How Do I Become an Operating Room Nurse?

Research what it takes to become an operating room nurse. Read on to learn about the education requirements, job duties, employment outlook and average wages to find out if this career is the right one for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Operating Room Nurse Do?

It is common for most operating room nurses to earn a degree as a registered nurse (RN) before working in the operating room. Registered nurses use their knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology and medical surgical nursing to assist doctors and patients in the operating room. As an operating room nurse, you will take care of patients before and after surgical procedures, monitor patients during operations and keep loved ones updated while also providing information on proper care and expectations for healing. Operating room nurses should expect to work days, nights, weekends and holidays and should be prepared for the potential for high stress situations.

The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's or an associate's degree in nursing are common, plus licensing is required
Key Responsibilities Critical thinking, detail oriented, emotionally stable
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Average Salary (2015) $71,000*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Become a Registered Nurse

Becoming a registered nurse (RN) is the first step a career as an operating room nurse. You can start by earning a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in nursing. RN programs typically include coursework in anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, medical surgical nursing, health assessment and nursing practice. In addition to coursework, RN programs also include a clinical practicum in which you could work with real patients at a hospital or clinic. After you complete your education, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Get a Diploma or Certificate in Perioperative Nursing

Diplomas and certificates in perioperative nursing are available at community colleges and 4-year schools. Many schools require you to be an RN with operating room experience to gain admission; others may require you to have a master's degree in nursing. Perioperative diploma and certificate programs are generally one to two semesters in length and include courses in physical assessment, operating room tools and equipment safety. Most programs include a clinical practicum/internship.

You could also get an advanced certificate in surgical nursing as a Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA). You must be an RN and have experience in preoperative nursing for entry into most RNFA programs; some but schools could require you to have an advanced degree in nursing. RNFA programs take about a year to complete and consist mainly of hands-on operating room training in making surgical incisions, controlling bleeding and suturing wounds.

Get Certified

While certification is not required for a career in perioperative nursing, it's a common requirement among employers. The Competency and Credentialing Institute offers two credentials for perioperative nurses, including the Certified Nurse in the Operating Room (CNOR) and Certified Registered First Nurse Assistant (CRNFA) designations. CNOR certification requires an RN license and 2,400 hours of operating room experience; CRNFA certification requires a bachelor's degree, 2,000 hours of RNFA experience and CNOR or Nurse Practitioner certification.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Nurses that prefer to specialize may consider some different alternatives to being an operating room nurse. Some options include pediatric nursing, cardiovascular nursing or intensive care nursing. All of these nurses are also required to be registered nurses (RNs), but your duties and education requirements will vary based on your specialty. Pediatric nurses work primarily with children, and you are expected to have especially good bedside manner and compassion. Cardiovascular nurses work with heart patients who have suffered from heart attacks or have had heart-related surgeries or diseases and intensive care nurses care for patients in dire health situations who need to be closely supervised.

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