OR Nurse Salary and Career Opportunities

Salary Overview

Operating room (OR) nurses are also known as surgical or perioperative nurses. These nursing specialists take care of patients before, during, and after their surgeries. They often function as liaisons between the operative team and a patient’s family. They typically work in hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, and physician’s offices.

All OR nurses are also registered nurses (RNs). The 2012 median RN salary was $31.48 an hour, or $65,470 annually, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. Between 2012 and 2022, this agency projects RN job growth of 19 percent, faster than average. This is primarily due to an aging population and easier access to health care. Given the rising number of senior Americans, the demand for OR nurses could outpace estimated RN job growth.

An RN working as an OR nurse could earn as much as $40.67 per hour or $61.34 for overtime work, according to PayScale. Total compensation, including profit sharing and a bonus, might reach $89,280 annually.

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Paths to Increase OR Nurse Salary

Becoming an OR nurse starts with achieving RN status. That requires graduation from a hospital diploma program or earning an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Johnson & Johnson indicates that for licensing eligibility in a given state, graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

According to the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, many facilities require general nursing experience before an RN can enter the OR nursing specialty. A good background would include courses in emergency situations, patient assessment, intraoperative activities, sterilization, and discharge planning. The Mayo Clinic indicates that OR nurses typically serve as either scrub nurses or circulating nurses.

OR nurses who want to increase their compensation can earn the designation of certified nurse operating room (CNOR), awarded through the Competency & Credentialing Institute. This certification helps an individual advance to RN first assistant, a nurse who assists surgeons during an operation with duties such as controlling bleeding and suturing.

With administrative and budgeting skills, an OR nurse can advance to becoming an OR director, hospital nurse manager, or administrator of an outpatient surgery center. Those with graduate degrees are eligible to become nursing educators. An individual with an M.S.N. might choose to become a nurse practitioner (NP) or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) to increase earnings. Another option is becoming a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA).

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Working as a per diem or a travel nurse can boost an OR nurse’s income. Compensation sometimes includes employer assistance with housing and relocation expenses.

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Related Specialties

OR nurses have many career alternatives. Here are three of particular interest: 

  • Infection control nurses help prevent patient infections in healthcare facilities and are usually the staff members responsible for notifying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An OR nurse’s experience with sterilization and sterile fields is ideal for this specialty. Employers need infection control nurses now.
  • Transplant nurses help prepare donors and patients for organ transplants and care for them afterward. An important responsibility is monitoring recipients for complications such as organ rejection. Familiarity with OR procedures and patient surgical care paves the way for an OR nurse to transition to this specialty. Search transplant nurse jobs near you.

Further Your Career

OR nursing is a demanding but well-compensated career and an excellent choice for those who enjoy working in a team environment. Openings for permanent and temporary positions are abundant and will continue to increase. Now is the ideal time to enter this challenging yet rewarding nursing specialty.

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Vonda J. Sines is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC area. She specializes in health/medical, career, and pet topics and writes extensively about Crohn's disease. Her work has been published at EverydayHealth, Lifescript, womansday.com, Yahoo! Health, Catholic Digest, Angie's List Health, and on many more sites.


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