Kelsey Newell


Summer with scrubs and scalpels

As I walked up to the double doors that read “Restricted Access – O.R. Attire Required Beyond This Point,” I slipped on my shoe covers and hair net and set foot in what would be my home for the next 10 weeks.

My journey began when I was accepted to the student nurse extern program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a St. Louis hospital that was recently ranked sixth in the nation and first in Missouri by “U.S. News & World Report.” I was excited to discover I would be working in the operating room, where I would be following in the footsteps of my grandmother, who also worked as an operating room nurse.

Bradley’s nursing program gave me the confidence I needed to get here and prepared me for what I would see in the operating room. The advanced anatomy that I learned in my anatomy, physiology and medical-surgical nursing classes helped me understand the terminology and the surgeries I saw during my externship.

Whereas most nursing programs do not start clinical work until a student’s junior year, the University’s nursing program starts students in clinical the first semester of their sophomore year. By having an extra year to learn how to organize and prioritize—which many nurses say takes years to learn—I was able to handle the fast-paced environment of the operating room. The prioritization skills that I learned first on paper, and then applied in practicum, truly carried over to my work.

As a nurse extern, I was able to do everything a registered nurse would do. Each extern is assigned a mentor, someone who taught us and helped us become independent, confident nurses. It was extraordinary to see how much we learned and grew during the short 10-week period. Even though I was on hepatobiliary service, which deals with the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts, I got to participate in cardiothoracic, vascular, trauma, transplant, orthopedic, gynecologic, and plastic surgeries.

One memorable experience was a trauma surgery. A charge nurse called my mentor and I to help with a liver laceration. As we scrubbed in, my mentor turned to me and said, “We need to move fast.” A trauma case means you have just about every resource ready, in case something goes wrong. That meant a lot of work for the scrub nurses, which happened to be my mentor and me. We had about 10 people helping and, thankfully, everything went smoothly. This fast-paced, critical care experience taught me how to efficiently and effectively work under pressure, how to perform tasks quickly yet safely, and how to survive 13-hour shifts, doing my best work down to the very last minute.

Another amazing opportunity this summer was presenting in front of about 25 hospital administrators. My nurse manager was so impressed with a presentation I had given on a nursing topic that she asked me to do it again for the administration. My presentation was great and about two weeks later, while attending a breakfast hosted by the hospital’s human resources department, the HR representative for perioperative services recognized me because of my presentation. This entire experience not only developed my nursing skills but also served as a great networking opportunity for me.