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Superheroes in Surgery

I’ve been an operating room nurse for almost 15 years, and the OR is the only path I’ve known in my nursing career. My first exposure to the OR was during clinicals in nursing school. I was going to be observing surgeries at the Veteran's Hospital, and I had the choice of a day of cataract surgeries or an aortic valve replacement. Naturally, I chose the heart room.

My patient stood over six feet tall and insisted I call him by his nickname, Pooh Bear. He was a gentle giant who gave off the energy of a loving grandfather with a tough John Wayne exterior. The surgery changed his llife and mine that day.

I remember begging my clinical placement coordinator for an OR position. I recall the negative remarks I received from both professors and fellow classmates about my decision. I was told things like, “You’re going to be trapped in the OR.” “No one will hire you.” You need at least two years of nursing experience before you go into surgery.” “That’s not real nursing. You will lose all your nursing knowledge.” I ignored them. I knew what I wanted.

I was successful in getting my first OR rotation during my senior clinical practicum. I clearly remember the day I stood up in class and announced I had accepted the job offer to be the hospital’s first ever new graduate nurse who will train directly into the OR. I didn’t realize the struggle that was before me at the time, but I remember enjoying the moment of accomplishing what I had set out to do.

My first two years of nursing were not rainbows and unicorns. I had a very small support system in the OR. My colleagues did not take me seriously. They did not like the fact I had not “paid my dues” as a floor nurse, and they believed I shouldn’t have been there. My job was made very difficult by bullying behavior and fellow nurses who enjoyed kicking me while I was down. It was a rough journey, and it was one I almost walked away from. As soon as I could, I moved on from that environment to find my voice as a confident OR nurse.

Four years later, I met Rose. Rose was a young, eager, intelligent, bright ray of sunshine who I had the pleasure of mentoring during her senior practicum. Rose came from the same university and same nursing program that I had graduated from. I felt extremely honored to take her under my wing because I had been the one to pave this path for her. I was the first student from our school opening the door to a student placement in the OR and now, here was Rose, following in my footsteps years later.

What a feeling that was! In a small way, I felt like I had left my mark in this lifetime. I spent six weeks with Rose. Every day she came in, her excitement grew with everything she was learning. I was so grateful for the opportunity to be her OR mentor. I was going to give her the best clinical experience I had to offer. I was not going to ruin this experience for her and make her feel inferior as so many had done to me. I didn’t promise her a walk in the park or sugar coat the stressful environment the OR is.

The first two years are challenging and packed with so much required knowledge and skill. What I did promise her was the reward of being there for someone during their most vulnerable state, and a chance to devote a lifetime of learning for the service of others.

Rose eventually moved on. I had no doubt she would successfully complete her program as I sent her off with my recommendation letter. It was a few years after her clinical rotation that I received a surprise call from a previous coworker. She asked me if I knew a nurse by the name of Rose. I instantly remembered her smiling face and bouncy energy. My friend was working with Rose in the OR at a local hospital. I was so excited to hear the news. Rose had indeed gone on to become an OR nurse! The serendipitous chance I was given to mentor her was a once in a lifetime gift and it had all come full circle. What an amazing story to be a part of!

To this day, the memories of Rose still make me smile. Our career choice is not an easy one. It is not a path one takes just for the sake of a paycheck. It is something we work very hard at, and it can take a toll on us in so many ways. OR nursing is not for the weak. We may not feel like superheroes when we get off a 24-hour trauma shift, but I assure you, every one of you are, in fact, superheroes. We wear our capes on our hearts and everything we do makes a difference for someone else. We are all part of an amazing story, always unfolding.

Happy Perioperative Nurse week, my fellow nurses! Please keep shining your incredible light!


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