Operating Department Practitioner

The Job and What's Involved

Operating department practitioners (ODP's) work primarily in operating theatres. They work as part of a team with surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre nurses, caring for patients before, during and after surgery. They play an important role in making sure that every operation is as safe and effective as possible.

Each operation has three phases. During the first phase, the patient is given an anaesthetic by the anaesthetist. In this stage the ODP:

  • Checks the patient's identity.
  • Helps the patient and gives them individual care.
  • Moves the patient onto the operating table and positions them correctly.
  • Prepares specialist drugs and equipment, including anaesthetic machines and intravenous equipment.

The second phase is the actual operation. The ODP in this phase:

  • Prepares instruments and equipment like microscopes, lasers and endoscopes for the procedure.
  • Provides the surgical equipment and materials that the surgeon needs.
  • Makes sure that all surgical instruments, equipment and swabs are accounted for throughout the operation so that nothing is lost or left inside the patient.
  • Acts as a link between the surgical team and other parts of the theatre and hospital.
  • Anticipates the needs of the surgical team and responds effectively.

When surgery is complete, the ODP:

  • Takes the patient to the recovery room.
  • Monitors the patient until they recover from the effects of surgery and the anaesthetic.
  • Checks for complications such as blood loss, breathing problems or shock.
  • Gives treatment during the recovery phase if necessary.
  • Provides pain relief for patients.
  • Decides when the patient is ready to return to their ward.

ODP's are also involved in assessing and evaluating the anaesthetic, surgical and recovery phases of the operation.

ODP's usually work 37.5 hours a week. This includes working shifts to cover evenings and weekends. There may also be an on-call rota for emergencies. Overtime may sometimes be necessary. Part-time work is possible.

ODP's mainly work in sterile hospital areas in operating theatres, anaesthetic areas and recovery rooms. They may also work in other areas, such as intensive care units, accident and emergency, helicopter emergency medical services, maternity units, special care baby units, resuscitation teams, transplant teams, day surgery units and orthopaedic clinics. Working areas are clean and well lit, but may be warm or can be very cool. The job involves standing for long periods.

Specialist clothing, including scrubs, head coverings and special footwear, is provided by the hospital. During operations, ODP's wear masks, sterile gowns and gloves.

Entry-level salaries for ODP's in the National Health Service (NHS) can range from £17,316 to £20,818 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Just over 9,350 ODP's are currently registered in the UK. The number has increased in recent years, but there is still a shortage. The NHS employs most ODP's Others work for private hospitals and for the Armed Forces. Temporary work is available through agencies. NHS Trusts also keep lists of trained ODP's ready to be called in for weekend or holiday cover and during major emergencies.

Vacancies are advertised in local newspapers. Technic, published by the College of Operating Department Practitioners (CODP), and the CODP website are other good sources of up-to-date vacancies. Jobs can also be found on the NHS websites www.jobs.nhs.uk and www.jobs.scot.nhs.uk, and medical recruitment agencies.

Education and Training

To become an ODP, candidates must:

  • Pass the Diploma in Higher Education (DipHE) in operating department practice.
  • Register with the Health Professions Council.

Entry to DipHE courses is usually with a minimum of five GCSE's (A*-C), including maths, English and a science subject. However, many institutions also ask for A levels. Alternative qualifications may be acceptable, such as a health-related Level 2 NVQ combined with GCSE's or A levels. Candidates are advised to check exact entry requirements with individual course providers.

The Diploma in society, health and development (available in England) may be relevant for this area of work.

All ODP trainees have their backgrounds checked by the Criminal Records Bureau/Disclosure Scotland for working with children and vulnerable adults. On enrolment, applicants have a medical examination and an occupational health screening to confirm their fitness to practise.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

DipHE in operating department practice courses are offered at universities and colleges throughout the UK. The HPC and CODP websites include details of approved courses, which are available on a two year, full-time basis or part-time for up to seven years.

NHS-funded places are available for eligible students on approved courses - tuition fees are paid in full and students receive financial support in the form of a bursary to help towards living expenses. Check with individual institutions to see if courses attract NHS financial support.

Courses combine theory with practical experience. Topics covered by the DipHE include:

- Anatomy
- Anaesthetics
- Surgery
- Pharmacology
- Microbiology
- Infection

Approximately 60% of the DipHE is spent completing clinical placements in operating theatres, accident and emergency departments and intensive care units.

Upon successful completion of the DipHE, trainees can apply to the Health Professions Council for registration. This is a requirement to practise in the UK as an ODP.

Keeping skills updated is another requirement. Employers may encourage working towards additional qualifications. Registered ODP's must commit to undertake continuing professional development (CPD) in order to maintain their registration.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An ODP should:

  • Be able to work well as part of a team.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Remain calm under pressure.
  • Be efficient and reliable, with a methodical approach to work.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Have good observational skills for noticing changes in a patient's condition.
  • Be able to gain the trust of colleagues and patients.
  • Be able to work with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • Have technical aptitude for working with machines.
  • Have good hand skills for using surgical instruments.
  • Have the stamina and fitness levels required for standing and lifting.
  • Be able to deal with unpleasant sights, blood and death in a professional manner.

Your Long Term Prospects

With experience, progression to team leader or senior ODP, with responsibility for managing an operating theatre unit, is possible. There are also opportunities in research, education or training.

Although it is not a job requirement, it is possible for ODP's to build on their DipHE by studying for a degree in operating department practice.

It may be possible to work abroad.

Get Further Information

Association for Perioperative Practice (AfPP),
Daisy Ayris House, 6 Grove Park Court,
Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 4DP
Tel: 01423 508079
Website: www.afpp.org.uk

College of Operating Department Practitioners (CODP),
197-199 City Road, London EC1V 1JN
Tel: 0870 746 0984
Website: www.unison.org.uk/at-work/

Health Professions Council, Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Website: www.hpc-uk.org

NHS Careers, PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX 3EY
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Websites: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk,
and for graduates and
undergraduates www.whatcanidowithmydegree.nhs.uk

Skills for Health, 2nd Floor,
Goldsmiths House, Broad Plain, Bristol BS2 0JP
Tel: 0117 922 1155
Website: www.skillsforhealth.org.uk

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