Careers & Education

The other people in the operating theatre

BY NADINE WILSON Career & Education writer wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, June 01, 2014    

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THEIR role is usually bereft of the public commendation and acknowledgement afforded to doctors and nurses, but the function of operating theatre technicians is oftentimes crucial to the saving of lives.

"Persons are not aware of us. They do see this uniform in the hospital, but they don't know our roles and function. We work in the theatre and we are locked away. Nobody have any idea of what we do," said president of the Theatre Technicians Association, Marcia Smith as she pointed to the blue and white attire worn by persons in the profession.

She informed that operating theatre technicians were introduced into public hospitals in the 90s when there was a shortage of nurses to assist doctors during surgical procedures. The idea was conceptualised by Dr Trevor McCartney, who led the charge to train individuals, through the Ministry of Health, to assist with the eradication of micro organisms and the handling of sterile instruments needed during surgery.

The programme initially started with seven persons, but today, there are about 134 theatre technicians operating in both public and private hospitals across Jamaica.

"We work together as a team in the operating room, which means that what the surgeon doesn't see, we as the operating room technicians will see," said Floyd Grey, who has been an operating room technician for the last seven years.

Both he and Smith had been patient care assistants before switching professions and neither of them have any regrets.

"I enjoy working, especially in the orthopaedic theatre, where it is more manly, in the sense that you are dealing with the bones and the pans are heavy," he said.

Added Smith: "It teaches you that you have to live each day, appreciating what God has given us."

Theatre technicians generally work on shifts and can expect to spend up to seven hours on their feet during surgeries. But Julean Hokriong, who has been in the profession for more than 19 years, says it's an occupational hazard with which you eventually get accustomed.

When asked about her near-20-year tenure at the Kingston Public Hospital, she replied: "I am really enjoying it. You have to really love something to do it, because if you don't love it, you are not going to do it to the best of your ability. It's a very interesting work. You learn a lot, you see a lot, you [get to] know a lot," Hokriong said.

Operating theatre technicians are required to have at least five CXCs; a nursing background is an obvious asset, but is not mandatory.

"It's very nice exposure, because you see a lot and you learn a lot. Sometimes you see so many things and when these people recover, it's like a miracle," she said.

"We are the persons who are responsibile for the sterile instruments, we are the ones who anticipate the needs of the surgeons, we are the ones who are responsible for all those instruments used during surgery," she informed.

No two days are the same for the theatre technicians and, as such, Smith believes anyone desirous of entering this field would have to be able to think quickly on their feet.

"We have to have our mental faculties intact when it comes to emergencies, because you can never tell who is going to be on the table," she said.

The trio recalled one particular case when an operating theatre technician was preparing for a gunshot patient coming through the Accident and Emergency Unit. In the process of gathering the necessary instruments, she started asking the doctor more information about the patient and thought the description familiar. It was a big shock to her when the individual she saw lying on the table before her was indeed her son.

In Jamaica, the Theatre Technicians Association has chosen May of each year to turn the spotlight on their profession to boost public awareness. But, in addition to passing on general education about what they do in the profession, they often engage in outreach activities to impact people's lives. This year, for example, the association has planned a massive blood drive in collaboration with the Victoria Jubilee Hospital to bolster the resources at the National Blood Blank.

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