Kathy Carlson discusses how online continuing education programs such as Nursing CE Portal provides perioperative nurses affordable and accessible continuing education.

Surgical Products: Can you provide some background on Nursing CE Portal? How did it start and how long has it been available?

It started out as a friend’s idea. He worked for a medical device company and gave a continuing education course around the country. Perioperative nurses would frequently approach him after his talk to find out if he had more education. 

Carlson: It started out as a friend’s idea.  He worked for a medical device company and gave a continuing education course around the country.  Perioperative nurses would frequently approach him after his talk to find out if he had more education.  The demand was obvious, and he thought we could sell courses on DVD.  I thought we could sell courses online.  To figure out if our ideas were good, I did some the market research.  I called OR nurse managers across the country, and I called some colleagues and asked what they thought too.  What we thought was a good idea turned out to be a great idea.  Perioperative nurses had a hard time finding perioperative continuing education.  OR nurse managers at smaller facilities spent too much time and money trying to get their staffs trained.  Conferences were very expensive and only a limited number of people could go.  An easy, online solution could fill in lots of gaps for perioperative nurses by making the best education accessible and affordable.

Surgical Products: Can you describe the program and how it works? Who develops the courses?

Carlson: For nearly all of our courses, nurse content experts are the developers.  Nearly all of our content experts have spoken at AORN Congress.  We work hard to ensure that our programs have the best information that perioperative nurses need to know, and we are absolutely committed to having no industry bias in the content of our programs.

Surgical Products: How can nurses sign up and register?

Carlson: Signing up is easy. Simply fill out our quick registration form online.  We only collect the data we need in order to serve our customers the best we can.

Surgical Products: Why is there a need for a program such as this? How has nursing and the needs of nurses changed throughout the years? Why do you think that is?

Carlson: The health care industry has been changing rapidly over the past 20 years.  There have there been many incredible advances in technology and surgical technique that have increased the challenges of working in the operating room. It is difficult to know everything one has to know to deliver the best care possible, and it is difficult to get people to change the way they do things. To add to the difficulty, there are fewer people going into nursing and hospitals have decreasing budgets.  Perioperative nurses have to do a lot more and know a lot more than ever before, and their competence is key to positive patient outcomes. Perioperative nurses need a lot of support to give us the best care. Providing them an easy-to-use, convenient, and affordable resource for continuing education is a great way we can help them.
Surgical Products: How has the accessibility of continuing education courses changed over the years for nurses? Why do you think that is?

Carlson: With the budgetary pressures hospitals face these days, there are fewer resources marked for education.  OR nurse managers are responsible for an incredible amount of work, and educating their staffs is just a small part of their jobs. When hospitals trim jobs, educators are often the first to go.  Most smaller hospitals don’t have an educator or have just one or two for the whole hospital.  Rapidly advancing technology and procedures add even more stress to the situation.  It is very difficult to keep up even without declining staff numbers and expanding roles for everyone.  Having trustworthy resources for perioperative education is a must for OR nurse managers. 

Surgical Products: There is also a benefit for medical device manufacturers on this site, correct? Can you discuss that?

Carlson: Sellers of medical products are finding it increasingly difficult to get time with their customers.  It is difficult to make appointments.  You cannot bring gifts or take nurses out at trade shows.  Fewer nurses attend trade shows.  Fewer direct mail pieces make it to your customer because the facility mailroom clerks remove them.  Hospitals are even trying to protect their nurses’ time by creating difficult hoops for sales reps to jump through to limit the number of reps that are allowed in the facility.  Traditional ways of reaching nurse customers are being shut down. 

We offer a different avenue to your customer.  By sponsoring one of our courses, a company gets turn-key continuing education that cost them no time or money to develop.  The sponsor promotes goodwill with their customers by offering free contact hours, and companies get their logos by the course name, an ad on the course description page and right next to the course for the entire time the presentation is played, and a commercial connected to the course.  Nowhere else can a company get a commercial to show their products.  What is even more exciting is that each sponsor that drives nurses to our web site helps all the other sponsors because those nurses see what other companies are sponsoring courses.  Sponsoring a course with us allows companies not to be limited by where their reps go or by shrinking conference attendance.  Any perioperative nurse in the country can see their advertising on our web site and all appreciate access to free, high quality education. 

Surgical Products: Are there certain topics you’ve found nurses are especially seeking continued education in? Why do you think that is?

Carlson: Some topics we offer have been wildly popular, particularly our courses on malignant hyperthermia and surgical site infections.  These are hot topics without affordable or good alternative CE sources or they are not developed specifically for perioperative nurses like our courses are.  We intend to focus many of our new courses on topics where there is much demand and little availability.  Of course, we always welcome suggestions!

Surgical Products: What kind of reaction have you seen from nurses? How has the program grown since it began?

Carlson: The feedback from nurses has been outstanding.  So many nurses have thanked us for being here, so many have loved our courses.  When we ask what they want to see, very often the answer is simply “more”.  There is such a great need, and that is why we have been able to grow so fast.  We have already registered more nurses so far this year than we did in all of last year and the year before combined.  We expect to have nearly 6,000 nurses and techs registered and using our site by the end of this year.  If our past predicts our future, we will grow by more than double next year.

Surgical Products: Why is a tool such as Nursing CE Portal important for nurses?

Carlson: Nursing CE Portal makes getting affordable perioperative continuing education easy and convenient.  Nurses don’t have to go into work early for a meeting, and OR managers don’t have to schedule multiple meetings to get everyone educated on the same topic.  Nurses don’t have to travel to conferences.  Nurses don’t have to take courses that don’t apply to their practice because they couldn’t find perioperative-focused contact hours, and this is especially important to CNORs and CRNFAs because of their certification requirements.

Surgical Products: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Carlson: Our business model allows us to be very flexible.  We can do a lot that other organizations cannot or will not do, and that makes us very easy to work with.  We also have a low cost structure so we can keep our services affordable for everyone.  

There is the complaint that web-based education is not as effective as personal, face-to-face education.  Undeniably there are some things you need to learn in practice, however, there is little difference between a seminar and an online presentation.  You lose the benefit of hearing other people’s questions at the end, but often that is more of a positive than a negative.  Plus, we will always forward questions to authors from our students.  Some people complain that some nurses just go through the motions of education without being motivated to learn.  My answer to that is that no one can force another person learn, in person or online.  Nurses, as with all people in every profession, need to approach continuing education as an opportunity to advance their practice.  That motivation has to come from within each individual nurse.  To undervalue the convenience and cost-savings that web-based education has to offer is to potentially reduce the power of a hospital’s budget and leave nurses less able to handle the requirements of the job.

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