Volunteer RNs Help New Convention Attendees Make the Most of It

March 26th, 2012

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By , BSN, RN

The Big Easy, New Orleans, Louisiana is under invasion by nurses—operating room nurses. This week is the Association of peri-Operative Registered Nurses (AORN) 59th Congress. For 59 years now OR nurses from across the country have gathered together to learn, to share, and to network about all that important to our nursing specialty.

I thought when I started nursing school I would be an OR nurse, and when graduation rolled around I was sure that was the area for me. I went straight into an OR residency program after passing the NCLEX and I never looked back. The OR isn’t for everybody, but 10,000-12,000 of my colleagues find this nursing specialty important enough to gather once a year and discuss.

In the hours before the Opening Session AORN hosted a Congress Orientation. While available to any attendee it is especially geared toward first timers. A little cake, a little coffee and handy information, and tips for making the most of your Congress experience. It was great.

Over 1000 of the 1400 first time Congress attendees showed up to be oriented. At tables with seats for 10 an orientation facilitator filled the first seat at each. “We are all volunteers,” explained Linda Savage, RN, CNOR, and 32-year veteran of AORN. “We have served on national committees and been attending Congress for years.” Savage was the facilitator at the table where I grabbed a seat.

I can only hope the new attendees at all the other tables had such a font of information and enthusiasm as their advisors. Savage jumped right in before the speakers could even get to the dais explaining those ubiquitous bags found at every convention for every group everywhere.

What To Expect

She walked us through the schedule; the exhibition floor maps and ads and offers; and how to collect and record continuing education credits, making the convention seem manageable not overwhelming. She reminded everyone comfortable shoes are mandatory, always carry a sweater (no matter how hot it is outside those lecture rooms are freezing) and make sure to have extra business cards at the ready for colleagues and exhibitors who want to continue the conversations once you get home.

Savage was also quick to point out that Congress isn’t all about the serious side of OR work. “This is your opportunity to go out and play with your colleagues,” Savage said. To my mind, it’s just another form of networking.

Now, I’ve been to Congress before. My first time attending was in 2006; I had been an OR nurse for five years. I guess I expected most of the new attendees to be fairly new nurses. Not so. Seated at our table were nurses with only a few years experience but we were also sharing space with OR RNs with decades of experience who were here for the first time as well.

Joyce Jones, RN, from Elem, North Carolina; Donna Kimbro, RN; and Tracy Shatterly, RN, both from Burlington, NC were clearly all experienced OR RNs. The listened attentively to all Savage and the other AORN officials had to say and in fact did have questions, which were quickly addressed by Savage.

“Knowledge,” said Kimbro when I asked the nurses from North Carolina what they hoping to get out of their first Congress. “I’m looking forward to learning more about the new technology,” she added. Both Jones and Shatterly echoed these sentiments.

Then Jones ran with the ball. “I have questions, maybe people here can answer,” she said. “Nurses today are doing so much of their jobs electronically it is pulling us away from the bedside,” Jones said. “How do we do that but get back to the hands on patient care that is still the most important thing we do?” Jones had another question on her mind too. “Our AORN chapter has 150 members but only 10-15 show up for any given meeting,” she said. “How do you get nurses to attend meetings and take part?”

These questions are exactly why you attend your specialty conventions and why you network and converse and form relationships with other nurses from around the country. Someone out there knows the answers to your questions and will be willing to help.

Opening Ceremonies

Day one here in New Orleans was rounded out with attendance at the Opening Ceremonies. Thousands of us gathered into one hall cheering on each other, excited to be in attendance and waiting for the rest of the fun to begin.

There were speeches and presentations and even a small live alligator (after all this is a city set amongst the bayous, lakes, and swamps). Kudos to AORN President Anne Marie Herlehy, DNP, RN, CNOR for not only touching the little guy but actually holding him (his mouth was taped shut) for several minutes and proving just how tough OR nurses can be.

Without a doubt the best moment of the event was when the nurses representing the Armed Forces—Army, Navy and Air Force—marched into the hall en mass, by Service. Everyone was on their feet, cheering, and clapping for our military counterparts who serve our country and our wounded soldiers so admirably every day. These are the moments that make me so proud to be an OR nurse.

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