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Talent Spotlight Series: Registered Nurse III Operating Room

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Welcome to the first blog in a series I am calling the Talent Spotlight Series! The Talent Spotlight Series is designed to put YOU or someone you know in the spotlight to help increase awareness about the various career opportunities available. If you are interested in being featured in the Talent Spotlight Series, please fill out this form.

Today we are talking with Anna Emken about her career as a registered nurse.

Anna and I have been friends for well over 10 years. We actually met in college - she lived across the hallway - and has since stood beside me at my wedding and many other life events! If you know anything about Anna it's that she is unbelievably caring and loves her friends and family fiercely. I have no doubt that her caring nature spills over into her work as a nurse. To Anna and any other healthcare professionals reading this blog, thank you for all of the hours, energy, and support you have given to your communities. We are so thankful for all of you!

Now let's learn more about Anna...

Name: Anna Emken

Current Position:

Registered Nurse III - Operating Room

Years in Current Position: 1.5 years

Where Can You Connect with Anna? Connect on LinkedIn!

What does a day in the life of an operating room nurse look like?

I work four 10 hour shifts a week. I start each shift with a huddle where we go over the day's schedule and any last minute changes. After the huddle I head to my assigned operating room to start my day. It's important I check to make sure all equipment is present, supplies are stocked, and instruments are sterilized. This is also when I review the patient's charts for medical history, allergies, etc.

Before surgery I meet my patient in pre-op. At this meeting I confirm the patient's identity, ensure all paperwork is signed, and confirm their surgical site. Once we are ready, we “roll back” to the OR!

From there I become a jack of all trades. I help anesthesia sedate the patient. I position the patient for surgery and to the surgeon’s preferences. I “prep” the patient by using a sterile solution to cover the incision site and surrounding body part. The scrub tech and assistant then take over and drape the patient. Right before we cut the skin, we hold a “Time Out” where we verify the patient, any allergies, antibiotics and medications received, and what site we are working on. We all agree verbally, and off we go!

One of the misconceptions of my job is that I’m not actually scrubbed in or part of the sterile field. I am my patient’s advocate now that they are unable to have a voice. I ensure everyone is following sterile technique, grabbing supplies and additional instrumentation as needed, and coordinating any additional care they may need post op. I make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible in the best interest of my patient.

Once the surgery is done, the anesthetist and I transfer the patient to Post Anesthesia Care Unit, or PACU, and I give a brief patient report to the recovery nurse. Afterwards, I go back to my room to finish the chart and to get ready for my next surgery.

What role or roles did you have prior to your current position?

I worked on a Medical-Surgical floor for 2 years after graduating nursing school. I then went to the OR at an orthopedic and spine hospital for the next 4.5 years. A move to Texas gave me the opportunity to work at another orthopedic and spine hospital for one of the largest healthcare systems in Houston.

How did your experience in previous roles help you succeed in your current position?

What helped the most was having a foundation of knowledge to build upon. After already being in the OR for 4.5yrs, I have a firm understanding of my job. Transitioning to Houston meant learning new surgeons, new staff, and new preferences all over again. It meant starting over in the sense that I had to learn a new hospital’s way of performing the same surgeries I knew from before.

Is there any specialty training or area of expertise needed to succeed in your current role?

Sterile technique is a very important skill to have in the OR. You must also be comfortable being the patient advocate, even if that means delaying a case, upsetting your surgical team, or even management. You are to do what is right for your patient at all times, no matter the circumstances.

How do you think your job will change in the next 5 years?

The job will always have a demand. There needs to be someone in the OR whose sole purpose is to look after the best needs of the patient on the table. The industry is very robust, and will continue to be, especially as the medical field continued to ask staff to take on more challenges with each passing year.

What does work/life balance look like in this career field?

Work hard, play hard! :) But In all seriousness, please make sure to take care of YOU. As nurses we spend 40hrs (or more) a week taking care of our patients. And in a surgical role you are also taking care of your scrub tech, your surgeon, your anesthesia, etc. You are constantly giving of yourself. You need to make sure that you have healthy coping mechanisms to draw from. I personally spend time off reading with a good cup of coffee or listening to podcasts. Anything that draws you back to yourself, especially after a hard week.

Which seasons of the year are toughest in your job?

September-December! Also known as “the busy season.” Everyone has met their deductibles and are trying to get anything else taken care of before the new year starts. Expect a bigger case load and longer hours to meet the demands.

What other paths can I take in this field?

There are quite a few avenues! Aside from circulating, there can be opportunities to learn how to “scrub” a case. As a scrub nurse you help perform the surgery by assisting with instrumentation. Another path is the Registered Nurse First Assist, or RNFA. The RNFA assists the surgeon at the surgical site with retraction, positioning, and suture closing.

Not only can you change your role, you can also look into different surgical services that may appeal to you more. There’s cardiac, general surgery, orthopedics, spine, sports medicine, neurology, transplant, trauma, etc. You can even get into aesthetics and plastic surgery if that’s something you’re interested in. My experience is exclusively orthopedics, spine, and sports medicine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Are there any professional journals/organizations/etc. that someone interested in this field should be aware of?

American Nurses Association (ANA)

Your State and Local Chapter Nurses Association

Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN)

If you are interested in learning more about Anna and her experience, please feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn. There is a button with a direct link at the top of the blog!

If you would like to be featured on the Talent Spotlight Series, please contact me here!

I would love to share your career journey!

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