Operating room nurses are responsible for many duties during the course of a workday.
For 2018 Clinical Excellence Award winner Alyssa Nedelkos, RN, nothing is more important than providing comfort and support for her surgical patients.
“Although we don’t have much interaction with the patient while they are awake, those last moments (before surgery) are some of the most important. I have witnessed Alyssa on numerous occasions while she was interviewing her patient before surgery, bending down to eye level, holding their hand and providing that reassurance that they are in safe hands,” says Bridget Hartwell, a staff nurse who works with Nedelkos at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
“These moments may not last long, but the extra time she gives to answering questions and easing the anxieties felt by the entire family unit make their patient experience inspiring.”
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Lexington, Ohio (just north of Columbus). After high school, I attended The Ohio State University. With an interest in anatomy and physiology, I began to focus on an educational path in speech pathology and audiology. During this time, I started volunteering at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, where my eyes were opened to the field of nursing. It was then that I realized I wanted to help others and provide care on a scale that only a career in nursing could offer.
After graduating from Ohio State with a bachelor’s degree in speech and hearing science, I began a 15-month accelerated bachelor of nursing program at Ashland University (formerly MedCentral College of Nursing).
My first job was at the Cleveland Clinic. I started out as a staff nurse on a medical surgical/telemetry unit. Though the Cleveland Clinic gave me a great opportunity, after almost two years of being away, I wanted to return to Columbus. When I began my job search in the Columbus area, I was told by a family friend to apply to what they claimed to be “the best place to work with a culture like no other”: the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Center.
I started out at the “old” James on a surgical oncology unit, 9 East and South James. It did not take long for me to understand the culture; though nursing was my job, my patients were everything, and my coworkers became like family. After just over a year of floor nursing at The James, I applied for a position in the operating room. The OR has been my home for the past five years.
What led you to Ohio State?
Opportunity and a wide range of possibility initially led me to The Ohio State University as a college student. When I returned years later, it was The James’ culture and the patient population that drew me to Ohio State. The James is a place of hope and opportunity, and I am honored to be a part of the journey our patients take us on. We work very hard to give our patients their best possible outcome.
What drew you to the field and the role you play at the medical center?
Helping others. I was drawn to nursing for the opportunity to help others in many different ways. I now not only work as an operating room nurse, but I also help out with the charge nurse role, and I do so for the very reason of helping others. Whether it be patients, coworkers, surgeons or anyone else, I look to help in any way, shape or form.
Where do you work and what type of patients do you work with?
I work at The James in the operating room. I work with oncology patients. We often say patients come to The James as their first line of defense, or as their last line of defense. Our surgeons and specialists are very good at what they do, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to fulfill our patients’ wishes. It is gratifying and exciting working together as a team in the OR. Every patient is unique, cancer is unpredictable, and no surgery is exactly the same. Our surgeons work miracles, and I am grateful to be a part of it.
How do you build relationships with patients and other providers?
Trust. It takes trust to become a cohesive unit inside an operating room. It takes our patient’s trust in us to provide care. As nurses, we are our patients’ advocates. As an operating room nurse, they trust that we will be their eyes and ears after they go off to sleep. They trust that we will keep them safe, and we will ensure their wishes are carried out. Our patients trust that as long as they are fighting, we as caregivers and providers keep fighting right alongside them.
You are one of your unit’s preceptors. What’s your favorite part of that role? Are there any key pieces of advice you frequently pass along?
Since becoming a charge nurse, I do not have the opportunity as much as I would like to precept others. Though I do believe in the charge nurse role we are always teaching and guiding. I’d say one of my favorite and key pieces of advice is one that I learned from a conversation with a patient when I first started at The James. I was asked by a patient, “Why are you so good to me? You go above and beyond.” Without even thinking, I responded “Because you are family. ... You are family to someone, and today you are family to me.” What I meant by that is every patient is something to someone, whether it be a mother, father, sister, bother, daughter, son, friend, etc. Every patient is not just a patient that has cancer, but is someone special to someone. My key piece of advice is to treat every patient as if they are family, and with that you will never give anything less than your absolute best.
Which of the medical center’s core values do you most identify with and why?
Empathy. To understand exactly what a patient is experiencing is challenging, and at times impossible. I believe it is important to try to be in the moment with each patient. Many of our patients are in the fight of their lives, and it’s everything to be supportive and be right there with them.
How can others apply your winning skills or strategies?
As a charge nurse, winning skills and strategies would be to treat others how you want to be treated, to assume good intent and to lead by example. As a nurse, give it your all each and every day. Everything you are giving is being received by the patient, and will inevitably impact their outcome. As a person, be a positive influence and create change.
What’s the most challenging part of your job? What’s the most rewarding part?
The most challenging part of my job is finding balance. As a nurse, and as a charge nurse, we wear many hats. I think it’s important to prioritize, use your resources, and not be afraid to ask for help.
The most rewarding part of my job is helping make someone’s day just a little bit better, patient and coworker alike.
Thank you, Alyssa, for improving people's lives!