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Embracing Surgical Conscience: Essential ethics in perioperative nursing

17 January 2024 - Deb Evans

surgical conscience

As healthcare professionals, we navigate through complex surgical procedures, with each step guided by an unwavering commitment to patient care, safety, and integrity. 

Surgical conscience refers to the ethical and professional responsibility of healthcare professionals to uphold  the highest standards of patient care. It involves a strong commitment to adhere to established guidelines, protocols, and best practices while demonstrating a high level of personal accountability and self-awareness in the operating theatre.

Surgical conscience is more than just a buzzword - it is the ethical heartbeat that guides every cut, suture, and decision made by the surgical team. As patients entrust their lives to us, we are obligated to respect that trust and adhere to the four key principles that form the core of surgical conscience:

Surgical conscience

Adherence to surgical best practices

In Australian healthcare, the multidisciplinary team (MDT) is dedicated to following evidence-based guidelines and established surgical procedures. This commitment ensures the highest quality of care for patients, minimising the risk of adverse events. Adherence to guidelines includes thorough preoperative planning, precise surgical techniques, and vigilant intraoperative and postoperative care.

Patient autonomy and dignity

Beyond the physical act of surgery, the surgical team is responsible for respecting patient autonomy and preserving their dignity. This involves recognising patients' rights and involving them in decision-making processes. Upholding patient dignity is central to perioperative nursing in Australia, enhancing patient trust and comfort.

Transparency and honest communication

Honest communication is essential in perioperative care. It involves surgeons discussing the surgical procedure, risks, benefits, and expected outcomes with patients and their families. Perioperative nurses act as patient advocates, ensuring transparency and honesty throughout the surgical journey.

Continuous learning and improvement

Australians in the field of perioperative nursing are committed to ongoing education and staying abreast of advancements in surgical techniques, technologies, and relevant guidelines. This continuous improvement is crucial for delivering top-notch patient care.

“If mistakes happen during surgery, prompt reporting, open disclosure, taking responsibility and working to rectify the situation in the best interest of the patient must occur”

What is the impact of surgical conscience?

The influence of surgical conscience extends beyond the operating theatre. It fosters a culture of trust, leading to positive patient experiences and outcomes. In Australian healthcare institutions, it cultivates a collaborative environment, encouraging open communication, reducing medical errors, and inspiring ethical practice.

As we step into the operating room, let's remember that behind every mask lies a professional driven by the principles of surgical conscience. This commitment not only enhances our practice but elevates the standard of care for patients globally. In Australian perioperative nursing, surgical conscience is not just a concept; it's the ethical heartbeat of our profession.

Related courses and further learning



Duff J., Bowen L., & Gumuskaya O., (2022) What does surgical conscience mean to perioperative nurses: An interpretive description. Collegian Vol 29 (2) 

Quintana D. (2022) Surgical Conscience: A concept analysis for perioperative nurses. AORN Journal Vol 116 (6)

Quintana D. (2023) The Importance of Having a Surgical Conscience AORN December

Deb Evans
Deb Evans

DebEvans, RN, BSc, DipAnaes&PostAnaesNsg, CritCareCert, DipProfStudies, Teach&AssessClin.PractCert, CertIV(TAE) has extensive background in Perioperative education and management. Deb has worked overseas and in several tertiary hospitals in Brisbane as an educator and manager including the Mater & The Wesley Hospital where she was awarded CEO Award for Innovation and Excellence and The Spirit of Wesley Staff Award for commitment to Quality and Safety.

Deb has developed blended education programs within the perioperative environment to include; Graduate transition programs; Clinical mandatory training; Corporate required learning & Point of Care SIMs; Perioperative competency development skills and speciality training programs. She recently worked for Montserrat Day Hospitals as the National Education & Training Manager and implemented a virtual orientation program, LMS & introduced speciality learning pathways. Deb has also been an ALS instructor & involved with a range of universities as a clinical facilitator and a lecturer at TAFE.

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