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Program Providing Nurses With New Opportunities

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Cash bonuses and being able to pick your own hours are just a few perks hospitals offer to try and ease the nursing shortage. A program at one Raleigh hospital is giving nurses the chance for an even bigger role in the operating room.

With her green jungle scrub cap, Melissa Williams stands out in the operating room. Her clothing is not the only thing that makes her different.

Williams is one of WakeMed's first Registered Nurse First Assistants (RNFA).

"This, for me, is where it all comes together," Williams said.

As an RNFA, Williams gets to work with surgeons.

"She can retract tissue, dissect and suture. They have to be under the physician's direction at all times," said Sharon MacNamara, WakeMed surgical services director.

Residents used to fill that role, but with cutbacks on their hours, it has opened up a new opportunity for nurses.

To become an RNFA, nurses must have at least two years experience in the operating room. There is a training course and internship under the watchful eye of a surgeon.

Williams, one of 16 new RNFAs at WakeMed, said she likes the new challenge.

"You always want to be learning. That's how you stay young in your profession. I can be in the operating room with them and I can work with them after the surgery, so it's really the best of both worlds," Williams said of her expanded role in patient care.

With nurses in high demand, the program is also a good way to attract new nurses.

"This is, for us, a great recruitment tool for our nurses. It gives them the ability to expand their scope of practice," MacNamara said.

Williams feels she has finally found her niche.

"This is it. I'm so excited to be here," she said.

Many nursing schools now offer courses to help nurses become RNFAs. A national nursing survey puts the average RNFA salary at $52,000 a year.


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