This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of OR Today magazine. For more stories about life in and out of the OR, visit www.ORToday.com.

By Matt Skoufalos

Donna Watson, PhD studentAfter 33 years in perioperative practice, Donna Watson, RN, MSN, CNOR, FNP, is living proof that a career in nursing is more than the sum of its parts.

Donna Watson wants to make a difference

Watson entered the field straight out of high school because she “wanted to have a career in the sciences and provide care to individuals.” Today, she is the Director of Societies and Patient Advocacy Programs for the medical device company Covidien.

“Nursing was a perfect fit for me immediately out of high school and continues to be a perfect fit,” she said.

Throughout those decades in the field, Watson said, she has seen many things change. Foremost among them is an increased global emphasis on data-driven outcomes, from patient safety to the role of nursing in the continuum of patient care.

A significant component of the latter involves the role of nurse as patient advocate, a label she described as “very appropriate,” given the responsibilities of her profession.

“We are professional nurses behind closed doors,” Watson said, “and often patients or professionals who work outside of the operating room do not know what it is that we do.”

“As a member of that perioperative team, I am one of the team; however, my role and responsibility is that the patient is able to have a safe patient journey, from the beginning to discharge,” she said.

“There’s value behind your perioperative nurse being your advocate from the beginning to the end,” Watson explained. “My role is to promote and to adhere to what that patient has agreed whenever he or she has turned their care over to the perioperative team.”

Patient advocacy includes making sure that standards of care are met throughout the “patient journey,” Watson said, including while those under her care are under anesthesia. Responsibilities can include communicating with family members during and after surgery as well as monitoring a procedure to eliminate the potential for mistakes.

Sometimes, she said, it can mean having to speak up in a potentially uncomfortable circumstance to adhere to a patient’s wishes.

“A patient may come in with a request that they do not have blood products,” Watson said. “If you get into a situation that may demand the use of blood products, then that is where you as the nurse must step up, suggest other options, and advocate for what the patient expects; what they have agreed to during surgery.

“That can be a very difficult situation.”

But such challenges are just part of the job, Watson said. Whether working in administrative, clinical or perioperative roles, nurses will always encounter moments during which they must balance their best professional recommendations with the personal wishes of their patients. The ability to compartmentalize the demands of the job without judging a patient for his or her decisions is one of the earliest skills Watson believes a nurse must master.

Patient advocacy also is assuring that every patient has a perioperative Registered Nurse to provide care throughout the surgical experience.

Among her career achievements, Watson is also a past president of AORN, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. With that position comes the charge of selecting a presidential initiative. Watson established the Patient Safety First Initiative during her tenure.

Many initiatives last for a limited time, she said, but because AORN was able to secure a $1 million grant from Sandel Medical in support of the Patient Safety First Initiative, it was extended to a three-year plan in 2002, and “is still strong today,” she said.

In the 25-plus years during which Watson has worked with AORN, she has helped develop recommended practices, standards of care, practice guidelines, and elements for the perioperative nursing data set. She credits “a lifelong commitment to learning” as one of the pillars of her professional career; others include research, practice, and scholarship.

“I am a beginning nurse scientist, and I enjoy contributing to evidence- based practice,” Watson said; “being able to provide evidence to what you may feel is a hunch and being able to quantify that in terms of data analytics.”

A love of research doesn’t survive in a vacuum, either, Watson said. She still receives “a great joy from practicing,” but thanks to the platform that her studies and professionalism have given her, she also enjoys the opportunity to share information with colleagues on a bigger stage.

“Instead of influencing one patient at a time, I may have a group of 500 to 5,000 nurses,” she said, “but the message I deliver to those nurses is able to carry on in multiple levels.

“The joy for me in that is the impact on care that the patient receives,” Watson said.

Her advice for prospective nurses as well as those continuing to advance their careers is that nursing is “the perfect profession,” blending excitement, innovation, dynamism, and the ability to “make it what you want it to be.”

Watson considers the future of her career as continuing to track along her passion for safety in the healthcare field, and wants to continue to conduct research “that makes a difference for the profession and nursing care.”

“You are able to influence patients’ lives and make a significant impact on patients’ lives [and upon] the community in general,” Watson said.

“We make a difference for every patient, every time,” she added.