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© The Author(s) 2018. Background: Perioperative practice underpins one of the key activities of many healthcare services, but the work of perioperative nurses is little known. A better understanding of their work is important to enable articulation of their contribution to clinical practice. Aim: This study observed the practice of perioperative nurses and explored how they described their role. Methods: Using ethnographic observation and interview, 85 hours’ observation of 11 nurses were undertaken, and 8 nurses were interviewed. Results: Thematic analysis was undertaken enabling themes to emerge with two being identified. The first, ‘maintaining momentum’, described the need to keep people and equipment moving. The second, ‘accounting for safety’, referred to the need to keep the patient safe during this dangerous period. Tension between these two phenomena was apparent. Conclusions: Perioperative nurses describe one of their key roles as maintaining the momentum of the patient’s journey through the operating theatre, but having to balance this with the need to ensure the patient’s safety. A core component of the perioperative nurse’s work is thus management of the tension between these two elements. This study illuminated how these nurses understand their practice.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Research in Nursing

Publication Date





727 - 739