How Does Your Surgeon Stay Sharp for Hours?

You’ve likely heard the stories of a life-saving surgery that takes hours for the team to complete. So, how do these surgical teams stay alert until their jobs are done?

If someone you care about needs a long surgical procedure, you can take heart that the entire surgical team’s priority is their welfare. To ensure surgeries are safe and effective, long surgeries are commonly performed by a surgical team. Support team members such as anesthesiologists, nurses, surgical techs and physician assistants usually rotate in and out during the procedures.

On some more complex surgeries, surgeons will also rotate in and out of the procedure, with different surgeons performing different steps of the overall procedure. These surgeons may only work in the operating room for a few hours.

A lead surgeon is usually involved throughout the long-duration procedure but can step away to take a break, hydrate or grab a snack.

The lead surgeon will continue to monitor the procedure throughout to ensure continuity. Of course they’ll always scrub in before returning to the surgery.

In some cases, videos of the surgery are displayed in nearby rooms where other surgery team members can track progress while taking a break or preparing to join the procedure for an upcoming step.

On Their Feet and Focused

For the individual team members, approaches differ for keeping up their stamina. Some surgical team members say they go into a “zone” that allows them to focus intently on their tasks with less awareness of the passage of time.

The focus is enhanced by the elimination from the operating room of distractions such as smartphones.

Simple approaches such as wearing comfortable shoes and compression stockings help make the hours on their feet more comfortable. Playing favorite music in the operating room can help reduce stress and fatigue.

One surgeon has found an espresso before surgery and one during a break of the procedure helps him keep the focus.

Some physicians watch their diets and exercise regularly to boost their endurance. Practicing yoga can help ease neck and back discomfort from hours spent leaning over patients on the operating table and help keep the surgeon sharp and comfortable.

If you or someone you care about needs surgery, the surgeon can discuss all aspects of the surgery, including about how long it may take and who will be on the team. Everyone can take time before a procedure to learn how to prepare for surgery.

Since many surgeries take only two to three hours, most of us won’t be part of a marathon surgery. But now you know that surgeons take many steps to ensure that longer surgeries keep the safety and needs of the patient as a top priority.

Meet the Author

Jacob Nathan Clendenon, MD is a surgeon with the Abdominal Transplant program at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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