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The Ghosts of ORs Past

Deep within the core of every operating room, submerged beneath the tales of triumph and tragedy, intricate precision, and skills mastered, lives a ghost. Not the spirit of lives lost, or a floating menace who causes machines to mysteriously power on, but this ghost is ever-present. It follows each and every one of us, from clock in to clock out, and oftentimes is still present when our heads hit the pillow each night.

It's the Ghost of ORs Past, and it's been haunting our ORs and our people for years.

Yes, our ORs are cutting-edge, forward-thinking institutions packed with medical marvels and technical expertise. But, there's a dark side as well. It's an undercurrent that drives our culture and our reputation - a narrative and an experience that is often left unspoken by some, tolerated by others, and even encouraged by a few.

So who is this ghost?

Similar to the ghosts who visited Mr. Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, let's step back in time and I'll show you...

Do you remember the first time you stepped into the operating room? The first time you felt that mix of excitement and trepidation, experienced an adrenaline-fueled rush as you saw and participated in an operation, and when you were humbled by the sheer magnitude of responsibility and trust that your patients were placing upon you?

Perhaps, alongside that excitement, you also recall the challenges you faced: Will I ever learn everything? How many instruments can there possibly be? Am I competent to run a room or a backtable on my own? And amidst all of the fear, worry, and concern, who did you encounter?

Was the team welcoming, helpful, patient, and friendly? Or did you find a group of strong personalities, harsh attitudes, and a less-than-welcoming surgical team who wasn't interested in training the "newbie"?

Unfortunately, the latter is most often the case. Time and time again, I hear horror stories from new OR employees who "couldn't make it." Not because of the required skillset or training involved, but because of the personalities and attitudes that they encountered while they were learning.

This is our ghost.

The pervasive attitude and culture that demands that we be tough as nails and hard as steel - and we're passing that on to the next generation of OR nurses and scrubs. There's a belief that says, "This is how I was trained, so this is how you will be trained." Or the constant mantra, "You have to develop a thick skin or you'll never make it." We have developed intolerant, impatient attitudes that expect new employees to never mess up, never ask a "stupid" question, and honestly, to never be in the way. And these attitudes have developed over years of tolerating this approach to training. But just because this is the way it's always been, does that mean it's right?

Those of us with experience might have "made it" in the OR, but was it an enjoyable experience getting to the place we are now? Or are we haunted by our memories? And, are we passing that same horrifying experience on to the next generation?

We can do better.

Yes, we must be proficient, skilled, and maintain a commitment to excellence and to safe patient care. But how we bring in new employees, how we train them, and how we work alongside them to bring them up to proficiency has room for improvement.

We can extend compassion, kindness, and patience to our new employees. We can create learning environments that foster growth and sculpt a new OR culture that offers support and empathy. A culture that says, "I've been in your shoes, I know what it's like, and I'm here to help you master this specialty."

And hopefully, we can finally put the Ghost of ORs Past to rest and look toward a future of OR nurses and scrubs who are changing the narrative. Staff who are fully committed to coming alongside the next generation, teaching them with empathy and kindness, and empowering them to become the confident, proficient perioperative professionals that we all know they can be.

Until next time,


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