How to Become an Operating Room Nurse in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an operating room nurse. Learn about job duties, education and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Operating Room Nurse?

Operating room (OR) nurses, also called perioperative nurses, are registered nurses (RN) who manage the operating room. Before procedures, they help prepare patients for surgery and get all the necessary tools ready. They also work closely with the operating surgeon during the procedure by having tools ready and monitoring the patient's vital signs, like breathing rate and heart rate. The following chart gives you an overview about entering this field.

Degree Required Associate's or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Evaluates and sets up operating room for surgery; assists surgeon during procedure; performs functions as scrub nurse and circulating nurse
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as RN is required in all states; professional certification as operating room nurse is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2016) $71,708**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

What Does an Operating Room Nurse Do?

Operating room nurses directly assist surgeons by managing surgical equipment and keeping surgeries running smoothly. As an OR nurse, you'll oversee other nurses and ensure a clean, comfortable environment for patients. You may help surgeons with a variety of medical-related tasks, such as suturing, monitoring vital signs and the control of patient bleeding.

Step 1: Complete a Nursing Program

You can enroll in a 2-year associate's program or a 4-year bachelor's program in nursing. The 2-year program can be taken at a community college and will award the Associate of Science degree in Nursing (ADN). A 4-year program is taken at a college or university and earns you a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN). A bachelor's degree program is the program necessary to work as an OR nurse. Coursework in nursing programs generally cover physiology, chemistry, microbiology, anatomy, medical terminology, patient care, psychology and nutrition.

Step 2: Gain Clinical Experience

In a nursing program, you'll likely complete a clinical program. You'll gain experience counseling patients' families, administering medications, recording patients' medical information and operating equipment. You'll also learn how to educate patients about their medical conditions, injuries, medication and rehabilitation plans.

Step 3: Get RN Licensure

After graduating from a nursing program, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam for registered nurses in order to become licensed. This exam tests your understanding of safe patient care, infection control, disease prevention, patient comfort, pharmacology, psychosocial adaptation, coping and physiology. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing offers this exam at Pearson VUE testing centers (

Step 4: Earn OR Experience

Once you're licensed, you can seek work as a RN to gain practical experience. Critical care and emergency room care are two of the most practical areas in which to obtain experience that will aid you later as an OR nurse. Surgical centers will allow you to gain hands-on experience working in the operating room and also gain pre-op and post-op experience. Here, you'll work under lead nurses and in conjunction with a surgical team that can include anthologists and surgeons.

Step 5: Seek Certification

You can also seek certification as an operating room nurse. The CNOR certification exam is offered through the Competency and Credentialing Institute ( To be eligible for this exam you must be a licensed RN, work in a surgical unit and have over 2,400 hours of perioperative experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are many other nursing career paths in different specialities that you could pursue, like within pediatric nursing, rehabilitation nursing, and cardiovascular nursing. Pediatric nurses work specifically with children and may be employed at a children's hospital or clinic. Rehabilitation nurses work with patients who have some sort of disability and assist them with performing everyday activities and in learning new methods to function on their own. Cardiovascular nurses work specifically with people who have heart problems. All of these positions are typically designated for RNs and require either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree.

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