John Tarrant: A Phenomenological exploration of how perioperative staff experience caring for the unconscious surgical patient

John is currently working on his PhD that uses phenomenology to explore ‘The experiences of how the Operating Team Care for the Unconscious Surgical Patient.’

The operating theatre makes for a colourful and dramatic television set: a glimpse into a room behind those.  The viewer can watch in safety as they feel the suspense take over, as highly skilled theatre staff, surrounded by bewildering technology act in heroic fashion, to avert catastrophe and save the unconscious person’s life.

Actually, little is known about how theatre staff care for people beyond the array of interventions and tasks carefully performed. Whilst the technocratic demand of modern surgical care can determine outcomes, a rising understanding of the science of how staff work in this environment effectively, is making us consider new ways of working.  Yet even these clinical human factors do not address how that unconscious person, the body in the table, is understood by the theatre team.  In addition to this, the operating theatre risks a setting that can lead to the dehumanisation of the individual patient.  Not surprising as, you are unconscious, in an alien environment, require invasive procedures that are likely to cause pain and discomfort and of course face great anxiety and emotion before and after the event.

Humanisation research has success where it uses the patient’s story to guide new ways of thinking.  However, for the unconscious patient, this is not possible.  My PhD looks to consider some real grass roots questions by exploring how the theatre staff cares for their unconscious patients.  By using phenomenology to study the lived experience of staff I wish to contribute to a better understanding of this unexplored area.  My research will enable new ways of considering humanisation of patients that are unable to describe their own experiences.  Findings can then be used to guide undergraduate curricula and inform professional practice for theatre staff.

Supervisors: Professor Les Todres and Dr Martin Hind.