Head on to theatre and sign in. Go get changed into scrubs and put on a theatre cap. Make sure you also change into theatre shoes which are usually clogs/the super fashionable crocs. Hopefully your hospital have some theatre shoes for you to borrow so make sure you ask at reception first. Take off all jewelery. At all times make sure your ID is visible. In general for theatre changing rooms it is best to bring your valuables with you or simply don't bring valuables to a theatre day. I always bring my money and my phone with me and depending on the hospital I also bring my bag with me to theatre as it's just a small messenger bag. Make sure you leave the bag in the prep room or ask theatre staff where you can put your bag.
So you get to the theatre and hopefully you'll know who is the consultant. Go introduce yourself or say "Hi". You'll be surprised how often they don't notice you even though you think they saw you. I guess sometimes they can't recognize you as you are in scrubs and have a theatre cap on. Get in on the team briefing and pay attention to the theatre list for the day. Also find out who is the anaesthetist. Ask the anaesthetist if you can observe the patient being put to sleep. It's quite interesting to watch.
Simple rules of theatre:
- Don't touch anything green/blue in the operating room especially on tables/trolleys
- If you're going to faint - don't faint on the patient - so go sit down - it happens to everyone
- When the surgeons are gowned up - don't make any contact with them as they are now sterile so that means good dodging skills and just stay out of their way until they have gotten to their place at the table
If it is a laparoscopic surgery - there will be a tv screen for you to watch so you don't need to be standing as close to the surgeons. Just find a good spot to stand and for me, I never sit down as I think the theatre staff are more deserving of a chair than I am.
The problem with surgeries is that it can range from 30 minutes to 8 hours. You'll find that your back and feet will be hating you during long surgeries. Also make sure when you're standing for a long time just to keep your legs moving so you don't faint. Sometimes with long procedures I will go take a walk around the operating room just to get my legs moving again and give my back a stretch. No matter how much you love surgery (and take it from me - I really do LOVE surgery) - it will get boring especially when you're not scrubbed in and just observing. If nothing interesting is happening go talk to the anaesthetist. Ask he/she about the machines and what they are doing. The thing with surgeries as well is finding the right time to ask questions. There will be times where the room goes dead quiet as the surgeons are concentrating - obviously horrible time to ask a question. You'll be able to tell when they don't need to focus as much as usually they'll start talking about really random things like plans for the weekend...you'll be surprised what sort of things surgeons talk about during surgery. Some surgeons even have music playing in the background so don't be shocked when you walk in and there is music playing. I think the best one was when I was waiting outside a day surgery theatre and the doors to the operating room opened and all you can hear was music blasting out...almost seemed like a night club in there!
Hopefully your consultant will be good at teaching and he'll show you the relevant anatomy IF it is easy to see. Not all the time the anatomy is easy to see, but don't be disappointed if you don't really see much. Most surgeries that I have observed - I usually don't see very much so don't think this is your fault. Especially now, surgeons are trying to make incisions smaller to reduce the recovery time...but again as long as your consultant knows he/she has a student around - most are quite good at moving over and letting you do a quick lean in to take a closer look - again make sure you don't touch the patient/surgeons.
When the surgery is done - go make yourself useful and help the theatre staff with moving the patient. Put on a pair of non-sterile gloves and grab hold of one side of the bed sheets (other than the head as the anaesthetist will be there). It'll be made clear which way the patient will be going and usually the clue is probably the empty bed right next to the operating bed with a slide board underneath. The anaesthetist will always count you down to moving so some will say "On 3" or "Ready Steady *Move/Shift*" - either way it'll be obvious.
If the previous surgery was long - you might want to stick yourself onto the consultant/registrar as they usually will disappear to the coffee room. Go make yourself a drink or get some water - staying hydrated is key for surgery. Sometimes it is quite frustrating as you could wait for an hour before the next surgery. I always hate coffee room breaks - not because I hate waiting around...it's because sometimes the consultant needs to quickly pop up to the ward and you're left alone in the coffee room. Just keep your eye on someone who is from your theatre as they tend to leave without telling you. Well based on personal experience - I always get left behind so I always got to stay near the registrar/consultant/theatre staff just so I wont miss the next surgery. Another way is before breaking off to the coffee room - ask a theatre staff how long a break do you have or what time does the next surgery start - then at least if you lose everyone - you'll still know what time to get back.
Hopefully this gives you a better idea what to expect when going to theatre for the first time. Hey maybe you'll be lucky and get to scrub in. But don't be disheartened if you don't scrub in as I didn't get to scrub in til this year (3rd year of medical school - been on surgical placements ever since 1st year). So just enjoy your time in theatre and hopefully you'll see lots of cool things. Also a great place to witness some good teamwork and communication skills as well. If you're unsure about anything just ask a theatre staff.