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SECRETS from the OPERATING ROOM
My Experiences, Observations, and Reflections as a Surgical Salesman
By Curtis M. Chaudoin
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Curtis M. Chaudoin
All rights reserved.
The Life and Views of a Surgical Salesman
After graduating from high school, I enrolled at the University of Kansas. I studied journalism and English. In 1971, I graduated with a bachelor of science in journalism. I was ready for the business world and all the exciting opportunities that were soon to be mine. At least, that was my perspective as an immature college graduate.
I will never forget a conversation that I had with my father at a party after college graduation. During the conversation, he said that there are four kinds of people in the business world. There are liars, whores, pimps, and thieves. And that they will do anything for money, power, and sex. He stated that if you are able to find a good, honest businessperson as a mentor, you will be a blessed person and enjoy your work. If not, your life will be a living hell. With that, he further emphasized that it is more important for whom you work rather than where.
As a very young man, I did not really understand that those words were pearls of wisdom. I was eager to capture the world. But I was too naïve to understand the world that I was about to enter, and how difficult that world would be. Now, after forty years in the business world, mostly in health care, I realize how brilliant my father was. I understand how true those words of wisdom really are.
Since 1975, I have been employed as an OR surgical salesman. During that time, I have worked for several different surgical companies. Besides the OR, I have worked in every procedural area in the hospital, including obstetrics, cardiac catheterization lab, GI lab, and the emergency room.
In my sales career, I have sold sterilization products and sterilizers, antiseptics and disinfectants, surgical scrub solutions, surgical drapes, surgical gowns, ECG electrodes, wound care dressings, surgical instruments, and surgical equipment. I have conducted hundreds of regular product in-services and lectured hundreds of CEU educational programs for OR nursing staffs. I have worked in and assisted in thousands of surgical procedures. And I have witnessed every kind of operation that can be performed, including an SRS. That is sex reassignment surgery, or a sex change procedure.
My ability to gain access into the surgical sales field was a stroke of luck. Years ago, most companies that manufactured and sold surgical devices required that candidates have prior surgical sales experience before they would hire you. I had never worked in the medical field. I had no prior surgical sales experience. If you do not have surgical or even medical sales experience and cannot be hired, how do you get surgical sales experience so that you will be hired?
I was employed with one of the larger and more successful consumer product companies in the world. They manufacture and sell a variety of cleaning products to retail, institutional, and industrial consumers. I worked as a sales representative in their institutional division. The company wanted to start a surgical division, and I was asked to join. I was one of five salespeople, out of over thirty thousand employees, selected to start and operate this new division. It sounded exciting, and I accepted the offer. Heck, it was a nice increase in salary. And I believed that it would be a more prestigious position. Who would not want to have an increase in pay and advancement in position in the business world?
I received my first surgical training at a world-renowned university hospital in a large southern state. The training was conducted by the nurse educator for the hospital operating room. She was extremely experienced and savvy. She was very professional and took her nursing responsibility seriously.
Most OR nurses are very serious about their profession. They are very dedicated to and feel very passionate about patient care. My nurse educator was an ardent member of the AORN, or Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. The AORN is an association that is very important to all OR nurses. It is this organization that strives to improve patient care in the OR and actively works to maintain and improve safety standards. There are chapters in every city or county area across the United States.
My first round of training lasted for three weeks. There were many topics and subjects to learn. We were taught the proper attire in the OR and how it should be worn; patient privacy issues; OR sterile fields; movement in and out of the OR; conduct in the OR suite; principles regarding asepsis, infection control, and safety; and fire risks. We were not allowed in any working OR, to actively view any surgical procedures, until after the first full week of training. There was a lot to see and absorb. There would be many more training courses in the months and years ahead.
My first day working in the operating room and viewing surgery was quite an overwhelming experience. I did not become nervous, ill, or feel faint. That is common for first-timers in surgery. It was the incredible array of procedures that I witnessed. The first procedure that I observed was a disarticulation below the right knee. It is also known as an amputation. It was slightly shocking. The second case that I monitored was an abdominal hysterectomy. Not as riveting as an amputation, but unnerving. It was the third procedure that shocked me beyond belief!
A teenage man was brought into the OR to have back surgery. It was a trauma case. He was involved in a car accident and arrived at the hospital by ambulance. He was immediately brought to the OR from the emergency room. The OR team took him from the ER stretcher, placed him on the surgical table, and began prepping him for surgery. Within minutes, he went into cardiac arrest. Immediately, the OR team began CPR and went for the crash cart. The mood in the OR quickly changed from relaxed and congenial to emergency mode. Loud voices, direct mandates, and quick actions prevailed. The circulating nurse told me to immediately leave the room. I quickly responded to her mandate and went to the OR nurses' lounge.
Approximately one hour later, she came to the lounge and told me that the young man had expired. She could see that I was quite shaken. She was very kind as she explained to me why I had to leave the OR and the appropriate protocol under those circumstances. She also taught me a valuable lesson that day. She said not to take anything that you see or hear in the OR personally. She said that the yelling and shouting that transpires during any OR situation is not personal—it is situational.
I went back to my hotel room that night emotionally drained and physically exhausted. I wondered if this was a job that I wanted to continue. I made a promise to myself to stick it out. I did not want to quit and wonder later if I had made a mistake. And I remembered the advice that was given to me by that OR circulating nurse. It helped to lessen my anxiety. I have never forgotten that advice or my first day in the OR.
I held a sales position with my first surgical company for four years. It was quite a learning experience and provided me entrance into an amazing selling society. However, I was ready to move on to another company. I did not enjoy the management by intimidation and fear philosophy that the company practiced. I hoped to find a company that subscribed to a different philosophy and stay in the surgical field. I loved the medical environment and working in surgery.
I quickly found another job through a recruiting firm. It was with a company in the surgical field. And, as I would learn, that management team treated employees with respect and integrity. I also found the business mentor that my father discussed with me years before. For the next twenty years, my business life would be a wonderful learning and growing experience with my mentor.
I enjoyed my new employer and my new sales position. The company was well established in its surgical niche, and it manufactured the highest quality products. It was the world leader in its field in the surgical industry. My business success was more than I could ever have envisioned. I relished waking up every morning and going to work.
David, the gentleman who hired me, was just that. He was a gentleman. I never heard David say a negative word about anyone. He treated everyone with a unique sense of respect and dignity. He led by example with every conversation, presentation, and interaction that he performed. For me, a young man finding his way in the business world, David was the perfect person to emulate. I could learn the proper and ethical way that business should be conducted.
More than once David proved to me that he was a man of genuine character. I remember a sales promotion that he was conducting with the sales force. Most companies do these promotions to make selling fun and allow the salespeople to earn some extra cash. There also are bragging rights associated with winning these promotions. Salespeople are very competitive. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.
I won the sales promotion by making a huge sale to one of my university hospitals. The order was so large that it could not be filled by my company. And to make the problem even worse, the entire line of product that I sold was placed on a recall. No product to sell or ship, with any company, means no commissions for the salesperson.
I received a phone call from David. He congratulated me on the large sale and winning the promotion. He said that he had some bad news and some good news. He wanted to know which I wanted to hear first. I said the bad news. He said that the company would not be able to pay me any commissions because of the product recall. I said that I was disappointed; however, I understood. I asked him the good news. He said that the good news was that he would pay me the commissions.
I almost fell over. He was going to pay me several thousand dollars in commissions out of his own pocket. I told him that he did not have to do that. He said that he did. He said that when he hired me, I became part of his business family. He said that the product recall and the company's inability to fill the order was not my fault. He emphasized that I made the sale and that I deserved to be paid. After that act of kindness and generosity, I would do anything for him.
David and I successfully worked for that company for ten years. Sadly, the business world changes periodically. David saw that his time was up with our company and that it was time for him to move ahead. When he announced that he was leaving, I told him that I wanted to go with him. He said not to worry; he would call me. In fact, out of fifty salespeople in our division, all fifty wanted to go with him. No one knew where that would be, but it did not matter. We would have followed him anywhere.
David was not out of work for any length of time. He accepted a position as national sales manager with a small but growing surgical company. He called one day to offer me a sales position. I said yes without hesitation. That quickly, the world was right again.
Joining a new company and selling different types of surgical products meant more surgical and product training. The next series of training was not conducted in the OR. It was held in classrooms with a surgical training company. This training session was titled, "Codes of Conduct and Safety in Patient Care Settings."
Seminar topics included: patient rights and safety (HIPPA), role definition/codes of conduct, pathogens and blood-borne viruses, infection prevention, standard precautions, principles of asepsis, hazard protection, and fire safety.
For another ten years I prospered, learned, and grew from David's example. Unfortunately, he had to retire early for medical reasons. Suddenly, the man who taught me a lifetime of ethical business professionalism would no longer be there.
I could never thank David enough for the lessons that I learned from him—and not just from a business perspective. He taught me life lessons. He taught me to be honest and humble in everything that I do in life. The last time that I spoke with him, I said thank you and good-bye. It was a wonderful conversation, although it was one of the sadder days of my life. I have not spoken with him for several years. I hope that he is doing well.
I stayed with that company for another thirteen years. There were several management changes during that time. The managers came, failed, took their options, and left. It happened repeatedly. The company was floundering and doing nothing to improve the working environment. Business was not fun anymore. The same old management philosophy of intimidation and fear kept appearing. I realized that the greatest obstacle that I had in performing my job and being successful was my own company. That was a sad awakening.
The one constant that kept me interested in work was the operating room. It was like an addictive drug. With the operating room came excitement and fascination. It made you feel that you were participating in something meaningful. It required continuous training. I was constantly studying and learning about new surgical products, anatomy involved in specific procedures, and the step-by-step performance of the surgeon during those procedures. I was tested on products, technical specifications, and how and why instruments were used. It was never-ending. I loved it. It helped keep me going.
The operating room is a world unto itself. It is a world behind double doors. You will easily recognize where the operating room is. There is usually a sign that says, Stop! Do Not Enter, OR Personnel Only. It is a secretive and cloistered world that most people enter only when they have a surgical procedure performed. Most people know or understand very little about that world.
The secretive nature of the OR is intentional. The people who work in the OR follow a strict code of silence. You are not supposed to speak about procedures or patients outside of the OR suite. There is never to be conversation relating to any surgical procedure in elevators, hallways, waiting rooms, or dining areas. There could be a relative or friend of a surgical patient within ear range. Overheard conversations about patients may be a violation of their privacy rights and could be fuel for a lawsuit.
This manner of conduct is understood by every hospital employee from the housekeeping staff to nurses and medical students. During my first week of surgical training, I was in the cafeteria eating lunch. Sitting at the table next to me was a group of first-year medical students. They were talking and laughing about some of their patient cases. One of the head nurses from the OR happened to be walking by and heard their conversation. She instructed them to follow her. Ten minutes later the group returned. There was not a smile on any of their faces. Not one of them said a word. I can only imagine what was said to them in private.
I believe that the majority of people who are going to have surgery do very little research about their situation. They know very few facts about their hospital, the OR suite, the OR nursing staff, anesthesia, or their recommended surgical procedure. But most astounding to me, they know nothing about the attending surgeon who is about to invade their body! I cannot imagine committing yourself to surgery without doing extensive research on everything and everyone involved in the process. If you do no research as a patient, you will assume the worst and anxiously await your doom.
No one looks forward to being admitted to the hospital. And the thought of having to undergo a surgical procedure conjures up the worst fears and anxiety. Those fears and anxiety are understandable. It is natural to have a fear of anything that is unknown. We have heard horror stories of mistakes that occur in surgery, and we can visualize one happening to us. However, if you take the time to research and educate yourself about the surgical world, you will lessen your worries and fears. An educated patient is a confident and relaxed patient.
There is no average day in the OR. Each day is a day of miracles and tragedies, joy and sadness, success and failure. Many thousands of surgical procedures are performed every day in the United States and across the world. The procedural specialty fields include general, neurosurgery, orthopedic, vascular, urology, gynecology, plastics, thoracic, and obstetrics. Within each specialty comes new advanced techniques and instrumentation.
The rate of technique change in the surgical field occurs at a staggering rate. What was the standard practice six months ago is now outdated and passé. New instrumentation and modified technique are the constant norms.
The vast majority of surgical procedures performed run smoothly and have successful outcomes. And the reason for the high success rate is due to the knowledge, training, expertise, and professionalism of the OR team. Each member has spent years in training to achieve a license or certification in a specialty field. And each member spends many hours in continuing education courses, in-services, and seminars. This is a requirement to maintain a valid and current license or registration certificate.
Excerpted from SECRETS from the OPERATING ROOM by Curtis M. Chaudoin. Copyright © 2013 Curtis M. Chaudoin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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