Conference Highlights, Annual Goals, and More: A Conversation With AORN’s New President

Infection Control Today, Volume 26, Issue 4

After an Expo like no other, Dennis looks forward to the 70th year of advocacy for perioperative nurses.

The new president of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), Vangie Dennis, MSN, RN, CNOR, CMLSO, assistant vice president of perioperative services at AnMed Health in Anderson, South Carolina, recently sat down with Infection Control Today® to discuss the AORN Global Surgical Conference & Expo, which took place March 19-23 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dennis also discusses her visions and goals for the next year.

ICT®: Congratulations on your new position as president of AORN.

Dennis: Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be the president of my organization. It’s a dream come true, especially to be able to share some of the ideas and thoughts behind your listeners regarding perioperative nursing.

ICT®: How long have you been with AORN, and why did you accept the position?

Vangie Dennis, MSN, RN, CNOR, CMLSO: I’ve been a member of AORN for about 34 years. If you think about how long I’ve been a perioperative nurse out of my 47 [years as a nurse], it is basically 37 years. I can remember the first time I heard about AORN—some of the directions, ideas, education, and everything—I was excited about being a member.

How did I take this journey to the presidency? It’s an election process. I started off with the nominating committee. I can remember one of my mentors, who was past president of AORN, she said, “It’s time to put your foot back into the water and give back.” And that’s exactly what I did. I was in the nominating committee, [then] that became the chair of the nominating committee. From there, I went to the board of directors. These are usually 2-year time frames in those positions. From the board of directors, I became the national treasurer of AORN, then [I] was nominated to run on the ballot for president elect. This year, I took the gavel on Wednesday [March 23, 2022] afternoon and became AORN’s president.

ICT®: Regarding this year’s AORN conference, what was your overall experience and impression of the meeting this year?

Dennis: We’ve always networked and got excited about Expo, but it had been 2 years—or more, in some situations—that we had not been able to connect [because of the COVID-19 pandemic]. [There was] a level of excitement that was much different than what [we] normally would see at Expo. This past Expo we just finished was amazing, watching people connect and being with our industry partners. We visit the board of directors [and] the industry partners. They were excited because for the past 2 years, they’ve had limited access, too, so it was very different. And what AORN did was very special. We had celebrations every single night. [There was] the foundation party on Monday night, [where] you could see all the nurses dancing with each other, as well as the Mardi Gras party and the events and prizes. It was just more impactful than I’ve experienced in a long time, even though Expo is always exciting.

ICT®: What are your goals and visions for AORN in this coming year?

Dennis: I said this in my president’s speech, but my tenure as president will celebrate 70 years of excellence in safe perioperative patient care, and now as an advocate—we’ve always been advocates, but on the forefront for our perioperative nurses. There [were] 7 decades [when] the board of directors and each president sought to advance our relevance by improving existing processes and practices. My president’s message was big on the engagement and unifying of perioperative nursing, which standardizes our practices and helps us look strategically at what the future of perioperative nursing is and how we take care of our patients.

We did something very creative this year, and I’m in the process of getting this together. We decided to get more and more young perioperative nurses involved by creating what we call an “engagement panel.” This gives these individuals—I don’t know whether it’ll be 6 or 8 people yet—but it’s an opportunity to engage with the board of directors. It’s a task force that looks at the members’ perspectives on the current issues that are impacting nursing.

What is AORN strategic goals for 2022? I believe we need to invest in our membership and transform transfer [that] for members and future generations of the membership. We’re expanding our focus to the ambulatory centers and procedural areas, developing, and focusing on those particular needs.

We’re becoming a digital company, so [being] live [at the conference] is so important for the synergy and the connection of our members. But it’s really important that we also connect with members who can’t afford to come [to the conference] to give the latest information of patient care and how we take care of each other. [Virtual passes for on-demand sessions and experiences are available from April 21 to June 21].

We want to continue to advance our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and ensure substantial financial sustainability, which safeguards our organization. I believe in my heart perioperative nurses are indispensable for any successful execution of our strategies. The future of practice must extend beyond our boundaries of periodic services. That’s affected us a lot in where we’re going.

ICT®: What are the key takeaways and highlights for infection preventionists [IPs]—from the conference, specifically, and AORN in general.

Dennis: We had a multitude of connections with [IP] because when you talk about perioperative nursing, it’s from the inception of the preoperative phase, and you want to make sure these patients are healthy when they come in. It’s the interoperative phase—we’re opening our patients up, and there’s a potential for transmission there. Sterile processing [and what we’re doing there] is a huge hot button [topic] this year. A great example of that is when I do my environment of care rounds within sterile processing, I always bring my IP nurse with me because they have a different set of eyes when they come in. There were probably [9 different educational sessions] on the [IP] track. The 2 I would focus on the most right now is surgical smoke being such a big deal across the country, because the biohazards that are in the aerosolization of that smoke not only affects our perioperative personnel in the room but also, in certain procedures, the patient can inhale that. From a perspective of [IP], it was one of the ways I became smoke free in one of my first hospitals—by engaging IP within that focus. Another thing is staying up-to-date on our [Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation] standards—our ST91 for endoscopic processing. That’s another hot button [topic]. When you think of IP in perioperative nursing, it’s almost symbiotic. There’s no separation of it because of the focus of what we do.

ICT®: The AORN conference is in San Antonio, [Texas], in 2023. Can you give ICT®’s audience any hints on what’s coming that we can look forward to?

Dennis: Absolutely. This is the first time Expo will be presented in San Antonio, and everybody is so excited. It’s just a great city, and it’s exciting—the River Walk and everything else. It will probably now be bigger than what we did with the first Expo since COVID-19. Looking ahead, we’ll continue to have exhibit floors provide all types of high-tech experiences. Technology in the operating room is explosive, even some of the things we are doing in the preoperative assessment. Attendees will be able to do simulation training and gaming. When we start getting Generation Z involved with something like that, they love the robotics and some of the different simulation devices we have. One of the newest coming up is the ability to do staging for lung cancer. My theme for the term of office is “no limits.” There are no limits to what we can do and how we can integrate all practices of nursing within AORN in our practice. It influences our surgical patients’ safety and influences the advocacy for the staff that’s in the room. In San Antonio, our objectives are to learn, grow, collaborate, and celebrate.

 ICT®: Is there anything else you would like to share about the conference or AORN for our audience?

Dennis: I believe AORN is one of the best kept secrets in all types of nursing. In fact, it’s crazy because I’ve been here about a year within AnMed Health, and I want my preop nurses to engage. I also want our PACU [postanesthesia care unit] nurses to engage in AORN because we need to be patient centered. It’s not just a piece [of taking care of the patient]. You’re not just the time that you’re waking a patient up or doing surgery. It’s all symbiotic, and that includes an [IP]…. The value is to understand we’re all symbiotic. We touch every part of that patient’s journey, and I would like more people to engage in it outside of just thinking we are surgery or not just surgery. We’re the full journey of that patient from inception to discharge.

ICT®: Wonderful. Thank you for joining me today.

Dennis: Thank you for interviewing me and letting me share some of my passion for perioperative nursing.