Surgeries can often last several hours, so it’s natural to wonder if surgeons get a chance to eat or drink during long procedures. The answer is generally no – surgeons typically do not eat or drink while operating. There are several reasons for this.
Eating or drinking during surgery increases the risk of spreading germs and bacteria. Surgeons need to maintain a sterile surgical field to prevent infections. Putting anything in their mouth, like food or a drink, provides an opportunity for microbes to enter their mouth and contaminate their gloves and surgical instruments. Even small crumbs from food could carry bacteria that could lead to a surgical site infection.
Focus and Precision
Performing surgery requires intense concentration and precision. Taking time to eat or drink would disrupt the surgeon’s focus and flow. Surgeries require careful manipulation of delicate tissues and anatomy. The steady hands and hyperfocus needed to successfully operate could be compromised if the surgeon paused to eat or drink.
Eating and drinking during surgery can pose safety risks to the patient. The surgeon may become less attentive to the procedure while chewing or swallowing. Vital signs and bleeding must be constantly monitored. Food particles or liquids could accidentally fall into the surgical opening. Any lapse in attention or contamination of the surgical field could lead to complications.
It would be challenging for surgeons to easily eat or drink during surgery. They wear masks covering their nose and mouth. Their hands are occupied holding surgical instruments and need to remain sterile. Most operating rooms prohibit food and drink to maintain cleanliness. Any food or beverages would need to be passed into the sterile field by a surgical tech to the fully gowned and gloved surgeon, which is unlikely to happen during an active case.
When Do Surgeons Eat?
Though they do not eat during procedures, surgeons do get the sustenance they need around their operative schedules. Typical surgeon eating times include:
- Before surgery: Surgeons will often eat a substantial breakfast or meal to fuel up before an operation. This helps provide energy for prolonged cases.
- Between cases: Surgeons may have a chance to quickly eat or drink between back-to-back surgeries or cases spaced far enough apart.
- After surgery: Following the last scheduled procedure of the day, surgeons can eat a delayed meal and drink fluids to recover and rehydrate.
- On call: Surgeons working overnight shifts may pack snacks to eat in between emergency cases or during coverage downtime.
In certain situations, a surgeon may be allowed to briefly eat or drink during a procedure. Examples include:
- Long, complex surgeries lasting over 10 hours: The surgeon may drink water or electrolyte beverages through a straw placed in their mouth by a tech.
- Teaching hospitals: Attending surgeons instructing residents may be able to step away briefly to eat or drink during less critical parts of surgery.
- Rural or under-staffed hospitals: Without relief surgeons available, the operating surgeon may need brief nourishment to maintain stamina.
However, these occurrences are infrequent. For routine surgeries, which make up the majority, surgeons abstain from any oral intake while operating.
Improving Surgeon Nutrition and Hydration
Since surgeons often cannot eat or drink during long hours in the operating room, steps must be taken to optimize their nutrition and hydration around surgical schedules. Some strategies include:
- Stocking on-call rooms and break areas with nutritious snacks and beverages
- Making balanced meals available to surgeons before and after operating
- Allowing adequate time between cases for food and drink breaks
- Encouraging surgeons to eat hearty meals prior to starting surgical blocks
- Providing easily accessible water bottles and electrolyte beverages
- Covering overnight cases with backup or relief surgeons
Surgery programs should prioritize making sure surgeons consume enough calories, protein, vitamins, and fluids. Proper nourishment will give them the stamina for their demanding operative schedules.
Surgeons generally refrain from eating and drinking during surgeries. This ensures optimal sterile technique, concentration, patient safety, and procedural flow. Brief exceptions may occur for unusually long or complex cases, teaching hospitals, or understaffed facilities. However, policies typically prohibit oral intake for routine operations. Surgery programs still need to make surgeon nutrition and hydration a priority around demanding caseloads through meal availability, nutritious snacks, and electrolyte beverages.
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