In the OR: Working as a Transplant Surgical Nurse

In the OR: Working as a Transplant Surgical Nurse

When a patient is undergoing organ transplant surgery, there are teams of people involved in everything before, during, and after the procedure. Jenna Vinje, RN, CNOR, a circulating and scrub nurse on the Peripheral Vascular and Liver Transplant team at University Hospital for the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, WI, took time to give us a glimpse into what it’s like working as a transplant surgical nurse.

surgical transplant nurse

Jenna Vinje, RN, CNOR

As a transplant surgical nurse, what does your job entail? What do you do on a daily basis?

As a transplant surgical nurse, my job entails a variety of tasks that differ based on if I am circulating or scrubbing the surgery. As a circulator, my day starts by setting up my operating room with the supplies, equipment, medications, and instrumentation needed for the day. I count with the surgical technologist or scrub nurse. Then I get to meet my patient. I only get a chance to speak with them for a short time before I bring them back to the operating room. I facilitate the surgery by assisting anesthesia with intubation and any lines they may need to place. I then complete my patient preparation by inserting a Foley catheter, positioning, clipping, and prepping the patient.

Throughout the procedure I am continually assessing the room including patient position, supplies, and equipment needed by the surgical team, as well as, blood products and medications needed by anesthesia. I document all assessments and interventions completed in the patient’s electronic medical record. I keep the family updated throughout the surgery.  As a scrub nurse, I set up the instrumentation and supplies. I am at the field with the surgeons, handing them instruments and assisting as needed.

Why did you choose this field of nursing?

The operating room has always intrigued me. I was able to observe a surgery during my clinical rotation for nursing school and thought this would be a good fit for my career. When I went through the interview process for the nurse residency program, I was offered the opportunity to interview for surgical services. Everything worked out from there.

What are the biggest challenges of your job?

Transplant surgeries can be very challenging. Patients tend to be extremely sick by the time they are able to get a transplant—especially with liver transplants. This can provide different challenges throughout the surgery. Transplants can be high-stress surgeries so it is important to stay calm and use your critical thinking skills to get through tense situations.

What are the greatest rewards?

The greatest reward is to hear how well my patients are doing after they receive their transplants. I get to help people every day try to overcome serious illnesses that impact their lives on a daily basis. Knowing that our goal in transplant is to give our patients a better quality of life is really rewarding to me.

What would you say to someone considering this type of nursing work?

Being a surgical nurse on a transplant team is challenging, however, it is also rewarding. The operating room is a fast-paced environment, where teamwork and critical thinking skills are extremely important. No two days are alike.

As a surgical nurse, you may not get to see the outcome of your patients in their daily lives; however, it is wonderful to think you are helping to give the gift of life to someone or at least improving their quality of life.