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Thanks very much to Carson Heatley, an ODP with a wealth of experience, for his frank answers. If you're considering working in theatres, or simply want to know more about the role of an ODP, you MUST read this article.
10th August 2012
What was your route of study into becoming an ODP? Why did you become an ODP?
I did a pre-nursing course at college in Northern Ireland and, in those days, we were encouraged to go into Psychiatric Nursing. After a visit to the local Unit, I decided it wasn't a path I wanted to follow. While finishing my O Levels, I started to look for something to use my qualifications for and spotted an advert for a grade of staff called Theatre Technician. I applied to a number of hospitals and was taken on as a student at Guildford school; this, of course, was exciting for an 18 year old, not only starting a new job but moving far away from home as well.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Is it surprising that you became an ODP?
I had no idea - it varied from week to week depending on which brother came to see us! It came as no surprise that I ended up in an allied medical profession as through my teenage years, I was a member of St. Johns Ambulance Brigade and did my fair share of first aid for sporting events like the North West 200 Motor Bike Race and numerous football and rugby games. So, as I said, it was a natural progression from St.John’s to look at Nursing and then ODP jobs.
Describe an average shift.
As an agency ODP, I try and arrive early for any shift. This is for two reasons; so the employer knows I'm there and, if I break down on the way, I can arrange someone to cover. When working in a unit for the first time, I familiarise myself with the surroundings. Then I get set up for whatever is on the list and provide the assistance needed by my professional colleagues. At the end of the day, I try and leave my workplace as I would like to find it first thing in the morning.
What's your favourite thing about ODP work?
It has got to be patient care and contact. An operation for most people is a very scary, nerve-racking experience. To be, in most cases, the first point of contact in the operating theatre, it gives a sense of achievement to be able to get these patients to relax and be able to calm their fears.
What resource online or offline have you found most useful in learning how to be good at your job?
I use many resources both on and off line, but the Association for Perioperative Practice professional magazine and web pages I find on Google help a lot. I also use local and hospital libraries for research criteria. This not only keeps me up to speed with changes in the profession but also allows me to read the views of other professionals.
Who would you recommend ODP work to?
Anyone who has a natural bent towards nursing but who also has an interest in machines. It helps if you like boys and their toys and have the ability to keep abreast of the computer technology that appears to taking over the job.
Describe someone who's great at ODP work. What traits, characteristics and practices do they have?
A good ODP is someone who can plan ahead for most eventualities but remains calm in a crisis. Let me expand - an ODP should have the ability to second-guess the Anaesthetist and Surgeon and keep one step in front of their needs. The phrase, “Give me what I need, not what I've asked for.” springs to mind and is very true to many situations in Theatre.
Tell me about the most interesting operation you've taken part in.
At one unit I worked in, I helped set up the Bariatric theatre. This was a state-of-the-art multi-screened voice controlled unit so the Surgeon could change the lights, gas flow and so on from a head piece. If he so wished, he could have even phoned his wife from the device and say that he was on his way home for tea (not that that ever happened). So ,the most interesting procedure was doing a Laparoscopic Roux-en -Y gastric bypass and beaming the operation live to Spain where another surgeon talked an audience through what was happening. Heady stuff, full of pitfalls but very satisfying.
What's the best way that your colleagues can help you do your job?
I am a great believer in team work. The team understands and knows what we are looking to achieve, so let's work together and have none of the ‘that's-my-job’ nonsense which still exists in some units.
Tell us about your first day as a proper ODP and what was going through your head.
It was a gynae theatre and, as I set up the thought struck me: “If anything goes wrong you are on your own today. You've set up for the list, this is all down to you.”. I am pleased to say that the list passed without incident and in a blur. When it got to home time, I wondered where the day had disappeared to. Lost in your job, or what?!
What was your 'struck-by-lightning' moment when you thought 'Wow, yep, I'm definitely an ODP now!'?
The day when another very senior member of the team passed out and I was able to step in and take over holding the fort until someone with the appropriate qualification was able to come and continue.
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back and talk to yourself when starting out?
Pay attention and look to the future. Why? Because, in the last 40 years, the way that health care has developed has been truly amazing.
How has your practice changed between when you started and now? How have you reflected and changed how you do things?
Too numerous to pinpoint. Everything! From the way we monitor patients to the way that Surgery is performed. Even in the length of stay in hospital - in 1972, there were no day units and a very high percentage of patients were in for 5 days or more. Matron was queen and didn't take kindly to a speck of dirt spotted on her round. Yes, she was feared (I suspect, even by the doctors) and her word was law. The present day infection control nurses have a very hard act to follow.
Do you hope to progress further in your career? Where do you think you might go with ODP work?
I have now reached the stage where I'm happy plodding along to retirement - as the saying goes “Been there, seen it and done it”. In my time, I have been an ODA course coordinator, deputy Theatre Manager and currently am just in the throes of helping to set up my fourth Endoscopy unit.
What would you say to someone thinking about training or applying for an ODP job?
‘Don't do it!’ – No, joking aside, they would be told not only to be attentive in lectures but to drink in the vast wealth of experience that their colleagues and seniors have. And never use the phrase “We are the future, you are the past”! The past has a way of nipping your bottom when you least expect it.
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