How to Become a Surgical Nurse


Nursing Student Resources

To work in a perioperative role, you must be a registered nurse (RN). AORN offers the following education and resources for RNs.

Student Memberships

Nursing student memberships offer tools and resources to prepare student nurses for a challenging and fulfilling career. Membership includes free access to the AORN Journal and online education that helps develop skills and confidence.

Global Surgical Conference & Expo

Student nurses can attend Global Surgical Conference & Expo for free. Learn more about the conference.

Periop Today

Periop Today is AORN’s bi-weekly digital newsletter comprised of perioperative news, announcements, guidelines, professional development opportunities, legislative guidance, and timely updates to our members.

The Periop Life

AORN’s blog provides an inside look at the people, ideas, and resources that inspire the periop profession.

The Stitch E-zine

The Stitch is brief, practical, and interactive with polls, videos, and games. It features clinical and professional tips, bite-sized learning and advice—an essential companion for the first few years of perioperative practice.

Periop 101®

Periop 101 is a comprehensive, blended educational program developed by AORN perioperative nurse experts based on the latest, evidence-based Guidelines for Perioperative Practice. Top US hospitals and ASCs provide this education for their RNs transitioning into the OR as their primary training and onboarding course.

What Education is Required?

To work in a perioperative role, you must be a registered nurse (RN). 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

What do Surgical Nurses Earn?

Read the full results of our 2023 Salary Survey.

Top Traits of a Successful Surgical Nurse

According to the AORN’s Guidelines for Perioperative Practice nurse authors, the top seven traits you need to be a successful perioperative nurse are:

  • Patience
  • Resiliency/flexibility
  • Sense of humor
  • Team player/communicator
  • Calm under pressure
  • High degree of integrity
  • Multitasker

What are the Different Roles within the OR?

Perioperative nursing roles:

  • Scrub nurses select and handle instruments and supplies used for surgeries.
  • Circulating nurses manage the overall nursing care in the operating room and help maintain a safe, comfortable environment.
  • RN First Assistants (RNFA) deliver direct surgical care by assisting the surgeon in controlling bleeding, providing wound exposure, and suturing during the procedure.

What’s the Role of an Operating Room Nurse?

Perioperative nurses – also known as operating room nurses , OR nurses, and surgical nurses – are registered nurses (RNs) who work in hospital surgical departments, day-surgery units, ambulatory surgery centers, and in clinics or physician offices that perform invasive procedures.

Perioperative nurses also work in pre-op and post-operative areas, where they help plan, implement and evaluate treatment of surgical patients, interacting closely with patients, family members, and other healthcare professionals.

The U.S. will need more than 1 million new RNs by 2022, especially in areas like perioperative nursing. In 2019 of the top 25 nursing specialties, OR nurses were the 6th highest in demand and PACU nurses the 9th.

Have you ever thought of pursuing a career in perioperative nursing post-graduation or have you considered transitioning from the inpatient floor to the OR? If you'd like a specialty that is exciting, high-tech, and fast-paced – surgical nursing may be right for you.