What is the role of nurses and technicians during cardiac bypass surgery?

While a patient is undergoing cardiac bypass surgery, a team of medical professionals collaborates to try to get the best possible outcomes from the surgery. Among these professionals are operating room nurses and technicians who support the cardiac surgeon as he or she performs the procedure. Operating room nurses and technicians also monitor the patient’s condition and work to make him or her as comfortable as possible.

Coronary bypass surgery, and any heart surgery for that matter, is performed by a team rather than just the surgeon.  It’s the same as when you take an airplane flight; the pilot depends on many people behind the scenes to get the plane off the ground. 

Those required are:

1) The scrub nurse or scrub tech, who organizes and transfers the instruments to the surgeon.  This individual is "scrubbed in", meaning that he or she has thoroughly washed the hands and arms before putting on a sterile gown and gloves.  The scrub nurse is part of the clean “sterile field” and is allowed to touch the patient, instruments, and instrument table. 

2) The circulating nurse, who remains outside of the sterile field. As a “circulator”, he or she transfers sterile instruments and supplies to the instrument table, performs the documentation of the case, and assists in other ways. 

3) The surgical assistant. This can be another physician, or a non-physician such as a physician assistant (P.A.), nurse, nurse practitioner, or a surgical assistant (S.A.).  The assistant is “scrubbed in” as part of the sterile field and assists the surgeon with the conduct of the operation. 

4) The perfusionist. This highly trained individual has undergone years of instruction to operate the heart lung machine. He or she also operates the cell saver, a machine that processes any blood loss so that the patient's own blood can be given back to them.  
5) The anesthesiologist (a physician), possibly assisted by an anesthetist (a nurse or physician assistant). They insert monitoring lines, administer the general anesthesia to the patient, and act as critical care specialists during the surgery.

Additionally, the operating room team depends on other people, such as preoperative nurses, technical specialists, workers in the instrument room where the instruments are sterilized, administrative staff who keep disposables stocked, and on and on. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.