Governance in operating room nursing: nurses' knowledge of individual surgeons

Soc Sci Med. 2006 Mar;62(6):1541-51. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.08.007. Epub 2005 Sep 26.


This paper explores governance and control in operating room nurses' clinical practice. Traditionally, operating room nurses have been portrayed as "handmaidens" to the surgeons, a position which implies that nurses' bodies and the knowledge they use in practice are sites of discursive control by others. This paper unsettles this understanding by showing how operating room nurses studied ethnographically in an Australian setting are both disciplined by and actively shape practice through knowing surgeons' technical requirements for surgery, through inscribing them in discourses of time, and through having deep knowledge of the surgeons' "soul". We argue that as a form of governance, nurses' knowledge of surgeons is a subjugated form of knowledge, located low down on a hierarchy of knowledges. Furthermore, as a form of governance that has previously been unarticulated in the literature, it transcends the traditional lines of authority and control in the nurse-doctor relationship. The data in this paper are drawn from an ethnographic study that explored a range of nurse-nurse and nurse-doctor communication practices in operating room nursing.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Australia
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Operating Room Nursing / organization & administration*
  • Operating Rooms / organization & administration*
  • Physician-Nurse Relations*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'*
  • Professional Autonomy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Specialties, Surgical / organization & administration*