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It is often said that one either loves or hates the operating room (OR), with nothing in between. Some say that our roles are too dependent on others and that the OR is boring because of this. If you are preparing to shadow someone, visit as a student, select surgery as a career, or have surgery yourself, we hope that this book will provide you with enough information to have a meaningful and safe experience in the OR. If we’ve done our job well, it might even be fun.

To feel prepared, you need to understand the basic flow of how a patient comes to the operating room. The exact details, order, and process of the operative experience will vary by location, policy, and individual patient situation. We have tried to generalize as much as possible. If you have questions about your experience, please discuss these with your physician, instructor, or an OR staff member. Just as some of our photos are blurry (patient privacy, you know), we’ve tried to paint the OR experience in broad brushstrokes. Every experience is unique.


Many people gain what knowledge they have about the OR from watching medical dramas on television. If you are someone who has relied on television depictions, let me be the first in this book to say it: that’s not how things really work. Some people gain knowledge of the OR from their experience as a patient. Personal experience can be valuable but it is likely you don’t remember much after rolling into the room.

To start you off on a realistic foot, we do not always operate in the dark (this is only done in certain cases), scrub without our masks on, or see the OR as the prime location for romance to develop (although it does happen on occasion).

On the other hand, we do:

  • Experience drama

  • Joke around with each other

  • Get a little choked up from time to time (we hide it well behind our mask)

  • Feel moments of high anxiety for our colleagues and patients

  • Wipe sweat from, or scratch the brow of others

  • Expose ourselves to dangerous situations (you won’t get any closer to bodily fluids than in the OR)

  • Count more often than the Count on Sesame Street

  • Get a bird’s eye view of the amazing things that the body is capable of


Of the many tips and suggestions throughout this book, please remember the most important concept: it takes a team to function optimally in the OR.

Every aspect of care that we discuss involves and impacts more than one person. When everyone works together, the OR is a well-tuned symphony. We each have our solo moment(s) to be in the spotlight, ...

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