How to Become an Operating Room Nurse

Mar 04, 2020

Learn how to become an operating room nurse. Research the education, training and licensure information and experience required for starting a career in operating room nursing.

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Operating Room Nurse Career Info

Also called OR or perioperative nurses, operating room nurses are registered nurses who work in operating rooms in hospitals, clinics, physicians' offices, and ambulatory or surgery units. They are part of the OR team and work closely with patients and their family members, helping to plan and assist in surgical treatment. They may be in charge of maintaining sterile operating instruments or providing direct surgical assistance, such as suturing and controlling of bleeding. Some nurses work on call, nights, weekends, and holidays. Standing for prolonged periods of time is often required when working in the operating room.

Degree Level Associate's degree minimum; Bachelor's degree for advanced positions
Degree Field(s) Nursing
Licensure and/or Certification National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
Experience At least one year clinical experience
Key Skills Critical thinking skills, strong communication skills, the ability to stay calm under pressure, empathy, and familiarity with office software, medical database software, and perioperative medical equipment
Salary (2018) $71,730 yearly (median for all registered nurses)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings for OR Nurses during August 2012, O*Net OnLine

Step 1: Earn Nursing Education

Nursing students have three educational pathways to qualify to become registered nurses. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a 4-year degree that typically includes two years of general education units and two years of nursing curriculum. An Associate of Science in Nursing requires fewer general education units than a bachelor's degree and takes 2-3 years to complete. Diploma programs in nursing are often offered by hospitals and generally last 2-3 years.

Step 2: Become Licensed

After completing an accredited educational program that meets the requirements of the state nursing board, graduates may sit for the NCLEX-RN. Passage of this standardized test awards the nursing license and the title of registered nurse.

Step 3: Gain Experience

Emergency room and critical care experience can be the difference between life and death in these often-stressful environments where nurses may have to make quick decisions. Some hospitals prefer to hire OR nurses with perioperative experience. At the very least, OR nurses are usually required to have some general nursing experience, some of which may be obtained during clinical hours in the diploma or degree program.

The Competency and Credentialing Institute provides a certification leading to the CNOR credential. Though not an employment requirement, certification is recognized by employers and demonstrates a standard of knowledge and experience in perioperative nursing. After passing an examination and working as an operating nurse for two years, accruing 2,400 hours of experience as an OR nurse, RNs may become certified. Certification lasts for five years. Maintaining certification demonstrates a commitment to the skills and knowledge required to be an OR nurse and can aid in the advancement of a nurse's career.

Step 4: Advance Your Career

Perioperative nurses may advance to such positions as OR director or may work in OR management with budgets, staffing and other administrative duties. Some operating room nurses go on to become educators or medical researchers. With the addition of a master's degree, they can become advanced practice nurses, such as nurse anesthetists, certified nurse midwives, or clinical nurse specialists.

To sum up, operating room nurses can choose from a few educational pathways, but must earn either a degree or diploma before they can become registered nurses and seek employment in an operating room.

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