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An operating theatre placement will open your eyes to interprofessional working


Rarely signposted but positioned at the heart of most organisations, the operating theatre can be a daunting place for student nurses.

Julie Quick nurse

Delve beyond the closed doors of the operating suite and you will find a unique environment

A department full of staff wearing starched scrub suits, clumpy clogs and different coloured hats (to differentiate between trained and untrained staff) often seems far away from anything else going on in the hospital.

Yet, delve beyond the closed doors of the operating suite and you will find a unique environment. Healthcare professionals from all disciplines – nursing, medicine and allied health care – are here working closely together to do their best for surgical patients. This may be somewhat surprising given the traditional nurse-doctor relationship that has for many years depicted theatre nurses as surgeons’ handmaidens.

Even more recently, unspoken hierarchies in theatres saw surgeons make the mistake of believing they were in charge of “their” operating theatre. This often led to conflict that made relationships somewhat strained, but how times have changed!

A graduate workforce spanning all three disciplines and the emergence of evidence-based practice outside medicine has seen nurses, doctors and allied health professionals  develop an equal footing in healthcare and, in particular, in the operating theatre.

Here, there has been a shift from multidisciplinary team work, where health care professionals from different disciplines traditionally worked individually towards a shared aim. Theatres now run on inter-professional teamwork. This relatively new way of working recognises that individuals shouldn’t work separately but instead should work together for the good of the patient. Enter the operating theatre today and you will see an interprofessional approach to the care of surgical patients. Communication and co-operation is now the norm.

Inter-professional collaboration is the main component of one national initiative - the “Five Steps to Safer Surgery”. This initiative encourages enhanced team involvement in the key clinical processes and in planning for unexpected outcomes.

Whether you have an allocated theatre placement or just follow a patient’s journey through surgery, you will gain first-hand experience of interprofessional collaboration. This has additional benefits for student nurses far removed from what you would normally expect to uncover on clinical placement - an opportunity for inter-professional learning.

As you become a member of the theatre team and become involved with each step of patients’ journeys, you will begin to understand the contribution each individual team member makes to patient care: expertise is showcased, knowledge is shared, professional barriers are removed and patient safety improves. Your own communication and interpersonal skills will develop as you liaise with each team member.

While you are working with such a varied and diverse group of healthcare professionals take the time to reflect on this unique experience: learn all you can from them, with them and about them. They in turn will learn from you. As the newest member to the team you will bring your own perspective on patient care and as a student nurse you are the one with the current knowledge base.

Whether you share or gain a piece of knowledge that improves patient care, form a new relationship or change a pre-conceived attitude, working within the operating theatre will open your eyes to the advantages of interprofessional collaboration.  


Julie Quick is a registered general nurse and an advancing surgical roles specialist interest group lead at Walsall Healthcare Trust


Readers' comments (2)

  • Alice Eveleigh

    I have just requested theatre as my consolidation placement for the summer. I find theatre so interesting and would love to work there.

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