Skip to main content

5 Tips for Operating Room Nurses

Kari was an operating room nurse for 25 years before she retired. Uplifting quotes are always wanted, and Kari collects them.

Advice from an OR nurse

Advice from an OR nurse

What Makes a Good Operating Room Nurse?

Proverbs are concise sayings or axioms containing wisdom and common truths used in specific situations. These adages show that others have been in this same situation and survived. We have a few in the operating room that are short, sweet, and to the point.

Time is money in most businesses, but in an operating room, time is life. Aside from the obvious goal of a successful surgical outcome, the goal is to do every possible thing to decrease the patient's time under anesthesia. While other businesses count time in hours or days, operating room personnel count time in seconds. A three-minute wait is considered an eternity—even 30 seconds is a long time. Thus, we have certain proverbs to live our days by.

1. Better to Have It and Not Need It Than to Need It and Not Have It

Operating room nurses like to be prepared. You need to have everything you, the surgical team, or the anesthesiologist may need available. During surgery is not the time to be running around looking for things. One of the traits of a good circulating nurse is being prepared for almost any eventuality.

Things happen in surgery, but with experience, you learn to be proactive in your preparedness. Knowing the significant lab and test results, the history of the patient, the disease progression, and the surgeon's preferences will give the nurse valuable information. The surgical procedure takes less time when the circulating nurse is prepared.

I have been told several hundred times in my life, "We probably won't need that." The statement is true about 50% of the time. But to save the three minutes during the other 50% of the time, I will have it available. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

2. Perfect Is the Enemy of Good

I know you thought good and perfect were on the same side—standing there in the lineup of values side by side. We can judge our performance as bad, poor, good, or perfect. How then did perfect become the enemy of good? Maybe it is the enemy of bad or poor, but good and perfect are on the same side of the continuum.

Not so in surgery. In surgery, perfect may be the in-road for poor or bad. Good is good, but to continue to try for perfect takes too much time and often makes things worse. Usually, a person comes into the operating room in some state of bad. Changing the bad to good is a great improvement. Mucking around looking for perfect can be deadly.

3. Sooner Begun, Sooner Done, Sooner Lunch Time Comes

Occasionally, a surgery will be canceled one or two days before it is scheduled. When this happens, we have to move someone up into that spot. People often tend to dig their heels in at this late date. Little changes become major issues.

Having surgery takes a great deal of preparation. You have to get time off from work. You have to find someone to drive you and take care of you after. You have to be mentally prepared. Now, suddenly someone is asking you to change your plans. You have to make sure the person driving you can change the time. More importantly, you suddenly have less time before the knife cuts!

This is when I say, "Sooner begun, sooner done, sooner lunch time comes." If you have ever had surgery, you know that you cannot have anything to eat or drink for hours before. This is very difficult for children and older individuals. The sooner in the day you can go, the sooner you can have something to eat and drink.

4. Better to Be Lucky Than Good

Sometimes in surgery, goodwill only takes you so far. At times, you need all your skill, dexterity, experience, and, yes, luck. Most people in an OR can be pretty superstitious about some things. One of these is bragging. We know Murphy's Law all too well: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." And we all know that saying how well everything is going will tempt fate to bring on Murphy's law. That is why we don't say how good we are; we just leave it at the old adage: "Better to be lucky than good."

Whatever may go wrong, will go wrong.

Whatever may go wrong, will go wrong.

5. All Bleeding Stops Eventually

You can also say, "Everything ends eventually." Although this may seem like a very morbid thought, it is often enough to diffuse a tense situation. Frustration and stress cut down on your ability to think clearly and make sound decisions. In the operating room, we use humor, often morbidly, to relieve stress and frustration. Of course, timing is everything!

The Surgical World

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of surgery. It is often stressful, always challenging, but mostly rewarding. You learn to think on your feet, bend with the wind, and have the skin of an elephant. It is the one place in nursing that you either love completely or refuse to put up with.

Scroll to Continue

Read More From Healthproadvice

For more information on OR nursing:

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2009 Kari Poulsen


Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on December 01, 2014:

Very True...Thank you all!!!!

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on December 01, 2014:

I absolutely cringed at "we're almost done"...many hours usually follow this statement in my life. LOL

Mike on March 16, 2013:

Great read, but you should give your CST some credit for making sure you have everything you need for the case.

RosalieTuomey on April 20, 2011:

Very interesting hub! Thank goodness for surgical nurses and doctors. We don't like surgery......but when you need want good people.

Christopher Floyd from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. on March 24, 2011:

I don't know if it qualifies as an operating room saying, but I always hated hearing, "We're almost done." and "Chris, how you doing? We want to try that again."

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on August 06, 2009:

RN, not the opposite, most often the enemy! lol Although, keep it by your desk.. :D

RN4081 on August 05, 2009:

I like the expression about perfection being the opposite of good. This is one I'm going to sticky note to my monitor. Too often I try so hard to be perfect that I dilute all my creative and spontaneity. Another great hub. Thanks so much!

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on May 20, 2009:

joe, many can translate into everyday lives...thanks for reading!

Joe Cseko jr from New York, USA, Earth on May 20, 2009:

Quite prolific- an interesting read. Many profound points here can translate into our everyday lives.

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on May 17, 2009:

Benji, Let me know what she says...I'll be interested to see how far-ranging these are.

Benji Mester from San Diego, California on May 17, 2009:

Those are some good proverbs. My aunt is a surgical nurse and she tells me all about the strange happenings that go on in her workplace. I'll have to ask her if she knows any of those quotes.

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on May 16, 2009:

ripplemaker, I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for adding it to your collection! We pray all bleeding stops, also...but we prefer it is before "eventually". LOL

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on May 15, 2009:

Yippeee I discovered another treasure here and have added it again in my largest collectionof quotes on hubpages! Many, many thanks for writing!

Surgeries scare me...yes I do pray all bleeding stops...eventually! :-)

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on May 15, 2009:

Haunty, You would never want to hear our secrets! I forgot one of the most important sayings..."Never say Oooppps". We put you to sleep so that you never hear ooopppps. LOL, just kidding. :D

Haunty from Hungary on May 14, 2009:

I now know why anaesthetists put us to sleep on that table. So that we can't hear their secrets.

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on May 13, 2009:

Hawkesdream, That saying can cross many professions. It's my number one favorite!!

Haunty, To be truly beautiful, there must be a flaw. The flaw is what magnifies the beauty. The enemy of good is perfect...sometimes it takes great wisdom to know that good is good enough! Thank you so much for being here! I am glad that it helped you to understand. We are truly strange people, but good (for the most part) :D

Haunty from Hungary on May 13, 2009:

This attitude is so typical of medical people. I often sense it when I'm with some friends who are nurses or doctors. Trully, this is the only reason why I love to be in a hospital. My personal favorite is perfect is the enemy of good, because somhow I always had this same thought that beautiful things are never perfect.

I love the insights you gave. It makes me better understand my friends. Thanks.

Al Hawkes from Cornwall on May 13, 2009:

Sooner begun, sooner done, seems the way to be, bring on breakfast lol

Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on May 11, 2009:

christine, One of my personal favorites also. I've been known to say it a time or two when my opinion is sought. :)

Men AD, LOL, that is the thought behind the saying. We have odd senses of humor sometimes!

Teresa, I am very sorry to hear that! It is a great fear of most people, and can be extremely traumatic.

Nanny, Years ago I worked with an anesthesiologist who took the mask off, sat the kid on my lap and free flowed the gas into their (and to some extent my) face. I would have such a head ache when we were done!

I use the better to have it saying at least once daily. Always if you have something and don't end up needing it you have to put it back. People don't like that extra step, but having it can make all the difference in surgery!

Nanny J.O.A.T. from Somewhere over the rainbow on May 11, 2009:

Ugh Theresa - you just reminded me of having my tonsils out- DO NOT fool the nurses into thinking you are already asleep from the shot- the mask is worse! 35 years later and I can still remember the awful taste of the gas they used. SHUDDER!!!!!

I personally like better to have it than not need it.  Great thoughts in this hub!

Sheila from The Other Bangor on May 11, 2009:

I once came to in an OR. I'd rather not.

men are dorks from Namibia on May 11, 2009:

All bleeding stops eventually... and death intervenes literaly and figuratively, aint it...

christine almaraz from colorado springs on May 11, 2009:

Great hub! My fav is "the enemy of good is perfect."

Related Articles