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'I have a confession to make, I found theatre nursing boring'


Student nurse, Claire Aubrey, did not take to theatre nursing and found the environment uncomfortable and alien

During my recent placement on a surgical ward I was given a week’s pathway in theatres in order to find out as much about theatre as I could and gain an insight into the variety of operations that take place there.

I have a confession to make.

While it was interesting in parts and there was so much to learn, in all honesty, I found it a little boring. Frighteningly, operations can go on for up to 17- 18 hours probably longer and, although I did not stay that long in any of them, a ten hour stint can be a typical day for observation.

I think that I have taken away with me as much as I could from the experience but I did find it hard to muster the same enthusiasm that I deliver on the ward every day. Already tired and anxious, I would find myself summoning my wide smile and look of inquisitive interest every morning, feeling it drain from my body as the day progressed.

I found it quite amusing how keen I was to please and whenever asked, I would gush about how amazing it had been and what a great experience it was. Is honesty the best policy in this case? It felt unprofessional to say anything other than positive things but I would never choose theatre for my career and I am relieved that I will not be venturing there again.

“Everything seemed clinical and I felt isolated and removed from the patient in a way that was uncomfortable and alien”

I saw a wide variety of procedures from cataracts to hip replacements right through to caesarean sections. It was the first time that I had ever seen a new-born baby and, although I am not a baby person, I felt a wave of emotion at this miracle. However, each process was intricate and pain-staking and I could not help but feel a little sorry for the scrub nurse wiho had to stand still for hours, not even handing over equipment, with a dry throat, dry eyes and a sore back.

It occurred to me during this time that work in theatres does not seem to be nursing in the way I think of it and not in the way it is generally portrayed.

Scrub nursing seems to be a distinctly different type of job altogether, and likely connected, for this reason, to the emergence of the Operating Department Technician role. In all honesty, I could not relate to it, not seeing the patient awake, no talk, no holistic care. Everything seemed as clinical as the environment in which it took place and I felt isolated and removed from the patient in a way that was uncomfortable and alien.

I did get to scrub in for one of the procedures and, whilst initially thrilling, the magic soon wore off and eventually I was doing the same process over and over again. I could not say of this job that every day would feel different to me and this was one of my major draws into nursing. I could not leave this feeling behind to go into theatres - the dynamism and the variety of dealing directly with such a wide range of people.

I will always appreciate my time in theatres as it is a unique experience and one which gives great insight into the surgical patient. I also greatly admire those who have the patience and skill to work there. A major attraction to nursing for me was how diverse the fields are in which you can work.

However, I think it may be one field that I will be crossing off my list for the foreseeable future.


Readers' comments (12)

  • Nothing wrong with that. One of the best things about this profession is that there are a wide variety of specialties/areas of interest, and a wide variety of people to fill them. One of the worst things about it is that there isn't necessarily the jobs in those specific areas once qualified, so many of us end up in areas we have little or no interest in, hoping that a job in our own area will come up.

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  • Totally agree with Mike, sorry Claire you felt you had to fake pleasure in the role LOL! We are all different, when I did my nurse training it was not a problem to say if we felt an area was not for us, that does not detract from the appreciation of the skills of the nurses in that area.
    I also found theatre very boring, for the same reasons, there is little communication required, however, for people who are more interested in the direct physical healing, a very important part of medical care, then this is a great area for those skills to be developed.
    I am wondering if you picked up that the scrub nurse was not merely "watching" the surgery, the nurse would have been preparing for any unexpected eventualities and prepared to have the correct equipment to hand immediately required. Not something that those of us who are day dreamers can do very well! It requires great concentration, attention to detail and sharp observation.

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  • The advantage of doing placements is as much finding out what you don't like as you do. This can be further narrowed into a speciality, ie acute ward oncology nursing, or end of life care etc. The beauty is we are all different and find our niches eventually, I wanted to be a midwife until I did my maternity placement! Now I work in acute cancer care and have found my niche.

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  • Interesting piece. The ‘scrub nurse’ may not have been a nurse. Many theatres are now mainly staffed by Operating Department Practitioners (not Operating Department Technicians). Their role does actually involve a lot of vital communication with the patient over the whole of the perioperative period. This article underlines the fact that theatre is a specialist area and should be staffed by those who undertake a specialist two or three year educational pathway, namely ODPs. Claire merely reinforces this view together with the fact that the wards and related areas are where nurses will demonstrate their expertise.

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  • I love my theatre placement - I was not sure it would be for me but I was amazed by how much I have learned. I may have been lucky that the senior staff nurse was supportive , encouraging and an excellent communicator however I have managed to get skils signed off and increased in my confidence in teams and with patients. Many patients were having procedures under local anaesthetics and my mentor asked me to prepare the patient, sit with the patient and to reduce their anxieties. I was anxious about scrubbing but with my mentors support I improved in confidence and competence. I may not work in theatres when I qualify but I can take many of the skills with me

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  • in a rush, but things livened up on my theatre placement when we almost drowned our fearsome sister when a charge nurse forget to clamp the Y-tubing properly of two, two litre bottles he was setting up for a bladder lavage and the whole lot emptied onto her and she rapidly scuttled out of theatres not to be seen again for quite a while.

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  • I am disappointed that Claire found her placement boring - as a theatre 'scrub' nurse of over 20 years my job is interesting, exciting and very much involves nursing. I often say to my students - "examine the Roper, Logan and Tierney model of nursing and then come back and tell me how this relates to theatre nursing". Every student comes back amazed at how much nursing actually goes on in theatre. Yes, to the untrained eye the scrub nurse is merely acting on the instructions of the surgeon. In reality, that nurse is using a wide range of skills to look after her patient from making sure the patient is positioned correctly and proetected whilst on the table (maintaining safe environment), to promoting asepsis amongst the whole team - doctors included!! I agree that theatre nursing is not for everyone but the skills of observation, communication, asepsis, quick thinking and team work can be used in most other spheres of nursing. It also provides the ward nurse with the 'missing link' in the patient's surgical journey and allows them to answer questions that the patient may have. So use your theatre placement wisely and you will learn many new skills that you can take with you to any nursing speciality.

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  • "...promoting asepsis amongst the whole team - doctors included!!"

    why "...doctors included!!" - aren't they part of "the whole team"? don't you have an interdisciplinary team in the theatre or do you still divide your staff up into different teams according to speciality?

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  • I found this interesting as I am experiencing the entire opposite! I've been working for the past two years in theatre and decided to pursue nursing this year (I didn't want to do the ODP course, in case I missed another area of nursing that I may like). However, since working on the wards - I really miss theatre!! I do enjoy the communication I get with patients on the wards, but I miss the hustle and bustle of theatre. Constantly being kept on your toes and the fast paced atmosphere. Being a theatre nurse is an absolute privilege, patients are at their most vulnerable and you're that patient's advocate. I feel many students who experience theatre placements aren't given long enough to experience the ins and outs of theatre - it took me at least three months before I felt comfortable! Also, I've noticed a great divide between wards and theatre - many ward nurses that I've worked with look at me like I've got two heads when I tell them my background is theatre. One of my university lecturers even said to me, "Oh. We don't talk to people in theatre", when she asked about my clinical experience. What's that all about?!

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  • Working in theatres made me appreciate what great job the team does. It enlighten what is done under the scar that we see in wards. In my experience, I was given theatre as my hub placement in my 2nd year and you don't really need that. I was not given a chance to scrub-in so it was observation after another, and a bit of running about. After 2weeks you'd have observed enough if not a lot and by end of year placement, you're hysterical. What I got from the experience no-one can take it away. I found it difficult to have nursing skills signed-off that's for sure. All I can say is that I didn't feel belonging, definitely not for me. When I'm in wards I feel happier and more lively talking to my patients. So I agree with Claire.

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