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What's Your Career Path?

Looking ahead is smart. It gives you a chance to envision where you want to be in your professional journey and what you need to do to get there. Perioperative nursing is unique because there is a defined series of rungs in the career ladder that many nurses take.

"Successful people know exactly what they want, that's why it seems so easy for them to get it. And they review their goals often," says Lea Bullen in a guest blog post on Dr. Quinlan's blog at "Get a clear picture of what you really want and set it as a goal."

Understanding specific perioperative roles will help you plan your next professional development step by choosing needed training, whether you are a novice nurse seeking certification, such as a CNOR, or an experienced nurse in search for non-clinical leadership skills. As you develop your career plan, take a look at these key perioperative nursing roles

Novice Nurse (Brand New to the Perioperative Setting)

  • Provides limited direct patient care under direct supervision of an RN
  • Maintains the sterile field
  • Cleans and prepares instruments for disinfection and terminal sterilization>
  • Assists other members of team with room turnover and terminal cleaning

Experienced Nurse (5–9 Years Perioperative Experience)

  • Provides direct patient care
  • Teaches patients and families self-care
  • Administers medications, IV therapy, and treatments
  • Serves as preceptor, team leader, supervises RNs, LPNs and other non-licensed health care practitioners

Expert Perioperative Nursing Roles (10+ Years Perioperative Experience)


  • Creates creative education sessions using adult learning methods, integrates team building and caring actions into all learning models for all skill levels of staff
  • Works collaboratively with unit management, physicians and staff to define, coordinate and analyze the orientation and continuing educational needs and activities for all staff members to assure a foundation of competency for patient care and nursing practice
  • Develops and reviews relevant orientation and education programs and activities
  • Responsible for needs assessment, analysis, planning, implementation and evaluation of orientation, education and staff development activities for clinical staff

Advance Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

  • Directs patient care
  • Provides consultation for nursing staff by implementing improvements in health care delivery systems
  • Performs assessments plans, implements, evaluates and documents care
  • Integrates nursing practice with medical diagnosis


  • Responsible for managing staff, including RNs, surgical technologists and other allied health care providers
  • Schedules staff
  • Maintains department or unit budget>
  • Collaborates with other departments and physicians on departmental issues>


  • Accountable for the delivery of safe, effective, patient-centered care through the continuum of perioperative care
  • Supervises Day Surgery, PACU and OR suites
  • Responsible for the operation of the department and for the measurement, assessment and continuous improvement of the department's performance

Check out AORN’s Career Center resources to help build and manage your perioperative career.