Become an Orthopedic Nurse: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an orthopedic nurse. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as an orthopedic nurse. View article »

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  • 0:03 Career Requirements
  • 1:27 Step 1: Obtain a…
  • 2:38 Step 2: Obtain State License
  • 3:24 Step 3: Gain Experience
  • 3:53 Step 4: Earn Certification
  • 4:41 Step 5: Complete…

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Video Transcript

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Clinical Nursing
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Direct-Entry Midwifery - LM, CPM
  • Licensed Vocational Nurse Training
  • Mental Health Nursing
  • Neonatal Nursing
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Nurse Assistant or Patient Care Assistant
  • Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Practitioner or Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Nursing Administration
  • Nursing for Adults and Seniors
  • Nursing Science
  • Occupational Health Nursing
  • Operating Room and Surgical Nursing
  • Pediatric Nursing
  • Public Health Nurse or Community Nurse
  • Registered Nurse

Career Requirements

So you think you might like to become an orthopedic nurse? Orthopedic nurses provide nursing care for patients with musculoskeletal disorders caused by injury, disease, birth defects, or degeneration. This includes injuries or disorders of ligaments and tendons, bones, joints, and the spinal column, as well as degenerative conditions, such as arthritis. Nurses often work standing for many hours at a time and may need to lift, turn or move patients.

So what are the career requirements? Starting with the right education is important.

Degree Level Associate's or bachelor's degree; master's degree for nurse practitioners
Degree Field Nursing
Licensure and Certification Can vary by state; must pass the National Council Licensure Examination; certification from the Orthopedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB) may be preferred by some employers
Experience 2-5 years of nursing experience
Key Skills Compassion, critical-thinking, patience, emotional stability, knowledge of medical software, as well as Microsoft Office and Excel, knowledge of orthopedic equipment
Salary $67,490 (median salary for registered nurses)

Sources: Employer job listings (September 2012), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online

Step 1: Obtain a Nursing Degree

Orthopedic nurses must complete nursing training in a 2-year associate's degree, 4-year bachelor's degree or 2-year diploma program. Nursing programs train students to give patients medication and perform diagnostic tests. Typically, coursework includes health assessment fundamentals, pharmacology and pathophysiology basics, healthcare systems, women's health, pediatrics, and mental health. Student nurses also participate in several supervised clinical rotations. Bachelor's degree programs typically include additional training in leadership, critical-thinking, and social sciences, as well as clinical experiences outside of a hospital setting.

Success Tips

  • Use elective courses to gain orthopedic care knowledge. Nursing students can complete elective coursework in assessment techniques for mobile impairment and principles of nursing.
  • Use time in school to get experience relevant to orthopedics. Most employers require orthopedics experience. While in school, students can seek out clinical experiences working with orthopedic patients or those with mobility impairment.

Step 2: Obtain State License

To legally practice in the U.S., nurses must be licensed through their state. A graduate of a state-approved or accredited nursing college can apply for a state nursing license by examination with the state nursing board. States require nurses to pass the computerized National Council Licensing Exam for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is supervised by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

Other requirements may vary by state; therefore, nurses may want to contact their board of nursing for details. Additionally, nurses must maintain their registered nurse license, which may have continuing education requirements.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Most employers who hire orthopedic RNs require the candidate to have at least 1-2 years experience as an orthopedic nurse. Orthopedic nurses can find career opportunities in emergency departments, rehabilitation, oncology, and home health agencies. Within these careers, nurses gain skills in planning patient care, serving patients and families, evaluating patient response, and providing basic life support.

Step 4: Earn Certification

RNs can choose to earn voluntary certification through the ONCB to demonstrate competence in the field. To earn the Orthopaedic Nurse Certified credential, nurses must hold a current RN license, have two years of RN experience, and at least 1,000 hours of work experience in orthopedic nursing. In order to earn certification, orthopedic nurses must complete and pass a 150-question test.

Success Tip

  • Maintain certification. In order to maintain certification, orthopedic nurses must complete 100 hours of approved continuing education training during each 5-year certification cycle. Alternatively, they may re-certify by examination.

Step 5: Complete Advanced Education

Orthopedic nurses can choose to further their education in nursing to become an orthopedic nurse practitioner or specialist. The ONCB states that many nurses choose to complete a graduate degree. Some schools may offer specialized programs in orthopedic nursing for practitioners, which highlight the management of musculoskeletal problems.

In addition to continued education, orthopedic nurse practitioners may need to fulfill additional licensure requirements in their state. Advanced voluntary designations, such as Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner Certified and Orthopaedic Nurse Specialist Certified, are available through the ONCB.

Obtain a nursing degree, get licensed to be a nurse, gain experience in orthopedics nursing, earn orthopedic certification, and complete an advanced degree are the steps to follow to make the most of a career as an orthopedic nurse.

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