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Finding the Courage to Speak Out Against Surgical Smoke

A Conversation with Melony Prince, BSN, MSN, RN, CNOR


Finding the Courage to Speak Out Against Surgical Smoke

August 11, 2019   

The dangers of surgical smoke didn’t hit home for Melony Prince, BSN, MSN, RN, CNOR, clinical educator for surgical services at Littleton Adventist Hospital in Littleton, CO, until a close colleague came to Prince after an education in-service to confide her own battle from a career breathing in surgical smoke.

“Eva closed my office door and shared her private battle recovering from multiple surgeries to have HPV lesions removed from her nose and throat passages following years working with an OB/GYN doctor who laser removed patient’s HPV lesions without surgical smoke evacuation,” Prince shares. “Eva said ‘Melony, will you please be my voice to protect others from what I’m going through?’”

The Road to Making Smoke Evacuation Law

Prince began educating surgical team members on surgical smoke dangers by sharing published research in staff and physician lounges and displaying posters from the AORN Go Clear Program.

With the help of physician champions, and a tireless can-do attitude, Prince and her colleagues have established surgical smoke evacuation as the norm in 92% of surgeries at her facility – even prior to developing policy to require smoke evacuation in her hospital.

Prince then began writing to her legislators to educate them about the daily dangers of surgical smoke affecting nurses, surgeons, and patients, and she encouraged her practice colleagues across Colorado to do the same. “Nurses have a powerful voice in elections and legislators know this.”

How to Be a Smoke Evacuation Advocate

After only two years of collaborative work by AORN and perioperative professionals across the state, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed a bill into law in March requiring all healthcare facilities to have a policy on surgical smoke evacuation by May 2021.

Prince encourages other nurses to leverage their powerful voices to move smoke evacuation legislation in their own states. Here are her three tips for getting legislators to listen and understand why no one should be forced to breathe surgical smoke.

1. Share Stories

When you stand up to testify, share the stories of those you know or those you’ve read about in research articles; about real people, real nurses, and surgeons who are battling respiratory cancers and other illnesses linked to the surgical smoke they were exposed to. My story about Eva caught the attention of legislators and got them listening to me.

2. Show Them How Smoke Evacuators Work

There was confusion during the bill discussion about the cost of smoke evacuation because some legislators thought incorrectly that smoke evacuation must be constructed into the hospital’s HVAC system. I brought surgical smoke evacuator pens on the floor when I testified a second time and demonstrated how simple it is to use, which won over some initial skeptics.

3. Don’t Go It Alone

Understanding the details of getting a bill passed is too much for one nurse or even a group of nurses to tackle. With the help of AORN and their external support with a lobbyist on the floor, we were able to navigate the schedule so we could testify and share our stories.

Ready to move smoke evacuation legislation in your state? Contact Jennifer Pennock, Senior Manager of AORN Government Affairs, to get started.

To take the first step toward going surgical smoke free, take advantage of AORN’s free resources for smoke safety through the Go Clear Award Program.

Melony Prince, BSN, MSN, RN, CNOR, is a clinical educator for surgical services at Littleton Adventist Hospital in Littleton, CO.