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Team theme

Operating room nurses celebrate success and the importance of collaboration. 

Teamwork is being put into the spotlight in the surgical wards.

The Australian College of Operating Room Nurses (ACORN) is encouraging perioperative staff to celebrate the work they do and their relationships with coworkers during Perioperative Nurses Week.

“Teamwork is integral to working within the perioperative setting,” ACORN president Ruth Melville says. “We all have to work together for the best patient outcomes.”

She says it is also a fundamental part of ACORN’s spirit statement, so it’s fitting for this year’s Perioperative Nurses Week theme. The celebrations will run October 12–19. ACORN is asking nurses in operating suites to reflect on teamwork and produce a poster that depicts this, to be displayed in the workplace and forwarded to the organisation.

“The week involves celebrations within the perioperative environment of the success of nurses and what they do,” Melville says. “Sometimes, perioperative nurses can be invisible because we’re a little bit behind those closed doors. We like to open up the doors and celebrate the success of what we do because our job is so critical to perioperative patients. We are proud of our achievements and should feel privileged to care for our patients. They come into this unknown setting anesthetised and they’re vulnerable to everything that happens.”

When it comes to ensuring a perioperative team is working well together, Melville says introductions are an important first step. “We make sure we know everybody in that team, we introduce ourselves so we’re comfortable to speak up when things go wrong or make sure we’re all speaking up for the patient,” she says. “Part of knowing each is other is that we break down that barrier so we’re happy to be included in the communication as part of that teamwork.

“The Surgical Safety Checklist has enhanced teamwork and collaboration and our communication with one another,” she says. “Working on our communication and enhancing our communication will only improve our teamwork.”

ACORN Victorian director and honorary secretary Carollyn Williams says, “Nurses can improve their teamwork through education, practical team building activities, review and reflection on work practices, and evaluation of incidents or situations when teamwork was lacking.”

Williams says nurses should focus on communication, inclusiveness, information sharing and education.

“The operating suite environment requires nurses, surgeons, anesthetists and [other staff] to come together,” she explains. “Additionally, the operating suite team must work collaboratively with other departments – such as sterilising units, surgical units, medical imaging departments and pathology departments – to provide services to the suite.”

Western Australia director of ACORN Cath Scott says a collaborative effort involves all staff working together to ensure the patients feel safe, assured and confident. “It’s not just about the perioperative environment,” Scott says. “The patient is on a journey that begins at admission and ends with discharge. But the perioperative environment is an unknown for most people and can cause great anxiety for patients in our care.

“Perioperative nurses are a crucial part of the team. Our role is to support those patients, who are so vulnerable at this time. We also support and work with the operating team to ensure that patients receive the best care during the perioperative phase and with the wider hospital community, ensuring continuity of care until discharge.”

Perioperative nurses are leaders, teachers, technicians and carers, Scott says, adding they cannot function as a single entity.

“They are part of a team,” Scott explains. “The team that works together develops an increased level of bonding. They are working towards a common goal, so conflict and indecision are eliminated when effective teams are working together. Support for one another is just as important as support for the patient.

“Each person has individual qualities they can bring to the team and each will contribute a different component. It may be as simple as recognising the skills of an individual in a particular specialty and using their skills to enhance the knowledge of others. Or it could be as definitive as pre-operative visits to engage the patients in planning for their episode of care.”

She says it is about clinical handover, meetings, sharing knowledge and experience, working with others towards a common goal and recognising a better way to do things.

Scott urges perioperative nurses to have pride in their role within the team. “Be proud of their contribution and be proactive as part of that team. Be proud that you work with others to ensure that patients are safe in your care. Be proud that … teamwork allows you to achieve so much more in terms of our own goals as well as those of the wider perioperative community,” she says.

For recipients of its Awards for Excellence, ACORN was looking for people with solid working relationships and good communication skills.

As Melville says, “We’re looking at people who have contributed within the perioperative setting and who are good communicators at all levels but also contribute to and enhance that teamwork approach.”

Sharon Harding, a clinical nurse consultant perioperative, brings those qualities in spades. Harding was nominated for the ACORN Award for Excellence in Perioperative Nursing. Melville says she made a large contribution to the success of ACORN’s association in the Northern Territory.

Harding’s colleagues at Royal Darwin Hospital nominated her. She oversees all surgical specialties at the hospital apart from anesthetics and recovery and says teamwork is a crucial part of what she does.

Harding says good teamwork can have a flow-on effect into all other areas of perioperative nursing. With professionals involved in many different domains, including the anesthetic and surgical cohorts and orthopods, it is important that everyone has an understanding of the patient’s journey.

Clear communication and respect for one another and all points of view are important when creating a well-oiled ward, she explains. “Everybody should be made to feel part of that team and be involved in the decision-making when that’s discussed.”

Harding also believes there should be clearly defined roles and that each professional needs to have ownership over their job.

She says poor communication is the root of all evil. “It can be from the slightest thing being misinterpreted … to having a major impact [because] important information is not communicated.”

The team at Darwin faces some particular challenges; it’s in a rural setting and staff have to be multiskilled.

“They’re not locked into a cardiac unit or an orthopedic unit in the operative suite; they’re expected to go across the broad spectrum of the specialties and with anesthetics and recovery care as well,” she says, adding that with this range of job roles teamwork becomes even more important.

She says it is rewarding to watch staff grow and build their skills, knowledge and expertise, and to guide and support them through overcoming their fears. She adds this includes getting staff up to the roles such as team leading and floor co-ordinating.

Harding says her role is wide and diverse. “I love what I do. My job is challenging but a challenge makes you grow as an individual and my key words are that I want to make a difference.”

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