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What does a theatre nurse and how to become one in the UK?

A scrubbed theatre nurse preps for surgery inside the operating room.

What is a theatre nurse and how do I become one in the UK?

If you already have a successful career in nursing in the UK and are seeking more specialised nursing jobs, a theatre nurse position is something you should consider. Patients who undergo surgery require special care, as they may feel anxious and experience extreme pain. A theatre nurse is a medical practitioner who cares for patients of all ages prior to, during, and after a major surgery to aid in their recovery. A theatre nurse usually works in hospitals but can also find jobs at clinics or as part of emergency transportation services in the UK. 

In this article, we explain what a theatre nurse is in the UK, their key responsibilities and skills, and the four phases of theatre nursing to help you decide if this is the right career choice

What is a theatre nurse? 

A theatre nurse, also known as a scrub nurse, operating theatre nurse, surgical nurse, or operating room nurse, is a healthcare professional whose role concentrates on providing perioperative patient care as well as acting as an assistant for the surgeon and medical team during surgeries. They assist patients throughout their entire stay at the hospital. They typically operate in hospital operating rooms and anaesthetic or recovery wards, but they can also interact with patients who have undergone procedures in general wards, clinics, or other specialised settings such as cardiac catheterisation units. 

A theatre nurse is an essential link between healthcare providers, surgeons, and patients. They help the patients understand the operation and assist them in their decision-making. These nurses work swiftly to give exceptional patient care while also keeping the operating area clean and neat. 

What are the four phases of theatre nursing in the UK? 

Theatre nurses may assist with a number of jobs and responsibilities, including but not limited to: 

1. Preoperative phase: 

This is the phase where a theatre nurse informs a patient about their procedure. They communicate the benefits of the operation and any medical risks associated with it, and they answer all the patient's queries. During this phase, the nurse's key responsibility is to ensure that patients are ready for surgery, both emotionally and physically. 

2. Anaesthetic phase: 

As part of the anaesthetic stage, a theatre nurse supports the anaesthetist with any tasks and preparations. They prepare any necessary tools, equipment, or medication, and monitoring the patient's vitals ahead of the operations. 

3. Surgical phase: 

This is the stage at which the surgical treatment is carried out. During this stage, theatre nurses assist in the preparation of instruments and equipment such as scalpels, swabs, and sutures. They are also in charge of ensuring that all of the required supplies are available in the operation room. When necessary, nursing professionals work as a liaison between the surgical team and hospital personnel, as well as the patient's family. 

4. Recovery phase: 

Following the operation, a theatre nurse monitors the patient's vitals, gives them medication that surgeons prescribe, and helps patients recover from the effects of the anaesthesia. They also provide additional care throughout the recovery time, such as medicine administration, vital sign monitoring, and documentation of the patient's health. Theatre nurses also evaluate patients to determine when they can be discharged from the hospital.  

What are the duties and responsibilities of a theatre nurse in the UK? 

There are several duties and responsibilities a theatre nurse is expected to fulfil in the UK, including:

1. Preparing the patients for surgery by disinfecting the correct areas of the body. 

2. Stocking the operation theatre with the necessary equipment and supplies required for surgery. 

3. Sterilising the equipment and operating room ahead of the surgery. 

4. Assisting surgeons during surgical procedures. 

5. Providing care for the patient's recovery. 

6. Working with the surgical team to establish medication and post-surgery care. 

7. Patient record-keeping

8. Cleaning the operating room after the surgery and disposing of medical waste.  

What are the key skills required for a theatre nurse in the UK? 

A theatre nurse in the UK must have specific understanding of surgical procedures and equipment in addition to basic nursing skills. Other skills useful for working in this nursing job include: 

1. Organisation and prioritisation: 

These are two of the most important skills a theatre nurse should possess. Although most of the operations are scheduled, there are times when they have to perform emergency procedures, and when that happens, it is important that the nurses can recognise their tasks and time to be able to assist during the operations. In order to do the task well, it becomes important to learn to delegate assignments. 

2. Attention to detail: 

As a theatre nurse, it's imperative to have strong attention to detail, as their role is to ensure that the surgical team has everything necessary to perform the surgery safely, including ordering supplies and disinfecting surgical tools and equipment. Therefore, their reliance on a deep understanding of operational procedures, safety protocols, and patient care becomes imperative. 

3. Concentration and stamina: 

Theatre nurses may support surgeons during lengthy surgeries. To ensure they can maintain their focus for an extended period, it is important to have good physical stamina. A theatre nurse can develop this skill by going to the gym or training at home. This also helps them make sure they can stand still throughout a procedure. 

4. Empathy and compassion: 

In addition to assisting during surgeries, theatre nurses also work closely with patients. Empathy and compassion help nurses support patients' speedy recovery and make them feel comfortable during their stay in the hospital. Theatre nurses also use these skills while discussing the risks and effects of the operation with patients and answering any questions put forth by the them or their families. 

5. Interpersonal and communication skills: 

Theatre nurses, on a daily basis, interact with patients, surgeons, physicians, and anaesthetists. Strong verbal and written communication skills will help them comprehend what the surgical team wants from them during procedures. It also enables them to appropriately fill out patient charts following surgeries and throughout recovery. 

Apart from the aforementioned skills, nurses will need to be able to prioritise effectively, be highly organised, and be flexible. This nursing job will also test a nurse's ability to work in an emergency, and they must be able to work in a cramped space for a long time. 

How do I become an theatre nurse in the UK? 

The most basic need for a theatre nursing employment in the UK is to be a registered adult, child, mental health, or learning disability nurse or healthcare worker. After the hiring process and induction phase are completed, a nurse will be provided with specialised training that includes courses to consolidate all the skills that will be required to assist in an operation theatre in the UK. 

There are various programmes available to aspiring theatre nurses in the UK. This covers professional diplomas of higher education (DipHE) and university postgraduate courses. Depending on their employment situation, nurses can decide to study part-time or full-time. 

If you intend to hire registered agency nurses in the UK, then look no further than Nurses Group, the nation's leading nursing staffing agency. 

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