate nurse that I did get a three-week placement in the perioperative environment. At first, I remember being really worried about going into theatres. I thought, what if I get nauseous or I pass out? I don’t know if this is for me. And it was about day two in theatre that I thought: ‘I really like this’.

“I was fortunate enough that I started my graduate career in the intensive care unit. So, I had a lot of learning and a lot of theoretical knowledge that came with that type of environment that I could transfer across to perioperative nursing when a position became available.”

Diversity in perioperative nursing

Mr Nijkamp only recently left to start full-time academia, but still works casually as a perioperative nurse.

He says the variety and diversity in roles makes perioperative nursing an attractive place to work, including pre-op before surgery, scout/scrub nurse, anaesthetic, recovery and PACU.

Working in a regional area, nurses are also often exposed to a wider variety of types of surgery, such as general surgery, orthopaedics, obstetrics, gynaecology and urology.

Perioperative nursing is a highly specialised area that relies on high levels of theoretical knowledge, clinical skill, and critical thinking to maintain patient safety before, during and after surgical procedures, says Mr Nijkamp.

“In my job in anaesthetics, I only have a few minutes with that patient, but I have to build their trust in that the team will look after them while they’re having a major procedure. You only have a few minutes to build that trust and then you spend that surgery advocating for them and looking after them.”

Skills for perioperative nursing

Nick says teamwork is a huge component in perioperative nursing.

“At a minimum there’ll be three nurses in an operating theatre and a handful of doctors and an orderly. So, you need to have good teamwork skills, good communication and be receptive to other people and able to take feedback. It’s that teamwork and that camaraderie that make the perioperative space nice to work in.

“I think you need to go in when you first start a little bit open minded because it is such a unique environment. By being open minded, you can take in everything that’s happening and be receptive to learning.

“One of the things I first did when I started was to have a little notebook with me and every day there’d be something that I didn’t know. I would quickly write it down. I’d go home that night and look up what that meant exactly.”


Mr Nijkamp says investing in the education and support of novice perioperative nurses has broader implications for healthcare organisations in the ability to recruit and retain highly skilled staff.

“By enhancing undergraduate nursing curricula, offering comprehensive perioperative nursing education, and implementing well-deigned, structured transition programs, I believe we can cultivate the next generation of confident and competent perioperative nurses.”

If you’re interested perioperative nursing, seek out a learning opportunity or an experience to see if it’s for you, he suggests.

“Maybe seek some casual shifts just to see if it’s somewhere that you enjoy, somewhere that you can see yourself working in.

“Ask your colleagues who are perioperative nurses about their experiences, what they like and dislike, and ask them about those opportunities as well, because they’ll have the best insight for your hospital or facility about that preoperative department and the best way to potentially try it out or get in there.

“I just think it’s a great environment. It’s something a little bit different outside of the normal box of nursing. If you’re interested, I’d suggest giving it a go.”

The survey is open novice graduate nurses who have recently entered perioperative practice or those who have entered the specialty within the past three years. To complete the survey, visit Evaluation of the Transition to Practice Programs (TPP) for New Graduate and Novice Perioperative Nurses – Stage 2.

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