Everything You Need to Know About the Operating Room (OR) Nurse
The field of nursing is one of the most diverse fields in medicine. There are several nursing fields that you can venture into for career growth. One of these is the operating room nurse, also known as a scrub nurse or perioperative nurse.
In this article we will explore:
- What is an OR nurse?
- What do OR nurses do?
- Where do OR nurses work?
- What are the requirements for becoming an OR nurse?
- What are the types of OR nurses?
- What are some OR nursing careers?
- What are the salary and job outlooks for OR nurses?
What is an OR nurse?
An operating room nurse is a registered nurse who works in the operating room. They take care of patients prior to, during, and after invasive surgery or medical procedures. They also work with the patient’s family members by relaying information that could be of importance to them.
What do OR nurses do?
The duties of an operative nurse usually depend on the stage of the surgery. Some of the most common surgeries handled by operative nurses include:
- C- sections
- Breast Biopsy
- Coronary bypass
These are the duties carried out by the nurses before the surgery starts. They include evaluation and preparation. Some of these activities include:
- Evaluating and educating the patient
- Developing a nursing care plan for the assigned patient
- Provision of critical patient medical history
- Ensuring that the operation room is sterilized
- Passing surgical instruments to the surgeon
- Starting IV lines and assessing the patient’s physical condition before surgery
These are the duties carried out by the scrub nurse as the invasive surgery progresses. They involve evaluation and helping the surgeon with the invasive procedure. Some of these activities include:
- Passing medical instruments to the surgeon
- Monitoring the patient’s vital signs
- Assisting the anesthesia nurse with induction
- Helping with wound and drain dressings
- Preparing specimens for pathology
The postoperative duties center around evaluation and checking if everything went as planned. Some of these include:
- Updating the patient and family about the surgery and the next steps to take
- Monitoring the patient’s vital signs as they wake up from anesthesia
- Patient discharge or transfer to another hospital unit
- Helping the scrub nurse with the cleanup
- Providing a report to the anesthesia nurse
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Where do OR nurses work?
Perioperative nurses are usually found in operating rooms.
Hospital Operating Rooms
A bulk of scrub nurses are most likely to work in general service hospitals. Most general service hospitals have an operating room and handle various types of surgeries.
Some of the surgeries handled in general service hospitals are mild.
Outpatient centers treat patients who do not require admission or overnight care. Scrub nurses help with some outpatient surgeries. These don’t require admission or bedtime in most circumstances.
More than half of the elective surgeries in the United States are performed as outpatient surgeries. These procedures mostly involve:
- Ear and nose procedures
- Nerve treatments
- Minor lumpectomy
- Meniscus repair
- Throat procedures such as tonsillectomy
- Procedures that involve extremities.
Cancer centers are health facilities that deal with the treatment of advanced stages of cancer. Operations and invasive procedures in cancer centers mostly revolve around cancer cells. These include curative surgeries, preventive surgeries, and diagnostic surgeries.
The most common invasive cancer treatments usually include:
- Removing cancerous tissue
- Tissue surrounding the cancerous cells
Perioperative nurses aid in the processes of all these operations.
Most perioperative nurse’s careers don’t have to be tied to permanent employment at one medical center. Perioperative nurses can move from one health facility to another. They fill staff shortages either nationally from state to state or internationally between countries.
Travel perioperative nurses usually stay in these facilities for short periods of time. After that, they move to other facilities to help address nursing shortages.
What are the requirements for becoming and OR nurse?
Requirements to operate as a perioperative nurse vary after receiving a nursing degree. Going above the bare minimum and pursuing further certification increases your value. It also helps your chances of securing quality employment as an OR nurse.
Associate Degree in Nursing
Obtaining a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) is the minimum requirement to be licensed as a registered nurse. It’s possible to become an OR nurse with an ADN alone but employers often prefer further certification.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
A Bachelor of Science in Nursing takes four years to complete. Two of these years are spent performing supervised clinical duties in a health facility. This degree is not a requirement to become an operating room nurse but is preferred by several employers. Some employers even require their OR nurses to complete this degree in the course of their employment. There is a bridge program to earn go from an ADN to a BSN in about 12-18 months. This is a very popular option.
After completing a degree, aspiring OR nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) exam to become registered nurses. This allows the nurse to obtain state certification and start practicing legally.
Depending on the health facility, it may be required to have had experience practicing as a nurse before becoming a surgical nurse. Some health facilities offer a six-month to a one-year perioperative nurse training program.
Basic life support, as well as advanced cardiac life support, and a year of clinical experience, are requirements common in many hospitals to become a scrub nurse.
Certificates / Credentials
Employers may require that aspiring OR nurses obtain a Certified Perioperative Nurse Credential (CNOR) in order to practice as an OR nurse.
What are the types of OR nurses?
There are three broad types of OR nurses in any operating room:
A scrub nurse sterilizes the treatment area and generally prepares the operating room for surgery. It’s the responsibility of the scrub nurse to set up the surgical tools, count them, and ensure they are sterile. During the invasive surgery, the scrub nurse hands the surgeon various tools the surgeon needs to perform the procedure.
The circulating nurse passively participates in the surgery. It’s her responsibility to ensure that all protocols and procedures are observed during the operation. She is the patient’s advocate in the operation room and ensures that everything continues in the patient’s best interest.
She keeps track of the inventory and surgical tools used and is responsible for calling for a time-out.
RN first assistant
The RN First Assistant nurse participates actively in invasive surgery. They have the ability to:
- Intervene to prevent bleeding
- Stabilize rising and dropping blood pressure
- Administer life-saving drugs
- CPR when the patient’s heart stops
It is also the responsibility of the RN First Assistant to monitor the patient’s vital signs, such as:
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
Closely related types of nurses
There are other types of nursing careers that bear many parallels with operating room nurses. These nurses also operate within the operating rooms, maybe specialized OR nurses, and help with the surgery when necessary. They include:
What are some OR nursing careers?
After becoming a licensed and certified operating room nurse, there are several career options that you can pursue. You can:
- Practice as an OR nurse in one single medical facility
- Practice as a traveling perioperative nurse across states in several medical facilities
- Take administrative positions in operating room management
- Take administrative positions as a hospital nurse manager
What are the salary and job outlooks for OR nurses?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the median yearly earnings of registered nurses in America are $75,330 per year or $36.22 per hour. It is most likely that specialized nurses, such as OR nurses, are expected to earn higher than regular nurses.
The earnings of an OR nurse are dependent on various factors, including experience, medical facility, and level of study or specialization.
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According to the BLS, the career outlook for nursing in general, even before specialization, is positive – employment in the nursing sector is likely to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029 which is higher than most other fields of work.
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