What Do Operating Room Nurses Do?

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What Do Operating Room Nurses Do?

Operating room nurses have two roles: scrub or circulating. Scrub nurses are directly involved in the sterile procedure and help assist the surgeon. Circulating nurses are non-sterile personnel assisting anesthesia, with room setup, patient positioning and various other nursing tasks.

Are you a nursing student trying to figure out what your specialty will be or a nurse that is thinking about changing careers? Or maybe you’re interested in what an operating room nurse is?

There can be a lot of misconceptions about what happens in the operating room. Why? Because, typically anyone that is in there goes under general anesthesia and won’t remember much.

So, you might hear some different things from different sources about what OR nurses do. But, we’ll be going over the details of what happens in the operating room on a day-to-day basis, what the OR nurse responsibilities are, and why you might want to be one!

What is the Operating Room?


The operating room (OR) is an area in which surgical procedures are performed. It typically contains an operating table, plenty of surgical supplies, sterile instruments, and special equipment. The OR is designed to be a negative pressure room (air is pumped out). It also might have special camera and lighting equipment for certain procedures.

What is an Operating Room Nurse?

An operating room nurse is usually an RN (registered nurse) who works in surgery with physicians, residents, surgical technicians, and other nurses.

As an OR nurse there are typically two responsibilities that you might encounter; the circulating nurse and the scrub nurse. We’ll go over both roles and what their jobs are later, but most OR nurses learn both roles.

There is also CRNA’s in the operating room, however, they are concerned with the patient’s anesthesia.

What is a Circulating Nurse?

Circulating nurses are RN’s who work with the surgical staff to help aid in surgery preparations, intra-op charting, operating room setup, and other intra-op duties. As a circulator, you might grab supplies, help position the patient, and run samples to the lab.

There are a variety of different tasks (pre-, post-, or intra-op) a circulating nurse might perform, however all of which are in the operating room.

What is a Scrub Nurse?

Scrub nurses are RN’s who work with surgeons, residents, and surgical staff to help in sterile operations. Nurses “scrub” into surgery (sterile) and help however needed in the procedure. This can be handing sterile instruments to staff, holding sterile objects or really contributing in any way they can!

Some scrub nurses, such as RN First Assistants, may even assist directly with procedures. There might also be physicians assistants or surgical technicians helping as well.

Scrub Nurse vs Circulating Nurse

What is the difference between a scrub vs circulating nurse? Circulating and scrub nurses are both forms of operating room nurses. However, unlike scrub nurses, circulating nurses don’t scrub into procedures and assist with non-sterile tasks.

While some operating nurses are trained in both duties, there are surgical technicians that scrub into procedures.

How Much Does An Operating Room Nurse Make?

What does an OR nurse make as far as money goes? Operating room nurses have a median salary of about $76,000 per year (source). However, some OR nurses, such as RN first assistants, can make upwards of $120,000-$130,000 per year.


OR nursing is a very specialized field that requires a lot of training outside of the typical nursing school classes. There is a lot of information that you need to know to be an efficient operating room nurse. So, OR nurse salaries can vary greatly based on experience as well as travel nursing assignments.

Is OR Nursing Right for You?

Should you be an OR nurse? There are a lot of pros to being an operating room nurse. You have a pretty decent salary ($80,000 per year on average), an awesome team-work atmosphere, and you get to work with several patients each shift!

FTN Nurse Note:

I worked in surgery at a Pediatric Hospital while I was in nursing school. I could see (on some days) personally, upwards of 20-40 patients myself! It can be very interesting and satisfying to help that many patients in a single day.

However, if you get squeamish around certain procedures (especially around blood), don’t like getting involved in sterile procedures, or enjoy working with patients on a more intimate level, you might want to reconsider. A lot of floor nurses that transition to the operating room end up missing the one-on-one contact with patients. But, you also get the benefit of helping potentially a lot of patients each shift.

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Full Time Nurse

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