The different jobs available in theatre nursing
Theatre nursing is a varied sector with different specialities including scrub nurse, recovery nurse and anaesthetic nurse, all of whom could be described as a theatre nurse. We look at the different roles and how you get a theatre nurse job
14th March 2011
Many theatre nursing jobs have slightly different responsibilities, and in this article we are going to look a few of them. Theatre nursing jobs are split between two different sectors, the public sector or NHS and the private sector. Theatre nurses can work in either area at any point in their careers, but the roles are largely very similar.
A theatre nurse works with a patient before, during or after a surgical procedure or at a combination of these points. All theatre nurses must have an exceptional understanding of infection control and if they are scrubbing in then surgical hand-washing skills must also be exceptional. During a surgical procedure, a theatre nurse will be present in the operating theatre and they will pass the surgeon any equipment they require. They may also use suction in accordance with the surgeon’s direction.
Prior to surgery a patient will be in contact with an anaesthetic nurse, who will help prepare the patient for the operation. In conjunction with an anaesthetist, they work to assess and plan using an individualised care plan. During the surgery they will work with the anaesthetist to ensure the correct level of anesthesia is delivered to ensure the patient remains comfortable.
Some procedures will be done under local anaesthetic so it’s important that communication with the patient is maintained to ensure they are comfortable throughout.
A scrub nurse will be present in the theatre throughout the procedure to assist the surgeon by handing them the correct tools as they as for them. An experienced scrub nurse will be able to anticipate the tools a surgeon will require and can pre-empt a request for equipment to ensure a smooth working routine with the surgeon. A scrub nurse is also responsible for ensuring all equipment is accounted for at the end of the procedure. Only by doing a complete inventory of all tools and swabs can they be sure that a patient is ready to come out of theatre.
Infection control is a key part of a scrub nurse’s job. They will be in direct contact with the patient during the procedure, so it’s essential that good hand washing techniques are observed as well as the complete sterilisation of all equipment used in the procedure before and after use.
When the surgical procedure is over, a recovery nurse will take over the care of the patient from then on. They monitor the patient closely as they recover from the anaesthetic, in particular to ensure breathing and vital signs remain strong. They may also need to arrange IV fluids, pain medication and oxygen.
A patient is most vulnerable immediately after they leave theatre, and at this point one to one care may be provided to ensure a smooth recovery. If a patient shows signs of distress or respiratory difficulty then a recovery nurse must act quickly to stablise the situation, which could mean calling for assistance or intubating the patient to maintain airflow into the lungs.
A circulating nurse works between any one of the above parts of the theatre nursing process, but oversees the wellbeing of the patient and is an advocate throughout the process. They are usually a clinically experience scrub nurse capable of providing care in any of the three key stages of theatre nursing. Their responsibilities are to ensure that the needs of the patient are at the forefront of the planning, implementation and evaluation stages. For example, the circulating nurse will assess the patient’s skin and decide if adhesive drapes are the best type to use, because they can be particularly damaging to elderly skin. In a case where the circulating nurse has identified a patient that requires an alternative drape, they will notify the scrub nurse and / or the surgeon to consider an alternative method.
The difference between theatre nurses and ODPs (Operating Dept. Practitioners)
An ODP or Operating Department Practitioner is not a theatre nurse and vice versa. That doesn’t mean that either a nurse or ODP is more or less qualified than the other, they are just qualified in different ways.
An ODP will usually undertake a 2 year diploma course to qualify, and will then be registered with the HPC which provides a code of professional conduct to work by. A Nurse will typically graduate from a 3 year degree course and will be professionally registered with the NMC. Any theatre nurse working in the UK must be NMC registered, and all must abide by the professional code of conduct.
The main difference in terms of job role is that a theatre nurse in whichever stage of the process is responsible at all times for the care of the patient, whereas an ODP is more concerned with the practical arrangements of the surgery.