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Who’s In The Operating Room With You During Heart Surgery?

Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center – November 19, 2015

Having heart surgery is scary enough. Having a bunch of masked strangers stand over as you prepare to have surgery is even scarier.

Although surgeons perform successful heart surgeries all the time, this may be your first time. So, who helps out during the actual procedure may be a mystery to you.

Here’s a breakdown of who’s who in the operating room during heart surgery and what role each person plays.

Cardiothoracic Surgeon

A cardiothoracic or thoracic surgeon operates on the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs within the chest cavity. This is the surgeon who will be performing the heart surgery.

To be a thoracic surgeon, the surgeon must graduate from medical school and go on to complete a five-year residency.

Source: The Society of Thoracic Surgeons

Heart Conditions Cardiothoracic Surgeons Treat

The most common disease treated by cardiothoracic surgeons is coronary artery disease. But cardiothoracic surgeons also treat:

Heart failure Atrial fibrillation Blocks or leaks in heart valves Blocks in arteries within the heart Abnormal enlargement of chest arteries

Source: The Society of Thoracic Surgeons


About 30 minutes before your surgery begins, you will meet with the anesthesiologist. The anesthesiologist will give you the type of anesthesia that fits your surgery, whether it be:

General: Renders you unconscious so you feel no pain Monitored: Anesthesia combined with sedation and pain management Local: Numbs a small area of the body Spinal: A shot given in the spine to block pain in an area of the body A combination

Sources: Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, National Library of Medicine, American Society of Anesthesiologists

Scrub Nurse

A scrub nurse literally scrubs in for the procedure and remains “sterile” during the entire surgery.

This person also works with the surgical team to anticipate what it needs during the procedure, and provides the tools and supplies needed for the surgery.

Source: National Student Nurses’ Association

Perioperative Or Circulating Nurse

A circulating, or OR, nurse does work outside the sterile field. These nurses create a care plan for patients and ensure their safety during surgery, such as providing warming blankets to reduce risk of hypothermia.

They must also have excellent knowledge of surgical equipment and instruments, and how to use them.

Surgical counts”keeping track of surgical objects to make sure they’re not left inside the patient”are also their responsibility.

Sources: National Student Nurses’ Association, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses

Cardiology Technologist

A cardiology technologist prepares the patients for surgery to place pacemakers and stents. Responsibilities include getting the patient ready by cleaning”and sometimes shaving”the area that will be worked on during surgery, and applying topical anesthesia.

Cardiac catheterization, where a catheter is threaded through a patient’s artery to the heart, is also something cardiology technologists help with.

During the surgery, the cardiology technologist will monitor your heart rate and blood pressure, alerting the surgeon to any changes or abnormalities.

Source: US Department of Labor

To find out exactly who’s on your medical team for your upcoming surgery, contact your surgical care team at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

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