Entering a New World as an Athletic Trainer

I walked into the locker room, but this was not a locker room that I was used to.  Instead of being surrounded by sweaty, robust athletes in a bustling environment, furiously searching through their bags for a protein bar and their sports shoes, I was welcomed to a quiet room with shelves of scrubs stacked neatly by size alongside their hair and shoe cover counterparts.  While this was far different from what I was used to and I was nervous to make a wrong move, there was also a sense of excitement and wonderment for the world I was entering in to.  I changed out of my street clothes into the events more appropriate attire of scrubs, a hair net, shoe covers, and a face mask.  What is this “event” I speak of?  My first day in the operating room!

Making my move out of the locker room and into the back area where all of the operating rooms are located in an even line, I had made my entrance into a whole new world.  I had been to the surgery center once to observe, but this was different; I would actually be participating and learning the ins and outs of what my role would be as an assist in the OR.  I met up with our team’s PA and he showed me how to properly wash my hands prior to a procedure.  Was I really learning how to wash my hands?  Hadn’t I been doing this my whole life?  As minimal as this seems it is completely different from what I had ever done before and is a vital step in preparation.  Not even being at the surgery center for five minutes I had already encountered several lessons and a completely different routine.

Other lessons I learned the same day included scrubbing in.  This is a process that I messed up about four or five times in the same day…”how embarrassing” I had thought!  But just like the hand washing, this was a different type of routine that takes some getting used to.  From putting the gown on, to remembering to place your goggles over your eyes prior to the scrub in, to resterilizing your hands, and figuring out your glove size and application.  So much to think about!  But wait, there’s more!  If your brain wasn’t spinning already, you now have to be careful as to where you are standing and where your hands are placed because sterility is key.  Have an itch you need to scratch?  Too bad, because there is no room for this.  Slightly rub your sleeve on the nurse who is walking by to change fluid bags?  Now you are no longer sterile and need to change.  Your brain needs to be in constant engagement with your head on the swivel as a lookout for situations that will compromise your cleanliness.  (Still something I feel I am getting used to a couple months after being more consistently in the OR).

The lessons still didn’t end there – I had to learn how to position and drape patients too.  Again being cautious of contamination, there is a step wise process from wheeling the patient into the OR, transferring them to the bed, positioning the bed, intubation, cleaning the surgical site, then draping…all the draping!  All of this, again like scrubbing in, is something I continue to work on mastering.  Still a work in progress is learning the names of all the surgical instruments and continuing to orient myself with the anatomy while watching arthroscopy cases through the camera view.

A whole new world for me for sure.  This could be overwhelming, but I’ve found it to be enlightening.  I am able to see all points of care of the patient; I see patients at the initial point of injury while intaking patients in the office, discussion of goals and treatment plans as I work alongside the physician and rest of my team providing care, now surgery, and then the rehabilitation and follow up after surgical treatment.  Having this full view of a patient’s care, I am better able to serve patients and their families.  Appropriately answering their questions and providing them with full, accurate information.  We are also able to build better relationships based on trust and familiarity.  Serving my new role in the OR is not something I would trade!  It offers continued knowledge and growth as I continue to develop as a healthcare provider.  Not all athletic trainers are granted this opportunity, but if you are…snatch it up with open arms!  You will fail over and again as you are learning the new routine that you have never been exposed to, but being integrated into care of patients in this way is an unforgettable environment to advance yourself as a healthcare provider.

If you are already an athletic trainer practicing in the OR, I’d love to hear about your first day!  What were the challenges?  What was fun and exciting about that day? What have you learned since then?  If we continue to share our stories of advancing into other areas of patient care, we are not only benefiting ourselves in the form of reflection, but are also benefiting our profession by inspiring others!