Common Surgery Terms

When a child needs surgery, the patient and family will learn many new terms that are commonly used by doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Below are some of the most common terms our patients and families may hear regarding surgery.


A diagnosis takes place when the patient’s doctor identifies the child’s problem or illness. When the doctor gives the child’s diagnosis, he or she will also explain the correct procedure (surgery) for the problem. Although there are many types of surgeries with different risk factors, the doctor will select the best course of action based on the child’s condition.

major surgery

These are surgeries of the head, neck, chest and abdomen. The recovery time can be lengthy and may involve a stay in intensive care or several days in the hospital. There is a higher risk of complications after such surgeries.

minor surgery

Minor surgeries have a shorter recovery time than major surgeries, and children are typically able to return to their usual activities quickly. These surgeries are most often done as an outpatient and children can return home the same day. Complications from these types of surgeries are rare. Not all conditions are treatable with minor surgery.

elective surgery

These are procedures patients should undergo, which may be helpful, but are not necessarily essential. An example might be removing a birthmark or circumcising a male infant.

required surgery

These are procedures that need to be done to ensure the quality of a child’s life in the future.

urgent or emergency surgery

This type of surgery is done in response to an urgent medical need, such as the correction of a life-threatening congenital heart malformation or the repair of injured internal organs after an automobile accident.

open surgery

An open surgery means cutting skin and tissues so the surgeon has direct access to the structures or organs inside the body.

minimally invasive surgery

Minimally invasive surgery refers to any surgical technique that does not require a large incision. This allows the child to recuperate faster and with less pain. Not all conditions are treatable with minimally invasive surgery.

preoperative unit

The preoperative unit is the section of the Tidwell Procedure Center dedicated to caring for children as they prepare for and recover from surgery. Children do not stay overnight in this unit of the hospital. Patients needing extended in-hospital care after surgery are transferred to an intensive care unit or inpatient unit after their initial stay in recovery. Patients who can go home the same day of their surgery are discharged from the preoperative unit. While speaking with members of the child’s healthcare team, the preoperative unit may also be referred to as the “short stay unit,” “SSU,” and “pre-op unit.”