What Does A Surgical Nurse Do?
One of the most highly sought-after professions within the nursing sphere is the role of the surgical nurse. For the motivated and ambitious healthcare professional, working in the operating theatre can be a stimulating and highly rewarding job. However, before you commit yourself to taking this path, it is essential to know what the role of a surgical nurse involves, so you can assess whether you think it will suit your personality.
What is a surgical nurse?
Put simply, a surgical nurse is a nurse who works in surgery, supporting surgeons and doctors in completing both routine and complex surgical procedures. All surgical nurses work within the hospital setting, either in surgical wards and operating rooms, trauma and emergency care centres or recovery rooms and intensive care units. They are expected to work on both elective and life-saving procedures each day. This may involve working with a team including surgeons, anaesthetists, ODPs theatre support workers and porters.
Whilst surgeons do the intensive medical work in the operating theatre, surgical nurses play an integral role in every operation. As EveryNurse explains,
surgical nurses can be thought of as the backbones of these teams. They are there from the very beginning of the procedure to the very end. In fact, without surgical nurses, it would be almost impossible for surgeons to do their jobs well.
When it comes to nurse jobs, surgical nurses are one of the most demanding roles in the healthcare workplace. They are responsible for various elements of operation preparation, including post-operative management in surgery. Many surgical nursing professionals also choose to specialise in a particular area, such as obstetrics, paediatric surgery, or cardiac surgery.
In order to become a surgical nurse, you must be a fully registered adult, child, mental health or learning disability nurse. You will be expected to undergo a period of specialist training and courses to develop the specific skills required to work in the operating theatre.
The daily work of a surgical nurse
The daily responsibilities of a surgical nurse can be split up into four phases called the perioperative phases – the preoperative phase, the anaesthetic phase, the surgical phase and the recovery phase. As NHS Health Careers says, theatre nurses can also specialise in a specific area of perioperative care or rotate through the areas.
The preoperative stage is the first stage of work for a surgical nurse. Here, you will be responsible for ensuring that the patient is adequately prepared for the procedure. This involves informing them of the risks and benefits of the surgery, as well as checking that they are healthy enough to undergo the operation. Patients must always be confident with the procedure they are about to undergo. They should be able to ask questions and voice concerns in a safe environment and the surgical nurse should be able to answer them confidently.
During this process, you will also be expected to give the patient pre-procedure instructions and measure or record their vital signs. This might involve starting intravenous lines, administering any medications, and sterilising and marking the incision sites.
The anaesthetic state primarily involves assisting the anesthesiologist and anaesthetic nurse. Here, you may find yourself preparing specialist operational equipment, devices and medications. At this point, you will have to be on hand for the anaesthetics team, however, they may need you, monitoring the vital signs of the patient to ensure they are responding correctly to the drugs.
As you would expect, the surgical phase is the most intensive stage of the perioperative process. During this phase, you won’t have a moment to stop and must remain constantly aware of everything that is happening in the theatre and with your patient.
Here, you will need to monitor and manage the patient’s state by checking vital signs, and assist the entire surgical team, whether by passing operative instruments like needles and swabs to the surgeons, running surgical equipment such as endoscopes, microscopes and lasers, or alerting other members of the surgical team of any changes in the patient’s behaviour and vital signs.
Importantly, the surgical nurse acts as the primary point of contact between the surgical team and other teams and departments throughout the hospital. You will need to ensure any important information is communicated where necessary with effectiveness and clarity. If an emergency should occur, you might also be required to perform life-saving procedures.
Once the operation is complete, a surgical nurse’s job is far from over. After an operation, you will first have to carry out any post-op care and treatment necessary until the patient has recovered from the effects of the anaesthetic and/or surgery. This may involve elements such as changing dressings, administering medications and carrying out any instructions given by the surgeon.
You will be expected to offer the patient support upon arrival in the post-anaesthetic care unit, and monitor their health and care all the way through until they are back on a general ward. You will also be responsible for assessing whether the patient should be discharged back onto a ward.
What it takes to be a surgical nurse
The role of a surgical nurse is intensive and fast-paced. Every surgical nurse must be calm, pragmatic and efficient. Your responsiveness to change and performance under pressure will perhaps need to be even stronger than that of a general nurse, because of the high-pressure environment of the operating theatre.
You also need to be compassionate and able to reassure patients before surgery and after emergency procedures. Communication is also essential – both with members of the surgical team, other departments, patients and their families.
A truly brilliant surgical nurse will also foster an inquisitive attitude towards their work. This means keeping up-to-date with the latest developments in healthcare research and best practice, which they will achieve through undergoing any additional training courses and keeping up with sector news via nursing blogs.
What are the benefits of being a surgical nurse?
There are many things that make working as a surgical nurse rewarding. Nurses who are particularly interested in the clinical side of the job will enjoy the technical intensity of the operating ward. Here, you can be witness to and involved with some of the most complex operative procedures.
Most areas of nursing involve management of chronic illnesses or long-term care. However, in surgery, you can see the immediate results of your treatment straight away – a highly rewarding experience.
Surgical nursing also provides plenty of opportunities for progression. One of the most exciting opportunities for theatre nurses right now is the role of Surgical Care Practitioner – an extension of the surgical nurse role which involves becoming able to carry out surgeries, such as facial skin cancer excisions, without any consultant present.
Surgical Care Practitioners will be similar to surgical nurses in that they will be involved in everything from preoperative care exams to working in theatre, training trainee surgeons, and postoperative assessments. This is just one of the many exciting career progression routes available to the successful surgical nurse.