Last week, I attended the Association of periOperative Nurses (AORN) Annual Congress in Denver, CO. This was the second annual AORN Congress and I concluded it’s one of my favorite shows of the year to attend. The vibe in general on the exhibit floor always seems upbeat and positive, with nurses walking around learning about new technology—some decked out in their green boas and four-leaf clover gear (naturally, as the show always falls on or around St. Patrick’s Day.)
However, this year, I had one conversation that only enhanced my appreciation for OR staff members and the jobs they do. I was attending a reception following a media event for one the vendors at the show, and happened to share a table with a woman who worked as an OR Director. She was attending Congress with a few of her nursing colleagues both from her hospital and neighboring facilities.
As we made small talk about the show, it struck me when she said that she was attending the meeting on her own dime. Her facility had not paid for her to come to the meeting to take courses and learn about new technology, but she wanted to come to see what was new in the market. She could put the courses she toward her certification. And, she had made a little vacation out of it—she and some of her friends had flown in a bit early and spent some time in the mountains. Still, I was struck by her dedication to pay her own way to the show, and it reinforced her and her colleagues’ dedication to the job that OR staff members do.
It had me thinking about how a career as an OR professional is not just another job—it’s a commitment. In order to be successful as an OR nurse, director, surgeon, etc., one needs to truly be committed to the cause. It’s certainly not a job that can be taken lightly. The responsibility is tremendous—you are accountable for surgical patients' lives.
Because of this responsibility and the level of dedication the job requires, it’s not difficult to see how burnout among surgical professionals can occur. A day in the life of an OR nurse, for example, can be extremely stressful. Aside from the sheer responsibility of caring for surgical patients, tightening hospital budgets are forcing nurses to care for more patients at one time.
In fact, a 2007 article  in Intensive Care Medicine journal reported that in a 20-bed surgical ICU in a university hospital, nearly 1/3 of nurses and nurses assistants showed a high level of burnout. Furthermore, research has shown that burnout among surgeons and surgical staff can increase the risk of surgical errors.
A 2002 study published in JAMA found that in hospitals with a high patient-to-nurse ratio, surgical patients experience higher risk-adjusted 30-day mortality and failure-to-rescue rates, and nurses are more likely to experience burnout and job dissatisfaction.
I admit that I was always aware of the dedication it took for surgical staff to do their jobs, but after my conversation with the OR director, my appreciation was renewed. In an environment like the OR suite, where the stakes are high and the expectations are higher, it’s nice to know that OR nurses and directors—like the nice woman I met at AORN—are not taking their jobs lightly. They remain dedicated to the cause in order to keep their patients safe—even if it means it is dedication on their own dime.
Did you attend AORN? How did it go? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org