How to Become a Circulating Nurse

4 Min Read Published February 15, 2024
How to become a circulating nurse

Learn what a circulating nurse does, how much they make, how to become one, and more.

What Is a Circulating Nurse?

Circulating nurses are Registered Nurses (RNs) who assist in managing the flow of patients and surgical materials in the operating room. Circulating nurses are responsible for a wide range of duties and responsibilities. The job of the circulating nurse is within the description - they move around.  

What Do Circulating Nurses Do?

The main job duties of a circulating nurse include:

  • Checking supplies before, during, and after the surgical procedure
  • Calling for a time-out prior to the surgical procedure
  • Helping patients change into hospital gowns
  • Obtaining and witnessing consent forms from patients
  • Preparing surgical instruments
  • Ensure surgery goes smoothly
  • Assisting in setting up the equipment needed for the procedure
  • Preparing patients for surgery
  • Positioning patients in appropriate positions prior to surgery
  • Preparing the operative site (including shaving)
  • Performing surgical counts
  • Documenting when appropriate
  • Monitoring patient’s LOC, vital signs
  • Assisting in the clean-up of the operating room following surgery, including proper disposal of used supplies and sharps
  • Confirming procedure and side of operation

How to Become a Circulating Nurse

1. Attend a Registered Nurse Program

You will need to start by completing an accredited nursing program. There are two pathways you can take:

You must ensure that your nursing program is accredited by one of the two accrediting bodies:

2. Pass the NCLEX Exam and Earn RN Licensure

Upon graduating from your nursing program, you will obtain licensure as an RN in your state.

You will need to apply to your state board of nursing to take the National Certification Licensing Examination (NCLEX). Each state has its own requirements for taking the exam. Make sure you contact your state to know what those requirements are.

3. Obtain a Position as a Circulating Nurse

New graduates CAN start their nursing careers as circulating nurses, so do not be afraid to jump right in. 

Some work locations, such as outpatient surgical centers, may require you to gain experience in a larger hospital setting. It’s important to discuss this with the hiring manager. 

4. Earn a Specialty Certification

The most common certification for circulating nurses is the Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR) certification. 

The exam has 200 questions, and individuals have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete it.  

Circulating Nurse Salary 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2022, RNs earned a median annual income of $81,220 or $39.05 per hour. However, the BLS does not differentiate between the different nursing specialties.

ZipRecruiter reports a median salary of $95,428 a year or $46 an hour for circulating nurses. 

Highest Paying Cities for Circulating Nurses


Annual Salary

Hourly Wage

San Jose, CA



Oakland, CA



Antioch, CA



Hayward, CA



Seattle, WA



Via ZipRecruiter

Highest Paying States for Circulating Nurses


Annual Salary

Hourly Wage

New Jersey















Via ZipRecruiter

Career Outlook for Circulating Nurses

The career outlook for circulating nurses is very good. The BLS reports that the job outlook for nursing of all specialties is expected to grow about 6% between 2022 and 2032, which is about as fast as average professions. Unfortunately, it does not break it down by nursing specialty for a more granular view.

Continuing Education Requirements for Circulating Nurses

Continuing education requirements vary depending on the state requirements where you work. All circulating nurses are required to maintain an RN license. Advanced certifications generally require specific CEUs. 

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. Here are some examples:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Indiana

Several states, like Florida, also require HIV/AIDS education, and others, like Pennsylvania, require mandatory child abuse education. 

It is important for nurses to check their state’s RN credentialing body for exact CEU requirements.  A comprehensive list can be found here


The following organizations can provide more information about circulating nursing:


What Are the 3 Essential Roles of the Circulating Nurse?

The main roles of the circulating nurse are:

  1. To make sure that surgical asepsis is maintained throughout the surgical procedure
  2. To keep track of all supplies and equipment used during and after the procedure
  3. To complete a time-out prior to the surgical procedure with the surgical team

What is the Difference Between a Scrub Nurse and a Circulating Nurse?

A scrub nurse directly assists the surgeon during the procedure and is considered sterile. A circulating nurse helps manage the flow of the OR before, during, and after the procedure. A circulating nurse is not considered sterile during the procedure.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Circulating Nurse?

It takes roughly 2-4 years to become a circulating nurse, depending on education. New graduates have the ability to gain employment as a circulating nurse upon graduation and successful completion of the NCLEX.

What Does a Circulating Nurse Do?

Circulating nurses have a wide range of responsibilities, including preparing the patient for the procedure, setting up the OR room with the proper equipment and supplies, documenting throughout the procedure, ensuring the surgery is going smoothly, getting supplies if needed, and finalizing surgical consents.

Kathleen Gaines
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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