Career advice

Meet the nurse who performs surgery 

Nurse Sara Dalby, who has been a surgical care practitioner for six years and will soon perform surgery on her own list of patients, talks to Lynne Pearce about her role.

Nurse Sara Dalby, who has been a surgical care practitioner for six years and will soon perform surgery on her own list of patients, talks to Lynne Pearce about her role

scp
Picture: iStock

Watching a hip replacement operation as a nursing student proved to be pivotal in Sara Dalby’s nursing career.

‘I loved it,’ says Ms Dalby, who is a surgical care practitioner (SCP). ‘I found it so interesting, and nothing like anything I’d ever experienced before in nursing.

‘You do pre- and post-operative care, but I’d never really understood what happens in the middle. It was great seeing the full patient journey.’

Most vulnerable

After gaining a diploma in nursing studies in 2003, Ms Dalby started a degree at Manchester University. Her first role was as a theatre practitioner, moving to Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool in 2006, where she has stayed ever since.

She was promoted to surgical first assistant in 2008, doing an advanced scrub practitioner course and then an extended course a year later. Keen to progress further, in 2011 she became an SCP. To date, she remains the only SCP at the trust.

While it may not be a typical nursing role, Ms Dalby sees many advantages. ‘In theatre, you’re concentrating on one patient at a time, working in a multidisciplinary way, and looking after patients when they are at their most vulnerable,’ she says.

Scope of practice

Although SCPs have been around for a couple of decades they are still rare, with no official tally of how many there are. ‘I’m very lucky in that I’ve been well supported throughout by colleagues,’ says Ms Dalby, who switched to working in head and neck and orthopaedic surgery in April 2016.

In practice, she works for six consultants, with one always close by when she operates. She will soon have her own list of patients. ‘But I will always have to have a named consultant available to step in if need be,’ she says. ‘When you’re in an advanced role, it’s very important to understand your scope of practice and your limitations, and seek support if you need it.’

Patients’ reaction

The reaction from patients has been positive. ‘Sometimes people don’t understand the SCP title, so I explain that I’m an advanced practitioner,’ says Ms Dalby. ‘But I haven’t had any negative comments or resistance. I think patients have faith that the person doing their procedure will have the appropriate training and supervision, just as a trainee surgeon would.’

In 2009 she became an associate lecturer at Edge Hill University in Lancashire. She has co-written and lectures on one of only four SCP courses in the country, accredited by the Royal College of Surgeons, and trains around 25 people a year.

She also started working part-time for the RCN earlier this year on projects including the nursing career framework. ‘It’s important for people to know there are different pathways within nursing,’ says Ms Dalby.


Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist

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