Surgeons rely on assistants such as perioperative nurses and surgical technologists to help them prepare for an operation, monitor the patient and ensure the operating room is sterile. Also called perioperative assistants, these medical professionals play a vital role in the success of a surgical procedure by supporting the surgeon and keeping the patient safe.
Types of Perioperative Assistants
Many surgical teams include four levels of perioperative assistants: surgical technologists, circulating nurses, scrub nurses and RN first assistants. Surgical technologists typically have a certificate or associate’s degree, while nurses usually have an associate or bachelor of science degree in nursing and licensing as registered nurses. Their roles sometimes overlap, but in general scrub nurses and surgical technologists prepare the O.R. and surgical tools, in addition to prepping the patient, passing tools to the surgeon and transporting the patient to the recovery room. Circulating nurses oversee the operation and ensure safety procedures are followed, while RN first assistants work side-by-side with the surgeon and provide direct patient care.
Before an operation, perioperative assistants clean, sterilize and inspect the O.R. and all tools and equipment needed for the procedure. In addition, they count sponges, syringes and other items so they can compare this to a count taken after the operation and prevent items from being left in the patient’s body. They prepare the patient by cleaning and disinfecting the incision site and positioning him on the operating table. They also help the surgeon and the rest of the surgical team scrub in and put on gloves, gowns, masks and other protective clothing.
During a surgical procedure, the RN first assistant monitors the patient’s pulse, heart rate, respiration and other vital signs. She helps the surgeon control bleeding and administers emergency care if the patient’s blood pressure drops, his heart stops or he develops other complications. The circulating nurse observes the operation, and the surgical technologist passes tools to the scrub nurse, who in turn passes them to the surgeon. The scrub nurse must know what each tool is used for and must also anticipate which the surgeon will need next.
Once he finishes an operation, a surgeon’s role is often over. This is where the perioperative assistants come in, preparing samples taken during the surgery and sending or transporting them to the lab for testing. They monitor the patient to ensure he’s ready to move to the recovery area and also apply dressings and bandages to the incision site and any wounds. In addition, they clean and sterilize the operating room and all equipment and tools, dispose of used items and medical waste, and restock the O.R., so it’s ready for the next procedure.