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Behind Closed Doors: Can't We All Just Get Along?
Is on-the-job behavior bogging us down?
Paula Watkins
Publish Date: September 3, 2015   |  Tags:   Opinion
staff behavior

Sometimes it feels like I've been working in surgery for 50 years. From the general look of things, I may be here for 50 more. Does seniority bring wisdom? It depends. We older nurses know where all the bodies are buried, so to speak, but even I can't explain some of the behavior — or lapses in same — that I've observed in and around the OR.

  • Hand hygiene hold-outs. Could someone please tell me why a nurse, of all people, would lick her finger to turn pages in a manual, chart or stack of staff meeting handouts? It's a bad enough habit for a Wal-Mart cashier reaching into the change drawer, but in a surgical setting it's just irresponsible in every way. Should I don PPEs to interact with certain co-workers, or should I just hit the hand sanitizer and surface disinfection wipes afterward? Maybe this should be a detail to look out for on your next round of hand hygiene compliance surveys.
  • Physician, heal thyself. Other bad behaviors would be totally out of line in most any workplace. Dear surgeons, we know that for some of you, even just walking through the OR doors pushes your stress levels into the red zone. As your team, we have done everything humanly possible to make your life (well, this case anyway) go as well as possible. We're not setting out to sabotage your patient outcomes. We love patients! (Even the seemingly growing number that make us want to put on hazmat suits to transfer and position them.) So kicking equipment, throwing instruments, bellowing and other viciousness is counterproductive. We aren't offended by your expletives — we string together some pretty colorful ones when we find out we've been assigned to your cases — but maybe you ought to consider anger management classes.

We have your best interests in mind. The repeated stress of surgery could cause you some real harm eventually. You could have a heart attack right in the OR! (And when you fall to the floor, we'll stare in awe for a moment before coding you.) Or maybe, because of your rage, one of your nurses could be shaking in fear so much that she accidentally hits you in the head with the light.

  • Tears of a team member. A warning: There's no crying in the OR. Cry in this arena and the lions will eat you alive. If you can't take the heat, then get away from the cautery. However, if you do one day happen to break down in tears, it's highly likely that you'll extract tears from someone else in return one day. Go figure. I feel really bad if I'm the one responsible for making a co-worker cry. But that time a rhymes-with-witch of a general surgeon lost it on my account, I felt well vindicated, for an ancient incident in which a surgeon stomped all over this one-time-brand-new nurse. That was definitely worth a visit to the administrator's office for a good talking-to.
  • Staffing the no-help desk. Did I ever tell you about my dream job? It's materials management. I think it would great to finish up my nursing career being in charge of the supplies instead of running for them. I'd spend my days counting packages and putting stickers on them, ordering supplies and then telling you they're back-ordered. I think the best part would be hiding the things you're looking for in places only I know where to look for them, so you have to depend on me to find them. It'll be like a scavenger hunt every day for you! We would have so much fun. Then I could spend the rest of the day trying to figure out the mysteries of surgical behavior.

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