Don’t Ask the Operating Room Nurse to be A Supply Technician, Secretary, or Mediator
Catherine Marcucci MD, Ralph DiRado, RN
Pamela D. Nichols RN
Operating room (OR) nurses (both the circulating nurse and the scrub person) have well-defined roles before, during, and after the surgical procedure. They assemble needed trays, instruments, and other supplies; count and set up the sterile tables; check in the patient; and complete the considerable preoperative and intraoperative paperwork. In smaller hospitals, they may be involved in transporting and checking in blood products, both before and during the surgery. Their duties intersect with but are not defined by the needs of the anesthesia team.
OR nurses will usually be able to provide valuable help during induction and intubation and will expect to leave their task at hand to assist with this. They are happy to deal with the dentures, jewelry, and religious items that come into the room with the patient. They will also deal with calls that come into the OR from the family waiting room. But they won’t generally know where things are in the anesthesia workroom, so it is best not to ask them to run supplies for the anesthesia team, although they may be more than willing to try.
OR nurses are an independent, integral part of the OR team. Unfortunately, there can be attempts made to compromise their neutrality when disputes arise between the anesthesia and surgical teams. It is not necessarily true that they will “side” with the surgeons in a disagreement, but it is certain that they prefer not to be involved in disputes that don’t really involve them.