The Emotional World of Operating Room (OR) Nurses
Being an operating room nurse means being focused, disciplined and a team player.
“It is a high stress working environment. But it is so rewarding seeing the problem and usually being able to fix it,” says Kelly Jewell, perioperative clinical coordinator at Fremont Health in Fremont. Neb. “I work in a great area of nursing that is usually hard to get in to. You don’t learn about surgery in school very much.”
You have to learn on the job, and it takes six months to a year to start to feel comfortable in the operating room, she adds.
What does a typical day like for an operating room nurse? What emotions arise when you are dealing with life and death situations?
Read about how these two operating room nurses handle their careers, the situations they have to deal with, the ups and downs, and the reasons they stay —
It takes a Team
For the 13 years since she became a nurse, Kelly Jewell, 35, has spent 11 of those as an operating room nurse.
“We all work together as a team for one patient at one time. From the anesthesia provider, surgeon, circulating nurse and scrub technician, we are all working together for those hours providing the safest and most excellent care that each patient deserves,” she says.
When Jewell is working as a circulating nurse in the operating rooms rather than the perioperative clinical coordinator (assigning staff for the day and running the staff meeting), she first goes to check in with her patient and introduce herself.
“We discuss the surgery they are having and match that to the consent they have signed and give them the opportunity to ask any more questions they may have regarding the procedure,” she says. “After that, I head to the OR to make sure we have the equipment needed for the procedure so I have everything available at my fingertips so if the need should arise for the procedure, we have it in the room and ready to go.”
It is her goal not to have the surgeon wait for something that they ask for during the procedure.
“We also assist the anesthesiologist as the patient goes off to sleep and provide the patient with that comfort and familiar face there by their side as they go off to sleep,” she says.
After the patient goes to sleep, everyone helps position the patient for the procedure at hand. Then she readies the surgical site to prep the area so it can be draped sterile.
“It is our job to monitor and maintain sterility throughout the procedure as well as limit the traffic, staff coming in and out of the room, as to reduce the risk for surgical site infection,” Jewel says.
During the entire operation, Jewell documents it on the computer into the patient’s record from every person involved in the case, equipment used, anything that may have been implanted such as a total knee or hip, medications given and the exact time that everything was done. She then assists transporting the patient to recovery. The entire team assists in cleaning the room and readying it for the next surgery.
“The emotions displayed in the operating room can be compared to a roller coaster. There are many days where you are on top of the hill knowing you have safely helped all of your patients through surgery, and they will have a great outcome,” she says.
On other days, you may be at the bottom of the hill with the high stress levels that may present themselves with the emergency cases that are done. Fremont Health does take emergency cases 24 hour a day and that means the operating rooms are there for emergencies, too.
“We tend to do stat C-sections, laparoscopic appendectomies and bowel obstructions and any type of broken extremity during the weekends and evenings,” Jewell says.
Being an operating room nurse has taught her to be thankful for her own health and her family’s health.
“It has taught me a lot about respect and compassion for others. Going to surgery is a very stressful time for every patient and being there with them as they go off to sleep is so important so they know we are there to take care of them while they are unable to,” she says.
“I like that you have to take care of one patient at a time, and you get to focus on them,” she says.
She works the morning shift in the operating room, which means being ready to go at 7 a.m. She said that most of the patients going into surgery are a little nervous.
“We try to reassure them that it will be OK and that we will take very good care of them,” she says.
After talking with them and verifying all the information, she wheels them into the operating room so they can meet with the anesthesiologist.
“My specialties in the operating room are urology and gynecology. We get patients from babies to those in their 80s. If they are children, we ask the parents if they want to be in the operating room until the child is put to sleep,” she says.
Bhavsar said most of the surgeries that she works on are two hours or less, but they do several of them per shift.
“When the surgeries are long, we are very busy during the whole time making sure everything is there and doing all kinds of things,” she says.
One of her patients she remembers well was a young woman who came in on Christmas Eve. She had just had a baby a few days before, but her bleeding wouldn’t stop.
“The case was pretty crazy. She had just had a baby, and then we have to do a hysterectomy,” she says.
With some traumatic cases or long surgeries, Bhavsar says that sometimes operating room nurses just take a few minutes to themselves to gather their senses again.
“If it’s something really serious, everybody is stressed out,” she says.
Sometimes, people in the operating room are yelling and scaring. But as an operating room nurse, you still have to be focused and be thoughtful of what is happening, she says.
“There are surgeries where it is life or death. But I love my job. The job has made me much more thoughtful of the people around me. And I am much more appreciative of what I have and of life itself,” she says.
Being an operating room nurse uses your strengths as a medical professional and a compassionate and empathetic human being. It takes skills in patience, teamwork and accuracy along with having a sense of humor. Your patients rely on you to give them comfort, understanding and the best medical care to get them through one of the scariest and uncertain times in their lives.