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Fertility Nurse of the Month: Shalini Gunawardena, RN

Kaiser Permanente Center for Reproductive Health, Fremont, CA

January 2013

Like many IVF nurses, Shalini Gunawardena’s is an “accidental” profession. Her career in women’s health began as a labor and delivery nurse. But the Monday to Friday hours at an IVF clinic, with an occasional weekend shift, were ideal for a young, newly married woman. That was 21 years ago, when she got her start at Cornell. Fast forward to 2004, when she helped set up the fertility program at Kaiser Permanente Center for Reproductive Health, in Fremont, CA, where today she is an IVF Charge Nurse. (That’s a Kaiser Permanente designation, which means that she runs the day-to-day clinical operations.) For her dedication to education and her forward-thinking mindset, we recognize Shalini Gunawardena as Nurse of the Month.

So what are the perks of this position? Gunawardena says, “The teaching, the patient interaction and the autonomy are the things that make me love what I do.” But, she adds, infertility nursing is not for everyone. Nurses who have spent a lot of time working in in-patient or hospital settings have a hard time moving away from the task-oriented component of the job. “If you’re looking for doctors’ orders for everything you’re not going to find it,” she says. “Guidelines are there, but we tell our new hires it takes at least six months to feel comfortable and a year to feel like you have the flow to understand what you’re doing,” she adds.

Gunawardena is also Chair of the Nurses Professional Group (NPG) of the American Society of Reprodutive Medicine (ASRM); it was a natural fit, she says. “Our role is to help with the educational process for nursing and to be a conduit for nurses within the field,” she says. Patients may be surprised to know there isn’t any formal training in nursing school for infertility or IVF. It’s on the job training. The NPG offers discussion groups and online training certificate programs for IVF nurses. Currently a course is available for experienced nurses, but in the Spring of 2013, they will launch an additional program for medical assistants and nurses who have been on the job less than a year. ASRM offers a distinction for fertility clinics who have a percentage of nurses who complete this additional training, noting the clinic as a center of excellence.

She’s also currently enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Maryland. What prompted that, aside from her affinity for education? “In the changing field of healthcare today you need to be savvy clinically, but also need to understand the business side of things, especially in the IVF world. For healthcare in the future, you have to have a business background,” Gunawardena says.

She’s certainly got her hands full, and it begs the question: After 21 years, what makes her role as an IVF nurse stimulating and satisfying? “It’s very rewarding when a patient goes on to be successful,” she says. “It’s even more rewarding when they have had the quality of care that makes them feel that they want to come back again.”

Nominate Your Fertility Nurse

In honor of these hard working nurses who hold our hands throughout our fertility treatment experiences, will feature a dedicated fertility clinic nurse each month. You can nominate your favorite fertility clinic nurse by clicking here. We will contact you if your nurse is chosen to be our Fertility Nurse of the Month.


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