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First Assisting

john russell - skills on point rockford, EKG interpretation, PCCN certification

My Journey

Cardiovascular Surgery Nurse Practitioner First Assistant

Somewhere along the way, it became obvious that becoming a nurse practitioner was going to be my eventual calling. Once I began school, it was difficult to know what to plan for and what the job market was going to offer. Much like you, I wanted to be successful in my endeavors, but it was not until I was near completion of my Master’s Degree that I realized there was a considerable amount of hands-on training required beyond my didactic education.​

I was fortunate to have a workplace environment with a surgeon who valued a very step-wise approach to my on-boarding process. First I learned to round on our patients who had underwent cardiac surgery of some sort, whether a coronary artery bypass grafting or a valve replacement or repair, amongst others. I saw consults, performed discharges and saw patients in the clinic setting like anyone else. Once it was apparent I could handle that workload, I was given the opportunity to advance my procedural skillset. Inserting chest tubes, central lines, arterial lines, performing thoracentesis, amongst other hands-on skills became my responsibility, and with that, a desire for the sterile environment of the OR.​

The third part of my training was the transition to the operating room a first assistant, or for those unfamiliar with that world, the second set of hands working with the surgeon to perform the surgery. Not only did it involve new equipment, a new environment, and new people, it required a quick learning curve to survive.

The Program of Choice

nifa logo - skills on point, EKG interpretation, PCCN certification
For more information about NIFA, click their logo. Ask for their fantastic booklet with information about their 3 and 6-day’s training workshops!

The National Institute of First Assisting, Inc. (NIFA)

After careful research into a small handful of programs accredited to train people who are either surgical technologists, registered nurses, advanced practice registered nurses, and physician assistants to be that second set of well-trained hands as a first assistant, I chose what was overwhelmingly touted as the most well-known program around. NIFA robustly supports the first assistant market with approximately 75% of all first assistants having been through their program. As well as being well known, it was immediately clear the NIFA program held a fantastic reputation for the quality of their graduates, and would back their training with a 100% guaranteed retraining guarantee if I was unsuccessful in my attempts to learn the skills they offered. After enrollment, I began the online coursework and once completed successfully, planned for the live training to get my hands-on skills prepared for the OR environment.

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family practice skills workshop, EKG interpretation, PCCN certification

SutureStar Summit

suture course - continuing education courses for nursing, EKG interpretation, PCCN certification

6 Days of Hands-on Skills with a Phenomenal Instructor

With more than 400 sutures placed and secured, the 54 hour course with optional night courses was overwhelming, in the best possible way. First we learned the right way to hand tie with both hands (a skill necessary to survive in the operative environment), and then proceeded with what was quite possibly the most relaxed, tension-free, fun learning environment I could expect with the help of Dean Parsons, the lead instructor and Director of NIFA’s Workshop Division. With his watchful eyes, careful hands, and patient demeanor, I was able to learn procedures such as a total abdominal hysterectomy, transverse colon resection, open abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, laparoscopic cholecystectomy, and open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) of a midshaft femur fracture. The night courses were optional, and well worth the time: carotid endarterectomy, Caesarean section, and endoscopic vein harvesting.​

The ultimate proof this was the win for me was that entering this course, I was a left-handed rookie and when I left the course, I was comfortably suturing as a right-handed novice, with a plan to proceed through the clinical time and make the absolute most of it all.​

NIFA was there for me every step of the way, and as my experience grew and time has passed, I have developed a relationship with NIFA such that I now teach with Dean Parsons at workshops, support their students with additional skills training for both procedural and continuing education needs through our own resource of Skills On Point, LLC. I’m fairly certain that Skills On Point, LLC exists because the skills training NIFA invested in me was so confidence-inspiring, professional, and consistent that I felt a need to help meet the market of people who are not looking for a first assisting program but would love to be trained to that caliber.​

My role at NIFA is now as the APRN/PA RNFA Program Director of the collegiate division, working along side of Dean to help develop relationships for the future first assistants to know they can do it too. It’s not out of your reach, and NIFA can help.

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Additional Skills Training to Consider

If you are planning to proceed to a role as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, you would be wise to consider your training plan just like you consider your study plan for exams. Nobody will ever care for your success as much as you do, and you should consider the investment in skills training prior to or during your clinical time if at all possible to get the absolute most out of your experience.​

The following courses are what I would recommend you consider as you prepare for an inpatient role, albeit surgical or not. The process of getting privileges in your skills is much easier if you can show a formalized initial education in the skill/procedure. Skills On Point has a myriad of courses designed to help students and new grads get the most out of their clinical experience and walk into a new job with amazing confidence. Check out more CME courses we offer by clicking on any of the continuing education courses listed below or visiting our COURSES page.

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