Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Operating room time as a limited resource: ethical considerations for allocation
  1. Patrick David Kelly1,
  2. Joseph B Fanning2,
  3. Brian Drolet3
  1. 1Department of Neurological Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
  2. 2Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
  3. 3Department of Plastic Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Patrick David Kelly, Department of Neurological Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN 37232, USA; patrick.d.kelly{at}


Scheduling surgical procedures among operating rooms (ORs) is mistakenly regarded as merely a tedious administrative task. However, the growing demand for surgical care and finite hours in a day qualify OR time as a limited resource. Accordingly, the objective of this manuscript is to reframe the process of OR scheduling as an ethical dilemma of allocating scarce medical resources. Recommendations for ethical allocation of OR time—based on both familiar and novel ethical values—are provided for healthcare institutions and individual surgeons.

  • surgery
  • resource allocation
  • clinical ethics
  • applied and professional ethics
  • allocation of health care resources

Statistics from


  • Contributors All authors contributed substantially to the conception, design, drafting, critical revision and final approval of the work. All authors accept accountability for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding PDK is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (grant number T32CA106183).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article.

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Other content recommended for you