chuck eldridge slices open the chest of a 76-year-old retired engineer with a clogged aortic valve. he spreads wide the rib cage and goes in.
eldridge cradles the heart, poking gently to feel for disease. "ten-minute warning," eldridge says, alerting the surgeon that he will soon be needed at the table in abington memorial hospital's operating room.
eldridge is a nurse.
renowned cardiac surgeon v. paul addonizio tapped him 17 years ago to be his first assistant.
while an increasing number of highly trained nurses are taking on routine tasks that doctors performed, eldridge's setup is rare.
traditionally, first assistants are surgeons or resident doctors. to qualify, eldridge needed a registered nurse's license, at least two years of operating-room experience, one year of training to become a registered nurse first assistant (rnfa), and 2,000 clinical hours in operating rooms.
full story: doctor-nurse duo charts new path