Collecting data in the operating department: Issues of observational methodology

Helen McGarvey, M Chambers, JRP Boore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Although it is explicitly related to operating department nursing, the content of this paper has wider relevance in critical care nursing. With the current emphasis on evidence-based nursing, it is likely that an increasing number of nurses will be involved in research in one way or another. Operating departments and intensive and critical care units have a number of characteristics in common
(though also many differences): patients are in what for most is a strange environment, many are anxious and are acutely vulnerable to physical and/or psychological harm, and their safety and wellbeing depend to a considerable extent on nurses. Most of the nurses are in a familiar environment, with a relatively close-knit group of specialist staff, where many aspects of the work can become routine for them. Not only theory but also personal experience of using observation during one of the earliest UK studies of intensive care nursing indicate that many of the kinds of challenges and conflicts faced by nurse researchers in such situations are similar. It is useful for nurses in areas which
are the subject of research, as well as nurses doing research, to understand these.

The UK literature contains few references to nursing in the operating department and even fewer to methods for researching nursing in what is often a complex and stressful environment. Nursing staff work under intense pressure and this presents a challenge, not only for nurses who work in the operating department, but also for researchers who choose to study nursing within its bounds.
This paper focuses on some of the key issues which emerged during one study of nursing in the operating department where an observational methodology was used. The author suggests that observation, as a research method, is an important feature of contextual investigation. However, like other methods of investigation, it requires careful planning and preparation. Furthermore, the
author believes that sensitivity and skill are required for the enactment of the observer role when researching nursing within this specialized environment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-297
Number of pages10
JournalIntensive and Critical Care Nursing
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 31 Oct 1999


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