Operating Room Nurse: Career Summary, Employment Outlook, and Educational Requirements

Research what it takes to become an operating room nurse. Learn about job outlook, salary, educational requirements and licensure 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 Nurse?

Operating room nurses, also known as perioperative nurses, prepare for and assist with surgeries. They are typically specialized registered nurses who hold an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. In some operating rooms, these nurses may act as either scrub nurses or circulating nurses. Scrub nurses handle surgical instruments and related tools during a procedure, while circulating nurses make sure the operating room remains sterile. They also oversee general nursing care during a procedure.

The table below gives an overview of what you may need to know about becoming an operating room nurse.

Degree Required Associate's degree or bachelor's degree most common
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Skills Prepare operating room for surgery, assist surgeon during procedure
Licensure Required RN licensure
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses*
Average Salary (2015) $71,000 for all registered nurses*

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

What Would I Do as an Operating Room Nurse?

As an operating room nurse, you would prepare the operating room by setting up the equipment for surgeons to use during surgery. You would also assist during the operation by maintaining blood control, suturing incisions and handling surgical instruments. Working in sterile operating rooms in hospitals, you may be exposed to blood, organs and diseases and must be able stand on your feet many hours during surgery. You could work irregular schedules and may be on call to work evenings, holidays or during emergencies.

What Is the Job Outlook?

Job opportunities for registered nurses, including operating room nurses, are expected to grow faster than average, by 16% in the decade from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reported in 2015 that nurses were paid an average $71,000 per year. Additionally, nurses employed in general and surgical hospitals earned a slightly higher average annual salary of $72,980 as of 2015.

What Education Do I Need?

To work as a nurse, you must have at least a diploma or associate's degree in nursing. You could also attend a bachelor's degree program in nursing to further your knowledge and experience. Both 2-year associate's and 4-year bachelor's degree programs involve classroom instruction and clinical field practice. After completing a nursing program, you will be eligible to take the National Council Licensing Examination to become a registered nurse (RN). You must pass the exam to legally work as a nurse in the U.S.

How Could I Advance My Career?

After gaining some experience as an RN in an operating room setting, you may choose to seek certification to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise. The Competency and Credentialing Institute offers the CNOR designation for operating room nurses. You are eligible to take the certification exam when you have an active RN license and two years of operating room nursing experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related career options include those of EMTs and paramedics, as well as licensed practical nurses. All three of these careers require a certificate or an associate's degree and professional licensure. EMTs and paramedics provide pre-hospital care, typically at the scene of an accident or in an ambulance, while licensed practical nurses assist with basic patient needs under the supervision of a registered nurse. Another career that requires an associate's degree and licensure is that of a diagnostic medical sonographer. These professionals use specialized equipment to take medical images of the human body.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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