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Thomas Yeh Operating Theatre Technician

10 Tips for Excelling at Practical Placement as an Operating Theatre Technician

Thomas Yeh is one of our successful Operating Theatre Technician graduates. Thomas was a star student and when he graduated, he was offered jobs in two separate hospitals.

Prior to commencing the Certificate III in Health Services Assistance - Operating Theatre Technician (HLT32512) at Education institute, Thomas worked in Information Technology (IT) and software management for 22 years. He was 51 when he decided to change careers. He came to one of Education Institute’s monthly information sessions and discovered he had the transferable skills and aptitude to consider a career as a theatre technician.

Thomas was kind enough to come back to Education Institute to share his strategies for employment success with us.

“My 2 weeks of practical placement was the most important component of my training. I received a wonderful foundation in class, and everything I learned in class was put into practise in the 2 week placement. I cannot stress enough the importance of giving your best during the placement,” says Thomas.

This is my advice for students who will be undergoing their practical placement. I hope these words will help you prepare for your time in the operating theatre.

1. Take Notes 

I carried a notebook with me at all times. There were so many machines with cables, etc. and there were many things I hadn’t seen before. When the other technicians would tell me what the cables were for and what I needed to do with each machine, I wrote it down and studied at night to make sure I remembered.  

2. Ask Questions

Do not pretend that you know. If you do not know the answer, ask. It is better to feel embarrassed by asking multiple questions than to assume, and make errors. It is life and death in the theatre.

3. Be Observant and Learn Quickly

Different technicians have different styles. Observe what they require of you. Some may want you to stand there and observe while some will want you to help them. Observe which style your mentor requires and follow.

Surgeons also have different ways of doing things as well as different preferences. Be observant to see what they tend to use e.g. They might use pillows to prop up an arm, etc. And ensure that the room is ready for them with the proper equipment and anything else that they prefer to use.

Also, try to remember which procedure requires which equipment. You have no time to scramble to find missing things during the procedure so ensure that you have everything you require at the start of the procedure. You need to observe and learn from the other technicians on how they do everything.

This is what other technicians mean when they say they need to be ‘switched on’ all the time.

4. Remember what you Learned in Class 

I have been quizzed by other technicians and even the Head Technician on ‘What have you learned in class?’ or even ‘How do you position this patient?’ If I didn’t know the answer, I admitted it and I asked my mentors to tell me the right answer. Then when the technicians explained it to me, I made sure I took notes and memorised it.

Once, the Head Technician at Alfred Hospital asked me a question. I didn’t know the answer and he told me what the right answer was. I took down his response and reviewed it that night. The next day, he asked me the same question again! He wanted to see if I had remembered what he had said.

I realise then that it’s OK not to know once (because we are all new in the industry) but once it has been told to you, pay attention, take notes, and remember it for next time.

5. Do Not Argue

Different people have different ways of doing things. I have been given conflicting advice from different technicians on the right way to do things. I just listened politely and followed their advice. And then, I decide which advice is better and use it in my practise. But I do not argue by saying, ‘Oh but this person told me to do it differently.’

6. Accept All Feedback

This follows from point 5. Patiently accept feedback because hiring decisions are not made by one person. The Head Technician will ask everyone who has worked with you on placement to review your progress. And potential employment will rely on the feedback received from all of your different mentors.  

7. Go in Early to Familiarise Yourself with the Different Theatres

If my shift starts at 7.30, I make sure I am there by 7.15 to have a look at the theatre and familiarise myself with the set up. Theatres are usually set up at least 15 minutes before the start of the operation. This gives me time to have a look, speak to the other technicians and get ready for the procedure calmly.

8. Taking Photos of the Theatre to Help you Remember

When patients are not in the room, I take a photo of the theatre as well as photos of the equipment. This way, I can go home and study what each theatre looks like and what equipment (and its accessories) is required.

For instance, I need to check to ensure each equipment has the right accessory. The other technicians will tell me only once so I make sure I write it down and together with the photo, it helps me remember better. Also, after a while, you will notice that certain procedures always require the same equipment and once you familiarise yourself with it, it becomes easy.

9. Confidence

During placement, other technicians would ask me if I thought this job would be right for me or even why I wanted to work as a technician. I always said yes even if I didn’t feel like I could do it at that time. I would say ‘Yes, this job is right for me.’ I was confident that even if I didn’t know everything, I was learning and improving every day.’

I would then ask the other technicians to let me know if there were any job openings. If you are not confident and you say, ‘No, I’m not sure’ then they won’t have any confidence in recommending you too.

10. Show Up at Placement with your Best Attitude 

I was worried when I didn’t hear back from The Alfred after my placement. But I knew that I had tried my best during placement so I didn’t really worry. I had gotten along well with my team, I knew I had worked hard and I was quite sure they liked my attitude.

I received a call from the Head Technician at The Alfred Hospital inviting me to go in for an interview a few weeks after my placement ended. In the meantime, I had also been sending out my resumes to the different hospitals. When The Alfred called me, I went in and did well at the interview. They offered me casual full time hours.

So if you have tried your best, be patient. It will happen.

Good Luck!

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Author: Wei-Li Wong

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