What Is a Scrub Nurse?

A scrub nurse prepares the instruments for the surgeon or surgeons in a hospital operating room. She or he provides the correct instruments to the surgeon during surgery and handles the used items afterwards. The scrub nurse is usually a registered nurse, though similar duties are performed by operating room technicians. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

The scrub nurse performs a vital role in an operating room (OR). The room is prepared with sterile drapes, sterile instruments, sterile fluids, multiple monitoring machines, and other supplies. The doctors and nurses in the room scrub their hands, making sure they are as clean as possible. Instruments and supplies are sterile before surgery, and the scrub nurse's job is to assure that sterility and cleanliness are maintained as much as possible. Other team members might be responsible for some of the work, but the scrub nurse does most or all of the following:

  • Helps to set up the operating room with sterile and non-sterile items required for the particular surgery
  • Verifies the machines are functioning properly
  • Opens packages of instruments and supplies in such a way as to not touch the contents nor allow them to touch a non-sterile surface
  • Quickly and accurately supplies the items the surgeon or surgeons need during surgery
  • Receive the items after use and put them where they will not contaminate a sterile instrument or surface
  • Perform other duties as appropriate

Important Facts About Scrub Nurses

Median Salary (2015) $61,519 (RNs in operating rooms)
Job Outlook (2012-2022) 19% growth for all RNs
Key Skills Stress management, manual dexterity, attention to detail, physical stamina, moral integrity
Similar Occupations Dental assistants, medical assistants, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale.com

Qualifications

The scrub nurse job may be performed by either a perioperative registered nurse (RN) or an operating room technician. These two career paths are described below.

Operating room technician: Also called a surgical technologist, this person works under the supervision of the doctors and nurses on the surgical team and performs any of the scrub nurse duties listed above. He or she may also transport patients to the operating room, wash the surgical site and prepare the patient with sterile drapes.

Perioperative nurse: This RN may perform any of the responsibilities listed above. In addition, the nurse may be involved with informing the patient and family about the surgical procedure and its purpose, as well as caring for the patient after surgery. With registered nurse first assistant training, the perioperative nurse can also help the surgeon control patient bleeding and suture incisions.

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