Operating theatre nurses: Emotional labour and the hostess role


Stephen Timmons, Lecturer, School of Nursing, University of Nottingham, Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham NG7 2UH, United Kingdom. Email: stephen.timmons@nottingham.ac.uk


Emotional labour has been established as a significant factor in nursing work, although no studies have been done looking at emotional labour specifically in an operating theatre nursing context. Theatre staff (17 nurses and three Operating Department Practitioners (technicians) were observed in practice over a period of nine months by one of the authors. Each of the staff was subsequently interviewed. The transcriptions of the observation fieldwork notes and the semistructured interviews were analysed for themes and content. The (predominantly female) nurses perceived that one of their responsibilities was ‘looking after the surgeons’. We have described this as the ‘hostess’ role. This role consisted of two major areas of activity: ‘keeping the surgeons happy’ and ‘not upsetting the surgeons’. Examples are given of how this was accomplished through talk and actions. The (predominantly male) operating department practitioners did not see this as part of their work. This ‘hostess’ role is a kind of emotional labour, but performed with coworkers rather than patients. Like other forms of emotional labour, it is strongly gendered. The emotional labour performed by the theatre nurses was necessary to maintain what has been called elsewhere the ‘sentimental order’.