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How to Become a Scrub Nurse: Education Requirements & Certification

Scrub nurses work closely with surgeons to make sure surgical procedures run smoothly. They can work in a variety of clinical environments such as hospitals and surgery centers. The education, training and certification pathway towards becoming a scrub nurse is described here.

What is a Scrub Nurse? - Scrub Nurses Responsibilities

Scrub nurses, also sometimes known as perioperative nurses, are registered nurses who assist with surgical procedures. They set up the operating room by ensuring a clean environment and preparing the instruments needed for the procedure. During surgery, they assist the surgeon by handing them the correct instruments when required and maintaining their sterility. After the operation, scrub nurses apply dressing to the site of the surgery, take an inventory of the instruments and other equipment, and remove them from the operation room. Finally, they complete any documentation associated with the surgery and help prepare the transport of the patient to the recovery room.

The table below summarizes the key information about a career as a scrub nurse:

Education Associate's or bachelor's degree
Field of Study Nursing
Scrub Nurses Responsibilities Prepare operation room for surgery; assist doctor with surgery; arrange transport of the patient to the recovery room
Certification RN license (National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR) certification.
Job Growth (2018-2028) 12%* (registered nurses)
Median Salary (2018) $71,730*

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Now the role of a scrub nurse is clearer, let's look at how to become a scrub nurse in 3 steps.

How to Become a Scrub Nurse

Step 1: Get a Degree or Diploma in Nursing: Scrub Nurse Schooling

Prospective scrub nurses should first make sure they get their high school diploma or GED so that they can apply for a place in an undergraduate program. Additionally, some schools offer vocational courses in nursing/first aid/CPR which is a very good way to obtain foundational knowledge in patient care.

Aspiring scrub nurses must get either an associate's degree (ADN), a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program to become a registered nurse. All of these scrub nurse programs will require candidates to take courses in the following subjects and others:

  • Physiology
  • Anatomy
  • Nutrition
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Perioperative Management
  • Pathophysiology
  • Nutrition

Scrub nurse hopefuls should choose courses that train them in advanced surgical scrub techniques where they will learn more about surgical anatomy and physiology, infection control and patient positioning.

ADN and diploma programs usually take 2-3 years to complete whereas BSN programs will typically take four years although accelerated programs offer the chance for candidates who already have a bachelor's degree to get this qualification in as little as 15 months. ADN and BSN programs are administered by higher education institutes and are quite common. In contrast, diploma programs, which are normally offered by hospitals or medical centers, are much less common. ADN and diploma ($6,000 - $40,000 for tuition, fees and supplies at a public school) programs tend to be less expensive than a BSN ($40,000 - $200,000).

Step 2: Get a Nursing License and Certification

Once the degree, diploma and initial scrub nurse training have been completed, nursing candidates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to be able to apply to the Board of Nursing in their state for a nursing license. Candidates will also need to pass a criminal background check.

Scrub nurses may also wish to obtain the Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR) certification which can be acquired by passing an exam. This certificate is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and the American Board for Specialty Nursing Certifications. To be eligible to take the CNOR exam, candidates must be a current RN, have acquired at least two years of perioperative experience and a minimum of 2,,400 hours in perioperative nursing as well as 1200 hours in an intraoperative nursing role. The exam itself consists of 200 multiple-choice questions across nine subject areas; candidates have three hours and 45 minutes to answer.

Step 3: Get a Scrub Nurse Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) reports that the median salary for RNs as of 2018 was $71,730 although more senior scrub nurses may earn up to $120,000 according to the Association for Perioperative Registered Nurses' 2018 salary and compensation survey.

The BLS also reports that the job outlook for RNs is good due to an aging population and the related increased need for healthcare. Job growth is projected by the BLS to be 12% between 2018 and 2028.