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Grasshoppers in the OR?: A Tale of OR Mentorship and Personal Growth

Do you remember the 1984 movie Karate Kid? In the movie, starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel and Pat Morita as Mr. Miyagi, a teenage boy (Daniel) is being bullied. He is befriended by an older gentleman (Mr. Miyagi) who teaches him karate so that he can defend himself in future encounters. During the movie, there is a training session where the master, Mr. Miyagi, refers to Daniel as his grasshopper.

If you haven't seen this classic movie, you should! But even if you haven't, we can all understand the relationship between master, or mentor, and student - and we recognize the invaluable influence that a great mentor can have on our lives and/or careers.

The OR Grasshopper

I want you to go back with me to June 2008 when I was a baby nurse. I graduated from nursing school in May, and by the beginning of June, I was beginning my nursing career as an OR nurse at a Level 1 trauma center in St. Louis. I was so excited! I was the only new grad in the fellowship group starting that summer. It was slightly intimidating knowing that all of the other nurses in the fellowship group had some type of nursing experience, yet here I was, coming in brand new, having worked as a tech in the ICU prior to starting in the OR. But when one of them told me we were all starting on the same level of OR learning, I breathed a sigh of relief.

At that time, our fellowship was 9 months long. We were paired up with preceptors who worked on day shift, and our learning days ended at 3 PM. We knew that there were other nurses and scrubs on the ‘off shifts’, but we never really got to engage with them just because our shifts were different. We wouldn’t encounter some of these very experienced nurses, some of whom had 30+ years of OR experience, until later in our training.

The Grasshopper finds the Master

There was one seasoned nurse whose name I kept hearing over and over. Her name was Pat. She was the one who knew anything and everything about the OR. She provided education over the years with newbies like myself, and she had put together some critical care training that she taught to every fellowship group. When the day came for her to teach my fellowship about this topic, I was so excited! I loved trauma. I worked in our trauma ICU as a tech for several years. I could only imagine how thrilling trauma surgery was! But unlike some of my cohorts who came to the OR from the ICU with a nursing background, I didn’t know anything about ACLS or running a code.

But all of that changed when Pat came to teach us. “This woman knows everything!” I thought. There wasn’t a question she couldn’t answer, and I knew from that day on that I wanted to work with her and learn everything I could about the OR.

Pick A Trauma Day

We had a “Pick A Trauma” Day towards the end of our fellowship. We would be working a Saturday when Pat was in charge. We were given trauma scenarios and we had to set up an OR for a trauma case. I couldn’t wait to go into work that weekend and do this! I had used my downtime that week to study about all of the possible cases - what instruments and supplies would be needed, where were they kept, where did we keep all of the sub-specialty instrument, etc. I really wanted to impress Pat that I remembered all that she taught us that day.

I was very disappointed when she gave me an Oral Maxillofacial (OMF) trauma case. I thought, “What?! Where’s the ortho case or the gunshot wound to the abdomen? I don’t know anything about OMF!" But it didn’t matter, she sent me on my way and gave me 30 minutes to get the case in order. I did the best I could given how flustered I was about the situation. To this day, I still don't think she actually gave me 30 minutes to prep for the case, but she’ll tell you differently...

Needless to say, I didn’t do so great. When I went through the rationale for why I did what I did I got all upset at myself for not being 100% prepared to take care of a patient. But that didn’t matter to Pat. She was proud of what I had done. She didn’t look at what hadn’t been done. She was the charge nurse that day with 7 ORs running and a million other responsibilities, but in-between all the phone calls and fires she was putting out, she explained what I was missing and the why behind it. She was such a patient teacher and really encouraged me that it would be ok. Once again I knew I wanted to learn all I could from her.

The Master mentors the Grasshopper

Fast forward to the summer of 2010. I decided to go back for my BSN, but in order to take classes, I’d have to have some free days during the week. As luck would have it, a position working every other Saturday opened on the weekend. I applied and was granted the job. But do you know what was even better than getting the position I had requested? I was going to be working weekends with Pat!

I learned anything and everything about the OR working with her. She let me ask ALLLLLL the questions! She had rationales for everything. There wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen in her 34 years in the OR. She trained me on how to be a charge nurse. She taught me how to communicate better with staff and physicians. Sometimes I worked overnights with her, and we’d have these all night chats in the nurses' lounge about life, and there were many valuable take aways from that, too. Many of the staff called me “Little Pat” because I was like her in so many ways. She used to call me grasshopper like Mr. Miyagi did to Daniel. And yes, I called her Master of All Things OR. (A little longer title!)

The Grasshopper becomes the Master

She taught me how to be a better nurse. I vowed that I wanted to be like her when I had more OR experience under my belt. Someone had taken me under their wing as a baby nurse and it was my turn to do the same. In 2018, I had a student nurse with me for her preceptorship in the OR. I like to say I channeled my “inner Pat” with her. She went on to pass boards and get a job in OR. To this day she still recites the pre-op interview I taught her word for word, and when she has new nurses with her and we pass in the hall she tells them “That’s Lindsey! She taught me all I know about the OR."

In 2016, Pat retired after 40 years in the OR and 42 as a nurse. She has enjoyed retirement to the fullest with her kids, grandkids, traveling, and scrapbooking projects. We still talk every couple of months, and try to get dinner once or twice a year. She is the definition of a mentor and I am the OR nurse I am today because of her.

And by the way…she still calls me grasshopper. 😊

Lindsey and Pat at her retirement party in 2016

Find someone that you can learn from, and then take that investment and invest it in someone else. You, your coworkers, and your OR will be much better off for it.

Until next time,


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