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J Surg Educ. 2009 Nov-Dec;66(6):383-91. doi: 10.1016/j.jsurg.2009.08.001.

What do surgical nurses know about surgical residents?

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  • 1Division of Surgical Education, Department of Surgery, East Carolina University, Brody School of Medicine, Greenville, North Carolina 27858, USA.



A fundamental premise of establishing collaborative relationships between residents and nurses is a basic understanding of the attributes of each group. The intent of this study was to determine what surgical nurses know about surgical residents.


A piloted survey tool was administered to a cross-section of nurses working in 3 surgical intensive care units, a surgical intermediate unit, and 2 general surgical floors. Surgical residents completed the same survey tool. The percentage of residents giving the most frequent response was compared with the percentage of nurses giving the same response.


A university, teaching hospital.


One hundred twenty-four of 129 surgical nurses and 24 of 25 surgical residents who completed the survey tool.


The response rate for nurses on the 2 survey days was 94%, or 54% of all surgical nurses employed by the hospital, and 96% for residents. The nurses surveyed were equally distributed between the units. Ninety-nine percent of nurses did not have a surgical resident as a significant other, 55% of nurses had greater than 5 years experience, and 95% were licensed registered nurses. Seventy-eight percent of nurses correctly indicated that a medical doctorate is the highest degree required to start residency (p = 0.01), but only 57% accurately identified the length of surgical residency (p = 0.02). Nurses perceived residents devoted less time to patient care (p < 0.01) and more time to studying (p < 0.01). Forty percent of nurses do not think interns are legally physicians (p < 0.01) or hold a medical license (p < 0.01). Forty percent of nurses are aware of the 80-hour work week restriction (p < 0.01). Eighteen percent of nurses have the perception that residents are not allowed to perform bedside procedures without an attending physician present (p = 0.03), while 56% have the perception that residents are not allowed to perform any part of an operation without an attending physician (p < 0.01). There is a misperception among 32% of nurses that residents pay tuition for residency (p < 0.01), while only 52% accurately identified the range of a resident's salary (p = 0.01) and 11% the amount of resident debt (p < 0.01).


Despite the importance of the collaborative relationship in surgical patient care, surgical nurses have a limited understanding of surgical residents. Educating nurses about the education, roles, and responsibilities of surgical residents might improve collaborative relationships and ultimately patient care.

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