During the Monday through Friday work week, I work four ten-hour shifts. On those work days, my alarm goes off at 5:00 AM. And the routine starts…
5:00 AM – Jump out of bed and get ready for work. Brush my teeth, blah, blah, blah.
5:30 AM – Feed the Doggie and take her out.
6:00 AM – Drive like a bat out of hell to the hospital. [CUE: Upbeat dance music.]
6:25 AM – Arrive at work, throw lunch box in one of the overstuffed refrigerators, get scrubs from the scrub machine, change into scrubs and OR-use-only Sanita clogs, put my hair up and put on one of my cute scrub caps.
6:40 AM – Grab a quick coffee in the lounge with my co-workers.
6:53 AM – Clock in and head down to the OR.
7:00 AM – Check for my assignment at the Command Center/Charge Desk.
And this is where the routine ends.
Operating Room Nurses are typically assigned to one room where there are several cases scheduled. These are usually procedures that fall under their primary specialty (e.g., Orthopedics, General Surgery, Urology, etc.). However, most operating room nurses are cross-trained in the other specialties, therefore, the assignment may not be in the primary specialty. Or maybe it’s a room with a variety of procedures that fall under a variety of specialties.
Not only does the assignment vary in specialty, but it varies in role. There are two staff members needed to set up for a procedure: A Circulating Nurse and a Scrub Nurse/Surgical Technician (a.k.a. “Scrub Tech). Operating Room Nurses can either be a Circulator or a Scrub. A Surgical Technician can only perform in the scrub role due to their training and licensure.
Scrub Nurses/Scrub Techs are responsible for preparing the sterile field. She or He performs a surgical scrub on both hands and arms at a scrub sink (just like on TV), then puts on a gown and gloves with proper aseptic technique. The sterile field consists of a sterile drape covering a large table with a setup of items that are needed to perform the procedure (supplies and instrument). The Scrub sets it up so that instruments and supplies can be passed to the surgeons when they need it. Knowing how to set up for a variety of procedures is a skill learned on the job – starting with an intense orientation.
In the role of Circulator, the nurse performs a patient assessment in the pre-op holding area. It involves a checklist of questions that have also been asked by other providers. It is our version of Checks and Balances. Patients get an overview of what they can expect when they are brought to the OR. Family and friends of the patient can also ask questions. I call this, for my readers of a certain age, my “Julie McCoy, your Cruise Director” moment. In the OR, the Circulating Nurse’s work continues with helping the Scrub, sometimes the Anesthesiologist/CRNA, and works around the sterile field (circulator = circulate = circle = around) supporting the surgical team throughout the case. Eyes and ears are always alert. Circulating means helping coordinate and facilitate case progress, documentation, and whatever else is needed to provide safe patient care.
Anyway, back to getting my assignment…
Wait, what am I doing?
Every day, my assignment is a surprise to me. The Charge Nurse/Manager/Team Leaders put together the initial draft of the assignment sheet the day before, but it always seems to change the morning of, based on call-offs and schedule changes. I have learned my lesson to avoid checking the day before because I don’t want to get myself unnecessarily upset or excited about the next day. Pointless, really.
On the days I am in my specialty, I am in my comfort zone: Orthopedic Surgery. In the Main OR of my hospital, the procedures we perform the most are total hip or knee replacements, repairing broken bones, fixing someone’s spine, and even taking out cancerous bone and tissue. I work with the surgeons and residents that I know well and my partner is usually someone from my specialty team (nurse or scrub tech). When you have the “regular team” together, there is a flow that is like….a symphony. I love that feeling.
Outside of my specialty, I am fine, but I am on extra alert for any nuances that are unfamiliar. While this sounds scary to some people, the beautiful thing about working in surgery is the amazing teamwork we have with our staff. My co-workers are excellent resources when I am in a bind or when I just want just-in-case information. It is reassuring to know that someone has my back!
Today is my day off which means I return to work tomorrow. What will I be doing?
I have absolutely no idea.
All I know is that there definitely will be coffee in the morning.