Why I Remained an O.R. Nurse After All of These Years

I’ve been an operating room nurse for nearly 32 years, (of course never missing an opportunity to repeat this information ad nauseum to both my husband and my son when I come home and the house is in somewhat of a disarray).  The conversation goes like this, “I’ve been on my feet all darned (mild language) day and nothing is cleaned or put away and the dog isn’t walked?” My irritation and frustration gather momentum, and are amplified by the fact that as hard as I work, I feel that I could always have performed at a higher level, done a better job or have done something more perfectly or completely, so the negativity is redirected at me.  My son repeats the phrase (or should I say rant) with his own note of sarcasm. “I know mom. You’ve been a nurse for 33 years and you’re on your feet all day.” Did he really get the message behind the obvious message? Uh, no, 32 years to be precise; yes about being on my feet all day long. Does he really get the stresses and exhaustion that someone in my position (a nurse of many years) experiences nearly every single day?  I’m guessing the answer to that question is a resounding, “no.” So why do I still choose this specialty after all of this time?

Over the years, I looked into other fields.  Initially, I took two classes towards my Master’s Degree in Nursing.  I thought I wanted to be a rehabilitation nurse (having little knowledge of what a rehab nurse actually does), a physical therapist, a physician’s assistant (had a rotten interview with a P.A. student that could have changed my entire professional direction), a radiation oncology nurse (poor personal choice for me as I am a two-time breast cancer survivor and one of four immediate family members who have survived, except for my father).  I was actually halfway through a Master’s Degree Program in writing and publishing for magazines, but then, I gave birth to my son five months later. He is now a freshman in college. I also thought I might be interested in becoming a veterinary technologist; assisting veterinarians care for animals in a clinic or hospital. This career would be especially timely for me now since my husband’s niece will be completing her final year in veterinary school.  That would have involved a personal commitment and financial sacrifices. In the end, I always remained a perioperative nurse. I did, however change my setting from acute, critical and elective surgeries in main operating rooms to an outpatient ambulatory surgical setting. That decision alone has made a huge quality of life difference for me, (no call, no weekends, no nights, no holidays). And I work in a suburban setting, so although I have to deal with traffic during my 15-mile commute, it is not nearly as excruciating as navigating city traffic in Philadelphia.  

I’ve often pondered all other types of  (non-medical) professionals I could have become, that would have placed me in vastly different settings, but again, I have stuck with O.R. nursing.  At times, I ask myself the million dollar question, why the same specific specialty for all of these years? Am I too lazy to purse something else or do the ongoing challenges of O.R. nursing, with new, interesting procedures and technology, and numerous learning opportunities continue to keep me intrigued?  What motivates me to stay on the same track? Part of it may be due to my own personality which fits like a puzzle given the demands of O.R. nursing; attention to detail, precision, maintaining good sterile technique, an ability to focus on the procedure itself, opportunities for teaching new nurses and techs, and a little hint of OCD. I enjoy chatting with patients preoperatively, gathering and assessing their pertinent medical information, and just learning a little bit about each one of them before the procedure.  I like to inform them that we take every measure to ensure their comfort and safety from proper positioning to connecting the sequential compression devices and making sure the anesthesia process proceeds in a safe manner as they drift off to sleep. I like the preparation before every procedure; that involves the setting up of the sterile field, prepping the incision site, the incision itself through the application of dressings. I like knowing we (the entire team including R.N.s, techs, anesthesia and of course, the surgeons) have all contributed something to the patient’s operative process to (hopefully) improve their lives. I like that.  It evokes feelings of accomplishment from such teamwork, and in the end, the patient, the whole focus of our attention, and why we are all present in this fast-paced environment, will ultimately benefit from this coordinated and well-choreographed dance of the operating room.

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