Victoria's story: An Operating Department Practice student on placement

The day in the life of an ODP student is exciting, challenging and often very demanding with no two days ever being the same. There are three main aspects of and ODP’s role, which are anaesthetics, surgery and post-anaesthetic care, each being an equally important role to play. If you have never worked in theatres before starting placement can be very daunting, but all the theatre staff you work with are aware of this and don’t expect you to get involved in everything immediately, gently easing you into the role. It is important that you maintain a professional attitude at all times to other members of staff and patients and you should work within your own boundaries. If you are unsure of anything it is vital you ask for support and advice from your personal mentor or another member of the theatre team.

Students typically work Monday–Friday with the option to volunteer for weekend shifts depending on your trust, and you get placed with an experience mentor to work with who will guide your learning and support you as you work.

Before entering the department you are required to change into your theatre scrubs and clogs which are all provided for you, and you must make sure all jewellery is taken off and your hair is covered. If you are working as an anaesthetic practitioner your day will start by preparing a wide range of specialist equipment and drugs that will be required throughout the day for each patient. As a student you are not allowed to handle or prepare the drugs yourself, but you should observe your mentor to learn how the drugs are safely kept and accounted for. You will then check the anaesthetic machine is working properly and safe for use, and that the environment is clean and ready for the acceptance of a patient.

Having excellent communication skills is paramount in this area of an ODP’s role, to ensure the patient is cared for efficiently and safely, and as a student it is important to ask questions and speak up if unsure of anything. Before patients are sent for, a team brief is done where all members of the theatre introduce themselves by name and role, then discuss the patients along with any special or specific requirements. When you are on anaesthetics you are often the first person the patient will meet and they can be anxious and nervous, which means it is important to create a good relationship with them and help them to feel comfortable and as relaxed as they can. Once in the anaesthetic room you will apply vital sign monitoring to the patient and assist the anaesthetist with intubation.

As you grow in confidence and skills you will start to prejudge what the anaesthetist will need in advance and pre-empt what my happen next, as things can often change very quickly. Once anaesthetised you will help to move and position the patient making sure they are kept warm and safe throughout their procedure, then get the environment and equipment ready for the next patient due in.

As a student you will then learn how to fill in patient paperwork correctly, and offer support to the anaesthetist in ensuring the health and safety of the patient.

Alternatively, you may be working as a surgical ODP when on placement. This means you will be assisting the surgeon throughout the surgical procedure or offering support to the scrubbed staff at the table. When in this role you will start your day preparing the environment, making sure it is clean and that sets and equipment that will be needed during the operation are readily available.

After the morning brief you will do one of two things, either scrub up or circulate for the case. When scrubbing up you wash your hands according to trust protocol and wear a sterile gown, gloves and mask. Your role then involved opening sets up in a sterile manner, making sure they are all correct and safe, and setting up your trolley with the equipment that will be needed for the procedure. It’s helpful to get your own way of doing this early on as a student, as you need to be able to quickly put your hands on an instrument the surgeon asks for without having to rummage around in the set, but your mentor will scrub with you during your first few weeks, or if you are unfamiliar with a case.

When working as a scrubbed ODP you will assist the surgeon during the operation, and as a student this can be daunting as it is a very intense time, but the theatre team and your mentor are there to help assist you. During numerous stages of the operation you do counts of swabs and sharps to ensure the safety of the patient. As a circulating ODP you act as a link between the scrubbed staff and other parts of the theatre, passing supplementary items when needed in a safe and sterile manner, along with helping with paperwork and swab counts. Most of the time patients are unconscious during this stage, so it is important you make sure they remain safe throughout.

After the procedure you take a patient into recovery and handover the patient to the recovery staff. In recovery you may take charge of the patient's recovery from anaesthesia and provide one-to-one care until they are ready to be transferred to the ward or go home.