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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Nurses' perceptions and experiences of communication in the operating theatre: a focus group interview

Debra Nestel1* and Jane Kidd2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biosurgery and Surgical Technology, Division of Surgery, Oncology, Reproductive biology and Anaesthesia, Imperial College London, c/o Clinical Skills Centre, 2nd floor, St Mary's Hospital, QEQM Wing, Praed Street, London, W2 1NY

2 Reader in Communication Skills, WMS Division of Medical Education, University of Warwick, Coventry, CV4 7AL

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BMC Nursing 2006, 5:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-5-1

Published: 8 February 2006


Nurses' perceptions and experiences of communication in the operating theatre: a focus group interview

Communication programmes are well established in nurse education. The focus of programmes is most often on communicating with patients with less attention paid to inter-professional communication or skills essential for working in specialised settings. Although there are many anecdotal reports of communication within the operating theatre, there are few empirical studies. This paper explores communication behaviours for effective practice in the operating theatre as perceived by nurses and serves as a basis for developing training.

A focus group interview was conducted with seven experienced theatre nurses from a large London teaching hospital. The interview explored their perceptions of the key as well as unique features of effective communication skills in the operating theatre. Data was transcribed and thematically analysed until agreement was achieved by the two authors.

There was largely consensus on the skills deemed necessary for effective practice including listening, clarity of speech and being polite. Significant influences on the nature of communication included conflict in role perception and organisational issues. Nurses were often expected to work outside of their role which either directly or indirectly created barriers for effective communication. Perceptions of a lack of collaborative team effort also influenced communication.

Although fundamental communication skills were identified for effective practice in the operating theatre, there were significant barriers to their use because of confusion over clarity of roles (especially nurses' roles) and the implications for teamwork. Nurses were dissatisfied with several aspects of communication. Future studies should explore the breadth and depth of this dissatisfaction in other operating theatres, its impact on morale and importantly on patient safety. Interprofessional communication training for operating theatre staff based in part on the key issues identified in this study may help to create clarity in roles and focus attention on effective teamwork and promote clinical safety.