Send to

Choose Destination
Med Educ. 2003 Aug;37(8):680-8.

Making the most of learning in the operating theatre: student strategies and curricular initiatives.

Author information

Department of Surgery, Edward Ford Building A27, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia.



Students in medical programmes around the world are required to attend with their patient in the operating theatre, yet little is known about this area of medical education. Most of the published literature on the operating theatre is normative in character, written from the perspective of the surgeon as teacher. This paper, in contrast, reports the student's perspective as learner. It is an interpretive case study conducted in the department of surgery at an Australian university.


Research approaches were combined in a multi-method strategy which included in-depth interviews with students and surgeons, observations in operating theatres, group interviews and a student survey. The aim was to understand the student's experience of the theatre as a learning environment, with a view to improving teaching and learning in this setting.


The operating theatre is a challenging place in which to learn. The challenges are conceptualized in this paper around three key domains: the challenge posed by the physical environment and the emotional impact of surgery as work; the challenge of the educational task, and the challenge of managing the social relations of work in the operating theatre.


Students who report finding the operating theatre a useful experience are those who adopt active strategies to successfully manage their learning across the three domains. The paper describes curricular initiatives that have been introduced in a department of surgery to help more students make the most of their learning in theatres, and goes on to discuss the wider implications of the findings for surgical education beyond this case study.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center