How to Become an Operating Room Nurse?

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Today I’ll be going over how to become an operating room nurse, and what the necessary steps are to get there!

If you’re like me, then the operating room is an incredibly fascinating place to work. There are a lot of different jobs in the operating room, and nurses are at the origin of several of those.

But, have you ever thought about a career in the operating room? Surgical nursing is a special form of nursing that not many people might know of. You typically have a lot more training post-grad than other specialties.

Whether you are in nursing school, thinking about nursing school, or already graduated, then these steps can help you become an operating room nurse!

What is an Operating Room Nurse?

Operating room nurses have several different roles to fill. They can either be in the circulating role or scrub role. In addition, nurses can also go to anesthesia school to be a CRNA.

I wrote an entire article on what OR nurses do, but we’ll go over the basics.

Circulating nurses are non-sterile personnel and help ensure the surgical procedure runs smoothly. They help anesthesia, prepare equipment, and get the patients on the table.

Scrub nurses are involved directly in the procedure at the sterile field. They can be first assistants or second assistants. Both roles are scrubbed into the surgery, and help provide assistance to the operating surgeon.

What is a Perioperative Nurse?

A perioperative nurse is an RN who works in the operating room. It is a more professional term for an “operating room nurse” or “OR nurse”.

While perioperative nurses typically are involved in intra-operative portions of surgery, their duties might spill over into the pre- or post-operative areas. These nurses are then known as PeriAnesthesia nurses.

Education Requirements for an Operating Room Nurse

OR nurse positions require that the applicant have a RN or LPN license in good standing. You can achieve a 2-year ADN or 4-year BSN degree and then take the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse.

While most hospitals may accept new-grad RN’s, some will not. The older culture required a nurse to have 1 or more years of experience on a med-surg or telemetry floor prior to working in the operating room. However, nowadays that isn’t always the case.

Bedside experience isn’t always necessary, but typical operating room jobs will have an extensive orientation process that teaches you all about surgery. These orientations vary based on job descriptions and systems, however typically involve learning the scrub and circulating roles.

Certification Requirements for Operating Room Nursing

Depending on what role you are applying for in the operating room will determine which credentialing is necessary. The Association for Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) list the certifications that nurses may need for their role.

  • CNOR (certification for RN’s)
  • CRNFA (RN First Assist)
  • CSSM (managerial certification)
  • CNS-CP (Clinical Nurse Specialist Master’s certification)
  • CRNA (for Anesthesia care providers)

What are the Duties/Roles of an Operating Room Nurse?

Depending on the role you are taking on for the day, scrub or circulating nurse, then your duties might change.

Circulating nurses are the non-sterile personnel that help fetch supplies, gather equipment, and set up the rooms. Additionally, they might provide anesthesia with assistance and grab medications.

Scrub nurses are part of the sterile surgical team. You can be first assisting or second assisting and directly involved in the procedure. Typically they are responsible for setting up the sterile field as well as draping the patient.

Steps to Become an Operating Room Nurse

What are the necessary steps to become an operating room RN?

1. Graduate Nursing School & Pass the NCLEX

The first step is probably the most obvious, but you need to have a nursing license to get a job. You will need to attend and graduate nursing school. Then, you will need to pass the NCLEX for a license in your state.

2. Find a Job

Finding a job sounds like a pretty logical step. However, many operating rooms may not high new graduate nurses.

Depending on where you want to work, there can be different rules on how long you have to be a nurse before transferring to a surgical position.

There can be several reasons for this. Regardless, you should apply to open operating room RN positions. But, you need to be honest about your experience.

3. Ace the Interview

Interviewing can be challenging. However, we have some great operating room nurse interview questions to help prepare you for it.

You can prepare for the interview by practicing the questions, and mock interviewing with friends or family. Additionally, you can read about what the roles of the operating room are, speak with real OR nurses, and ask the manager if there’s anything you can do to prepare.

4. Get Through Orientation

Congrats! You got the job. But, now you have to get through orientation.

Unfortunately, 85% of what you need to know for the operating room, you have not learned in school. There are a lot of skills you need to learn on the job, or in your nurse residency classes.

If you are going to learn how to scrub (unless you were a scrub tech prior), then you need to learn all of the surgical instrumentation. In addition, you’ll need to learn how to drape, how to scrub, and sterile technique.

Circulators will use some knowledge from nursing school, however most of it will be completely new. So, don’t forget it can be challenging.

What is an Operating Room Nurse Salary?

According to, the average median salary for an operating room nurse is $81,000 per year. On the high end, you can expect to earn potentially over $100,000 with extra call/overtime hours.

In my experience, nurses can expect to earn significantly more than a base salary because of extra pay opportunities.

In addition, travel nurses who work in the operating room can expect to make even more money depending on the city. The operating room is one of the highest paid travel nurse jobs, and you can expect to make over $110,000 annually.

What Hours or Shifts Do Operating Room Nurses Work?

What shift can you expect to work as an operating room nurse?

Typically OR nurses will work 12-hour, 10-hour, or 8-hour days. These shifts correspond with a 5-day, 4-day, or 3-day week. You might even see 24-hour shifts available in areas such as OB/Labor and Delivery.

You will typically see call-shift hours for overnight weekday shifts, weekend and holiday shifts. Although, this can vary greatly on the facility where you work.

Do OR Nurses Work Weekends?

Most operating room nurses do not have a normally scheduled weekend shift. However, you might find nurses who only work weeks or take call shifts on weekends.

Do OR Nurses Work Holidays?

Most operating room nurses do not work holidays. You might have a holiday call shift on rotation, but you most likely won’t have a in-house shift.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, when it comes to being a nurse in the OR there are a lot of steps you have to take. It can be a long road, but totally worth it in the long run.

There can be a lot of opportunities for advancement in the operating room, especially for nurses. If you are interested in going back to school to be a first assist (RNFA), or even a medical device rep, the OR is a great place to learn and advance your career.

Additionally, operating room nurses can be a well-paid position, as well as more flexible “normal” schedule.

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Full Time Nurse

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