If OR etiquette represents a code of conduct—respect, communication, shared mental model, and teamwork—then manners represent the behaviors that embody this code of behavior. These seem like simple rules that should have been learned at an early age, but a few pointers will go a long way toward integrating junior residents and students into the OR team.
1. Be polite.
2. Be respectful.
3. Be humble.
4. Learn everyone’s name.
5. Offer help without being asked.
6. Ask for help when needed.
7. Thank your colleagues.
8. Keep the patient at the center of all you do.
Rude, disruptive, or disrespectful behavior is not tolerated. Do not yell or make sarcastic comments. Do not make jokes with sexual or racial themes. Do not gossip or denigrate others. Many surgeons enjoy listening to music in the operating room, but in choosing a playlist, be aware that some music may have offensive lyrics that should not be played in the workplace. It is most polite to ask before playing music and to check in with music preferences, as not everyone in the OR may appreciate loud death metal. Music should be turned off during critical times such as the initial time-out. Surgeons use social media like many others, but the OR is not the place to check Facebook or Instagram. When posting to social media, be professional—anything posted to the Internet can be screen captured and spread, no matter what privacy settings you may have turned on. A recent study of publicly accessible Facebook posts showed 14.1% of surgery residents had posted potentially unprofessional content, and 12.2% had clearly unprofessional content, with violations of patient privacy being one of the most common problems, along with description of binge drinking and racially or sexually offensive material. Specific to the OR, be aware that social media postings with potentially identified patient information are absolutely forbidden. This does not need to include a name of a patient to be identifiable information—a few details of a particularly unique case and a timestamped posting can be enough to cause trouble.
Feedback has gained an increasingly important role in surgical education. Feedback may be summative and/or formative. Summative feedback is often given at discrete time points such as the end of a rotation and is a culmination of observations of performance. Formative feedback involves an ongoing assessment of skills or knowledge and may be given throughout an education experience. There is an often misunderstood distinction between teaching and feedback. As an example, teaching is when the attending surgeon corrects the resident’s needle angle during a bowel anastomosis. Feedback is when the attending surgeon and resident meet after the case and discuss performance—either technical or nontechnical. For example, a feedback session might discuss room setup, efficiency, technical maneuvers, and communication. Giving and receiving feedback are distinct skills that require both parties to be attentive and open. To facilitate this process, several methods have been described that turn feedback into an active process for both parties. Ideally, the mentor and the trainee have a briefing prior to the case in order to set learning objectives and then formally debrief after the case to discuss how well the learning objectives were met as well as ways to improve this in the future. In the press of clinical concerns and the drive toward efficiency, the debrief session is often skipped or missed. It is incumbent on the learner, therefore, to specifically seek out and ask the attending surgeon for feedback and if necessary to schedule formal meeting times. It is also important for feedback to flow both ways, and the attending surgeon should ask for feedback from the residents as well. A good methodology for providing feedback is to ask an open-ended question such as “How did you think that operation went?” Which can be followed with “What went well?” and “What could have gone better?” This allows the person providing feedback with a baseline to start from and allow for self-reflection on the part of the learner. This can be followed with specific feedback about one to two actionable items, preferably relating back to the goals stated during the initial briefing.
Although the OR may seem like a highly regimented environment, each member of the surgical team will serve as both a “leader” and a “follower” at different points during the operation. This includes everyone from the most senior attending surgeon to the most junior medical student. Within the OR, the surgical attending has ultimate responsibility for the patient. However, surgical residents will often act as leaders to junior residents and medical students. In the setting of “progressive autonomy” for surgical trainees, the attending surgeon may also formally or informally cede control of the case to the resident or fellow and may take a follower role him or herself. In fact, more often than not, the surgical attending will assist a senior resident through a case, rather than perform the operation with the resident’s assistance. In the OR, the team leader is responsible for setting the tone. It is up to the leader to make sure that all team members have a shared understanding of how the day will proceed as well as any potential problems that may arise. In many cases, the surgical attending does not arrive to the OR until the patient has arrived, been intubated, and prepped and draped. In this case, it is up to the senior-most resident to lead the team. A resident who arrives early, completes the surgical timeout in a thorough but efficient manner, and moves the room forward is much more effective than one who arrives late or is not familiar with the patient or the case. While an extensive discussion of successful leadership traits is outside of the realm of this chapter, in general a good leader is one who outlines a clear vision of the work that needs to be accomplished while also empowering those around them to take ownership over their individual work. While leadership is a commonly discussed topic, what is less commonly discussed is the importance of “followership.” While there are several different descriptions of the various types of “followers” on any given team, many focus on a spectrum from passive to active and from dependent, uncritical thinking to independent, critical thinking. Compared to the field of leadership, the study of followership is relatively new, but it is generally agreed that effective followers are those who are paying attention to what is going on around them, taking an active interest in the process, and questioning or challenging leadership or the status quo when necessary. This last point is especially critical. In the OR, being a good follower is a crucial component to maintaining patient safety as it is incumbent upon the followers (including residents, medical students, nursing staff, and all other participants) to speak up if they notice that something is going wrong or that the environment has become unsafe. Especially for more junior members of the team, it can be intimidating to alert the attending that he or she may be making a mistake or misjudging the situation. However, it is important to remember that such actions, when carried out with tact and respect, are in the best interest of the patient and may actually prevent serious harm from occurring.
One of the most important determinants of a successful operation is ongoing effective communication between all members of the surgical team. The goal is for each member of the team to have a common understanding about the patient, the proposed operation, and the expected flow of the case—the “shared mental model.” One of the most common communication tools used in this setting is the surgical pause or “time-out.” While many institutions use a time-out, many of these are unstructured and therefore miss an opportunity to ingrain a culture of communication. In order to combat this, we strongly recommend using a structured and formalized checklist as part of the surgical pause. The prototype for this type of structured process is the World Health Organization Surgical Safety Checklist. The Surgical Safety Checklist, introduced in 2008, is a 19-point checklist to be used at 3 time points—immediately when the patient enters the operating room (prior to induction of anesthesia), just before the skin incision and just before the patient leaves the operating room. The checklist was tested in eight cities throughout the world to test its impact on patient morbidity and mortality. In a before-after study design, the investigators found that implementation of the checklist was associated with a significant reduction in mortality rate (1.5% vs. 0.8%, p < 0.01) and inpatient complications (11.0% vs. 7.0%, p < 0.01). While the checklist has largely been heralded as a success, some critics have asserted that it is not the checklist itself that reduces complications but rather the fact that the checklist provides an opportunity for the team to come together and discuss critical elements that are not to be missed. It is our opinion that it does not matter how the checklist works, only that it does.
Several additional studies have shown other benefits to introduction of a formalized checklist, including reduced mortality, morbidity, and hospital length of stay as demonstrated in a recent randomized controlled study that showed reduction in complications from 19.9% to 11.5% with introduction of the checklist. Despite this, some other studies of surgical checklists have shown no improvement in outcomes. This seems to be due to implementation issues, with wide variations in implementation between institutions and even between different specialties within an institution, with suboptimal implementation being common. Institutions who adopt a checklist in name only, but whose team members ignore or minimize the process, are unlikely to reap the benefits. On the other hand, institutions that develop a strong culture of safety with robust and mandatory implementation will see better results. This speaks to the importance of the etiquette of the OR—the code of conduct that regulates our actions. In order to derive the most benefit from the surgical safety checklist, all team members must be present and actively engaged in the process. Music should be turned off, side conversations stopped, and all attention should be focused on the checklist items and how they relate to the patient. Typically it is the role of the surgical attending, fellow, or resident to lead the checklist. As the designated leader, it is important to review and discuss each individual item on the checklist. This includes ensuring that every team member has introduced themselves and making it clear that all individuals in the OR are empowered to speak up if they become aware of a potentially unsafe situation. The checklist can be modified by individual hospitals or services to include relevant items specific to their patient population. For example, if a specific surgical team has additional items that must not be forgotten (e.g., processes regarding cardiopulmonary bypass in cardiac surgery), this can be included. Many checklists also include a debriefing section for use at the end of the case including items such as specimen processing, communication with the patient’s family, and who will accompany the patient to the postanesthesia or intensive care unit.
“Analysis of medical errors has shown that more than two-thirds involve issues of team communication, and these are contributed to by issues of institutional and team culture. These errors can include missed communication, inaccurate communication, or inability or unwillingness of team members to speak up—all of which can be related to the culture of a team or institution and which are dramatically affected based on the tone and climate set by surgeon leaders, both in and out of the operating room. Every team and institution have a “safety culture”—the attitudes, behaviors, and expectations that affect patient outcomes for good or for ill. There is increasing evidence that this safety culture directly affects both morbidity and mortality. For example, in a study of 31 hospitals in South Carolina, institutional safety culture was directly related to patient death. For every 1-point change (on a 7-point scale) in the hospital-level scores for respect, clinical leadership, and assertiveness, 30-day mortality after surgery decreased from 29% to 14%. In another example, measures of safety culture across 22 hospitals in Michigan directly predicted patient outcomes after bariatric surgery. In that study, when nurses rated coordination of OR teams as acceptable, rather than excellent, serious complications were 22% more likely.
The Operating Room Team
The act of surgery is inherently team-based. Each operation requires the surgeon to work closely and effectively with their assistants, anesthesia providers, nursing staff, surgical technologists, and ancillary staff members to make the OR function. Team members frequently move in and out of the OR, with change of shift or for breaks, and additional team members may be required for specialty or emergency care. The key is to remember that the patient is at the center of the team, thus the phrase “patient-centered care.” Always keep in mind that patient safety and well-being are at the heart of all our efforts. It is especially important that all members of the team have a “shared mental model”—a common understanding of the issues, both medical and logistical, which might affect the course of an operation. This allows for improved efficiency, better situational awareness, and better ability to recognize and respond to issues. Here we describe the individuals commonly encountered in the operating room.
Every surgical team will consist of an attending surgeon, usually accompanied by one or more assistants. In the learning environment, it is important for the surgeons to discuss roles and responsibilities as well as educational goals for the case, which may vary depending on the level of training and experience of the team members. An important concept in surgical education is “progressive autonomy,” in which learners are allowed to take on more and more responsibility in an operation based on their level of competency. A preoperative discussion between the surgeon and the resident is critical to clear understanding of which parts of the operation the learner can be expected to perform and when the attending might need to take control of the case. It is the responsibility of every member of the surgeon’s team to review the patient’s case in detail to understand their past medical and surgical history, their current disease and how it has been managed to date, relevant medications, and review of all diagnostic studies to anticipate difficulties that may be encountered during the operation. Secondarily, it is incumbent on each member to discuss the case with other members of the team to ensure that all individuals have a shared mental model of the operative plan, the postoperative plan, and any anticipated difficulties. During the operation, the patient is the focus of the team. Each individual is expected to do their part to advance the operation while helping other team members to do the same. Following the operation, it is important to discuss postoperative care such as pain management, dietary restrictions, venous thromboembolism prophylaxis, and the need for new or existing prescription medications.
Scrub Nurse and Circulator
Working closely with every surgical team is the surgical technologist or scrub nurse, often referred to as the “scrub.” This individual will have various levels of training depending on their background—he or she may be a certified surgical technician or a nurse with extra training. The scrub is an integral part of the team as they are responsible for ensuring that all necessary equipment is open or readily available prior to the case starting, anticipating the needs of the surgeon to maximize efficiency, and troubleshooting when there are equipment problems or failures. Depending on the scope of practice as defined by state law and regulations, the scrub may or may not be authorized to assist with limited surgical tasks. It is the responsibility of the surgeon (or surgical resident in their place) to meet with the scrub ahead of time, confirm that all necessary equipment is available, and confirm this during the surgical pause or “time-out.” Doing so will foster a collegial environment while also helping the case run more smoothly. The circulator is typically a nurse by training who is responsible for maintaining the flow of the OR, while the surgeons are sterilely gowned and gloved. It is important (especially for new residents) to introduce yourself to the circulator to open the flow of communication for the day and to give them a baseline understanding of your skill level so that they can assist you as necessary. For example, the circulator may pay extra close attention to the medical student as they don their sterile gown and glove to ensure that they do not break the sterile field. Throughout the case, the circulator works to maintain the flow of the OR. As such, the circulator is not always available to assist in tasks not related to the direct care of the patient.
The Anesthesia Team
Without the anesthesia team, the surgeon cannot operate. The anesthesia team consists of either an attending anesthesiologist who is present for the duration of the case or an anesthesia resident or certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) who is supervised by an attending anesthesiologist who may be overseeing several operations at once. In some states, depending on state law, a CRNA can also practice independently. The anesthesia provider is often helped by an anesthesia technician, much like the surgeon is helped by a surgical technician. The anesthesia team is responsible for providing pain control and sedation, managing the airway, medical and fluid management throughout the case, and monitoring the patient for any physiologic derangements that may or may not be related to the operation at hand. They should meet the patient ahead of time to evaluate for any risk factors such as underlying cardiovascular or pulmonary disease. Communication with the anesthesia team is critical for maintaining the safety and well-being of the patient. One of the most important tools to promote this communication is the surgical pause or “time-out”. Throughout the case, the surgical team must also alert the anesthesia team if they anticipate significant hemodynamic changes for the patient. This can range from events as common as insufflation of pneumoperitoneum during a laparoscopic operation to more uncommon events such as unexpected, significant hemorrhage. Conversely, it is imperative that the anesthesia team communicates with the surgeon about any significant changes in hemodynamic status or about other issues that may impact patient care. Finally, it is important to debrief with anesthesia at the end of the case, to ensure that all members of the team have the same situational awareness and understanding of the patient’s intraoperative course and postoperative plan. This includes issues such as fluid and electrolyte management, expected or potential postoperative issues, and a plan for pain management.
“NON-TECHNICAL SKILLS FOR SURGEONS (NOTTS) was developed by a team in Scotland at the University of Aberdeen and funded by the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and NHS Education for Scotland; lead investigator Steven Yule, PhD, was a part of this team and now brings his experience and expertise to the United States with the Non-Technical Skills Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. NOTSS was developed from the bottom up with a panel of subject matter experts (consultant/attending surgeons/psychologists) in place of adapting an existing framework employed by other industries. The aim of the NOTSS project was to develop and test an educational system for assessment and training based on observable behavioral skills in the intraoperative phase of surgery (Yule et al. Surg Clin N Am 2012;92:37-50).
THE NOTSS SYSTEM
was written in surgical language for trained surgeons to observe, rate, and provide feedback on non-technical skills in a structured manner (Yule et al. Surg Clin N Am 2012;92:37-50). The NOTSS taxonomy is broken down into four distinct categories of non-technical skill: Situation Awareness, Decision Making, Communication and Teamwork, and Leadership (Yule et al. World J Surg 2008;32:548-556), each with associated elements. Good and poor behaviors were carefully written for each element. The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh also provide resources for training non-technical skills. Click Here!“
|Fundamentals of Acceptable|
Behavior in the Operating Room
“As much as the culture and practice of surgery have changed and evolved over the last several hundred years, it remains true that the operating room (OR) can be an intimating place for medical students or junior residents. In the past, surgeons have often had the reputation of being arrogant or demeaning, with frequent stories akin to hazing of junior residents in the OR, or of impulsive, disruptive behavior aimed at team members such as nursing staff, anesthesia team, and support personnel. In fact, this type of “old-school” behavior is no longer acceptable, for many reasons. The OR is a special place, but it is still in the end a workplace, and workplace norms of mutual respect and polite behavior must apply. In the modern era, it is clear that surgeons must work in a respectful and collaborative fashion with all members of the patient care team. It is incumbent on the surgeon to create an atmosphere of mutual respect, trust, and communication. This is often called “OR etiquette,” as etiquette is defined as a code of conduct among a group or professionals that should dictate how we act and work with others. This is related to but distinct from manners—which are behaviors (good or bad) that reflect our attitude toward others. Etiquette, therefore, creates the structure within which manners exist.”