Thoughts from a small animal surgical nurse

May 4, 2020

There are a million things to keep track of in this fast-paced position—all while keeping your patients alive and comfortable.

Being a surgical nurse in a small animal practice is much more than the technical aspects of the job. It also involves caring for patients, clients, surgeons, teammates and yourself. Our surgical patients are usually pets that we have been caring for already and know well. You don’t connect only with your patients. Just as often, you connect with their owners to provide reassurance, sympathy, familiarity and confidence that their pet is receiving the best possible care.

But not every procedure is routine, and you can’t guarantee there won’t be risks with the various types of surgeries performed. With orthopedic surgery, for example, the primary concern is the weeks of at-home postoperative care and how the clients will adjust their daily life around their pet’s recovery. For emergency surgeries, where emotions often run high, detail and precision are imperative. Life-altering procedures, such as amputations or enucleations, also involve elevated emotions as well as concerns that must be addressed regarding the patient’s physical disability.

The scrub technician’s checklist

Then there are the technical aspects and making sure all the boxes have been checked off before surgery can proceed, from the exam and bloodwork to scheduling the day’s procedures, and on and on.

Before surgery, you need to ask yourself many questions: Is the right patient going under for the right surgery? Has the best anesthetic protocol for this individual patient been formulated? Is the patient is properly prepped for the procedure? Are the proper surgical supplies sterile and ready? Do you have all the supplies the doctor may want or need? Is the table set to the right height? Are the lights placed in the doctor’s preferred position?

During surgery, you must keep your patient at the safest and best anesthetic depth while paying close attention to your surgeon’s needs. If applicable, you must make sure you mark the right specimen to the right patient, and then send the right specimen to the right lab for the right test.

After the procedure, you must also ensure that the patients’ pain is being managed to the best of your ability. One of the primary concerns of a surgical nurse should be ensuring that you are providing the best possible pain management. Proper pain management is not only important for the patient during and directly after the procedure, but it’s equally important for the owner to feel their pet is pain free during recovery.

At the end of the day

When the surgery is complete and the patient has recovered, you then reunite animal and owner. When all the stars align, the patient walks out sleepy but comfortable and the owner’s worries start to melt away. Not every day ends so nicely, of course, or even starts nicely. There are days when nothing goes as planned, or for whatever reason you or a coworker is having an off day. This profession is an emotional rollercoaster. As a surgical nurse, you are everything, and the only way to be everything is to have an amazing team of people you trust to support you and keep you smiling, and who enjoy all gross things you’re not allowed to talk about at the dinner table.

Ms. Bowdish is a surgery technician at Upper Arlington Veterinary Hospital in Upper Arlington, Ohio.

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