GUIDE
August 10, 2022
How to Become an Operating Room (OR) Nurse

Part One What Is an Operating Room (OR) Nurse?

Operating Room (OR) nurses are Registered Nurses that assist during surgeries. They work in conjunction with surgeons and other healthcare professionals to help patients needing surgical procedures. 

OR nurses care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures and work on everything from life-saving procedures to elective ones. They work in hospitals, surgery centers, and clinics and care for patients throughout the surgical process. 

In this guide, we'll explain what an OR nurse does, how much they make, how to become one, and more!

Part Two What Do OR nurses do?

The main job duties of an OR nurse include:

  • Assisting in surgical procedures
  • Making sure that all paperwork has been signed
  • Prepping patients for operations
  • Taking care of patients postoperatively
  • Monitoring patients as they come out of anesthesia
  • Offering pain management
  • Prepping equipment for operations
  • Ensuring operating rooms are sterile
  • Developing a nursing care plan for the assigned patient
  • Educating patients and their families pre/post operatively
  • Passing surgical instruments to the surgeon
  • Starting IVs and inserting Foley catheters

Part Three How to Become an OR Nurse

To become an OR nurse you'll need to complete the following steps:

1.) Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

To become a registered nurse you'll need to graduate from a two-year program for an Associate’s degree in nursing, or a four-year college or university program leading to a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.

2.) Pass the NCLEX-RN

You'll then need to take the RN licensing exam after graduation, also known as the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Examination). The NCLEX is a nationwide examination for the licensing of nurses in the United States and Canada.

3.) Get Additional Training and Experience

Once you pass the NCLEX, you may apply for your first nursing job.

The Association of peri-Operative Registered Nurses (AORN) also offers an online program, “Periop101: A Core Curriculum.” This course provides content coupled with lab and clinical experience and includes coursework in anesthesia, surgical draping, patient and equipment safety, and many other topics.

4.) Get Certified

Once you have experience in OR, you can advance your knowledge and salary potential by becoming certified. Two certifications are offered for OR nurses: CNOR and CNAMB. Both are provided by the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI).

CNOR Certification

According to CCI, CNOR is a definition, not an acronym. It means meeting identified standards of practice for providing nursing care to patients before, during, and after surgery.

CNAMB Certification

CCI offers the Certified Ambulatory Surgery Nurse (CNAMB) certification that is designed for perioperative nurses working in the ambulatory surgery setting who are seeking to improve and validate their professional competencies.

Part Four OR Nurse Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2021 is $77,600 per year or $37.31 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary.

 The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing; however, payscale.com reports an average annual salary of $76,567 or $34.58 per hour. But you can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience:

  • Less than 1 years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $29.03
  • 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $31.05
  • 5-9 years of experience earns an average hourly salary of $33.97
  • 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly salary of $37.38
  • 20+ years of experience earns an average hourly salary of $40

Glassdoor.com reports an average annual salary of $108,352 per year.

OR Nurse Benefits

Regardless of the workplace setting, full-time and part-time nurses enjoy similar benefits. While actual benefits may vary depending on the institution most include the following:

  • Attendance at nursing conferences
  • Bereavement leave      
  • Certification Reimbursement      
  • Childcare
  • Continuing Education Reimbursement
  • Dental Insurance
  • Dependent health insurance coverage
  • Discounts on extracurricular activities      
  • Family Leave of Absence
  • Health insurance
  • Holiday Pay
  • Life Insurance
  • Maternity Leave
  • Paid time off
  • Relocation assistance
  • Relocation packages
  • Retirement Options
  • Vision Insurance    

Part Five Where Can OR Nurses Work?

Operating Room nurses can work in a variety of locations as long as there is an Operating Room. Most work in hospitals but they can also work in the following locations, 

  • Ambulatory Surgery Centers
  • Day Surgery Centers
  • Clinics
  • Physician’s Offices
  • Cancer centers 

Part Six What is the Career Outlook for OR Nurses?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that nursing employment will grow at a rate of 9% percent through 2030 – much faster than the average for all jobs. 

It is estimated that there will be 194,500 job openings for registered nurses each year for the next decade. There is a shortage of nurses, with baby boomer nurses nearing retirement and the growing health demands of our aging population.

The CDC reported that in 2010, an estimated 48.3 million surgical and nonsurgical procedures were conducted in 28.6 million ambulatory surgery visits.

  • For both males and females, 39% of procedures were performed on those aged 45–64.
  • For females, about 24% of procedures were performed on those aged 15–44 compared with 18% for males, whereas the percentage of procedures performed on those under 15 was lower for females than for males.
  • About 19% of procedures were performed on those aged 65–74, while about 14% were performed on those aged 75 and over.

Part Seven Continuing Education Requirements for OR Nurses

OR nurses do not necessarily have specific requirements beyond state-mandated continuing education. However, advanced certification does require CEUs.

All surgical nurses are required to maintain an RN license.

Continuing education requirements for the license differ for each state. Monetary fees and other state-specific criteria are also associated with all license and certification renewals.  

Examples of continuing education requirements for RNs are as follows:

  • California - 30 CEUs every two years
  • Florida - 24 CEUs every two years
  • Hawaii - 30 CEUs every two years
  • Oklahoma - 24 CEUs every two years
  • Pennsylvania - 30 CEUs every two years

Some states do not require CEUs to maintain an RN license. Examples include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, and Indiana. Several states also require HIV/AIDS education such as Florida or mandatory child abuse such as Pennsylvania. It is important for nurses to check their state’s RN credentialing body for exact CEU requirements.  A comprehensive list can be found here.  

Part Eight Where Can I Learn More About OR Nurses?

The following organizations can provide more information about OR nursing:

Part Nine FAQs about OR Nurses

  • What is the role of an operating room nurse?

    • OR can perform several jobs during OR cases including being a scrub nurse, circulating nurse, or registered nurse first assistant.
  • Do OR nurses assist in surgery?

    • OR nurses can assist in surgery; however, this depends on the healthcare institution. For example, large teaching hospitals will utilize surgical residents and fellows to assist attending surgeons instead of nurses. Smaller hospitals, as well as outpatient surgical centers, will most likely utilize OR nurses. For OR nurses to assist directly in surgery, they must have a CNFA certification.
  • Is operating room nursing stressful?

    • The OR can be stressful at times, but so are most nursing positions within the healthcare industry. The most important thing to remember is to communicate with the surgeons as well as the rest of the OR team.
  • Are OR nurses in demand?

    • OR nurses are VERY in demand right now. In fact, all nurses are in demand.
  • What is the OR in a hospital?

    • The OR is the Operating Room where the medical team performs surgical procedures. Surgeries vary depending on the healthcare institution but include, orthopedic, cardiovascular, neurologic, gynecologic, and pulmonary. 
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