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Consider a Career in the OR

Perioperative nursing offers some of the most exciting, demanding, and well-paid work in the nursing world. Also known as operating room or OR nurses, perioperative nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who work in hospital surgical departments, day-surgery units (also called ambulatory surgery units), clinics, and physicians' offices. They help plan, implement, and evaluate treatment of the surgical patient and may work closely with the patient, family members, and other health care professionals. 

Roles include:

  • Scrub nurse, who selects and handles instruments and supplies used for the operation

  • Circulating nurse, who manages the overall nursing care in the operating room and helps maintain a safe, comfortable environment

  • RN first assistant, who delivers direct surgical care by assisting the surgeon in controlling bleeding, providing wound exposure, and suturing during the actual procedure

Other roles include:

  • OR director (managing OR budgets, staffing, and other business aspects)

  • management consultant

  • clinical educator

  • researcher

  • medical sales professional

  • nurse anesthetist

What are the demands of the job?

Perioperative nurses must have the ability to interact well with all kinds of people in difficult situations. Emotional stability and a caring and empathetic attitude are key to their success. They must also be able to:

  • make critical decisions based on available information about the patient

  • accept responsibility

  • direct others

  • coordinate the patient's health care

  • collaborate with physicians and other health care professionals

  • determine when consultation is required

Perioperative nursing also makes significant demands on physical strength and stamina, for instance, in positioning patients and transporting equipment needed for surgery, and sometimes standing for long periods of time during operations. Your potential employer will also look for leadership skills, problem-solving abilities, collaborative strengths, communications skills, ability to be a self-starter, comfort with frequent public contact, and knowledge and proficiency with computers.

How much do perioperative nurses earn?

Access the AORN Salary Survey and online calculator.

What basic education will I need?

To work in the OR in a perioperative role, you must be a registered nurse. Education for an RN may consist of:

  • a four-year, university-based program culminating in a bachelor of science degree in nursing (BSN)

  • a two- or three-year diploma program from a hospital

  • a two-year associate of nursing degree (ADN) from a community or junior college, which offers a more limited and technical scope of practice.

Graduates earn their RN designation by passing the NCLEX-RN licensing exam.

A typical nursing program includes classroom instruction and supervised clinical experience in hospitals and other health care facilities. Courses cover anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, and psychology, as well as more advanced work in adult acute and chronic disease, maternal/child health, pediatrics, psychiatric/mental health, and community health nursing. The last two years of a four-year program are devoted to supervised clinical practice in hospitals or other health care facilities.

How do I prepare to become a perioperative nurse?

Most medical facilities have a program that will help you obtain the necessary experience. AORN's curriculum, including Periop 101, may be part of these. We also offer numerous options for continuing education as you progress in your career.

Working in critical care and emergency room care can give you applicable experience and a taste of perioperative world—a fast-paced, sometimes stressful environment in which you can participate in life-saving decisions. Depending on where you live and the facility at which you work, you may need to have general nursing experience before entering the specialty area of perioperative nursing.

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