How to Become an Operating Room Nurse

How to Become an Operating Room Nurse: Career Path Guide

If you want to become an operating room nurse, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for your skills, interests and personality traits. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as an operating room nurse:


• You have a keen interest in the theory and practice of nursing care

• You an interest in providing quality care to those who are undergoing surgical procedures

• You would be able to function productively in a demanding environment with a large patient turnover

• You have physical, emotional and intellectual stamina

• You are able to take direction, as well as direct the work of others


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as an operating room nurse. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, educational requirements, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Operating Room Nurse

To become an operating room nurse in Canada or the United States, you must first qualify to become certified as a registered nurse (RN), and then pursue on-the-job experience in operating room nursing.


Some American states however, only require that you are a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Be sure to check with your state nursing association for specific requirements of becoming an operating room nurse.


In Canada, you must earn a Bachelor of Nursing degree in order to qualify for becoming a Registered Nurse. In the United States, you can qualify for becoming a Registered Nurse by earning a Nursing Diploma, an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).


Although not common, some employers may require additional education in the field of surgical nursing, either in the form of a graduate level certificate or a masters degree in nursing with a specialization in surgical nursing.




Operating Room Nurse Job Description

Operating room nurses, also known as surgical nurses and perioperative nurses, are the leaders of the health-care team who facilitate the timely assessment, care, treatment, education, discharge and follow-up of nursing care within a surgical setting.


Operating room nurses are responsible for planning, executing, directing and evaluating the nursing care given to a surgical patient. The nursing care provided by an operating room nurse ranges from preoperative intervention to postoperative evaluation.



Operating Room Nurse Job Duties

• Ensures continuity of care after the operation

• Maintain records of procedure and report any unusual occurrences

• Ensure medication is administered according to established policies and procedures

• Position patient and prepare operating area

• Supervise other nursing staff in operating area

• Immediately report any unusual occurrences to charge personnel, documents appropriately in the patient record, and completes Hospital Incident Reports form if indicated

• Observe patient for changes in condition

• Promptly report any errors pertaining to medication



Who Employs Emergency Room Nurses?

Emergency room nurses are employed on a part-time, full-time and casual basis, typically by the following types of organizations:


• Outpatient and inpatient care facilities

• Adult medical clinics

• Community clinics

• Pre-admission clinics

• The Armed Forces

• Public and private hospitals

• Regional health authorities

• Sports Medicine clinics and facilities

• Cosmetic surgery clinics and facilities

• Colleges and universities





Certification Needed to Become an Operating Room Nurse

In Canada and the United States you must first be licensed as a registered nurse in order to become an operating room nurse. Although largely voluntary, additional certification is available for operating room nurses in the Canada and the United States:


In Canada, the Canadian Nurses Association offers the Certified in Medical-Surgical Nursing Canada, CMSN(C) credential, as well as the Certified in Perioperative Nursing, CPN(C) credential.


To qualify for these credentials, candidates must be a registered nurse, have 2 plus years of professional medical-surgical/perioperative nursing experience, and pass an exam.


In the United States, The Competency and Credentialing Institute offers two credentials for perioperative nurses; the Certified Nurse in the Operating Room (CNOR) and Certified Registered First Nurse Assistant (CRNFA) designations.


CNOR certification requires an RN license and 2,400 hours of operating room experience; CRNFA certification requires a bachelor's degree, 2,000 hours of RNFA experience and CNOR or Nurse Practitioner certification.


Success Tip: Although not necessarily a requirement for employment, achieving certification as an operating room/perioperative nurse is an invaluable asset for a nurse’s career, as it acknowledges their commitment to the highest standards of patient care as well as validates their specialized skill set, experience and knowledge base in perioperative nursing care.



Experience Needed to Become an Operating Room Nurse

Many employers prefer to hire operating room nurses who have advanced preparation in perioperative nursing and recent related clinical experience in a perioperative department (typically 1 or 2 years of experience). However, many employers will accept the equivalent combination of education and training in place of experience.


If you are interested in related clinical experience, it can be obtained by working in the following areas of nursing:


Critical care: Allows you to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for life and death resuscitation scenarios.


Emergency care: Enables you to learn to prioritize activities and manage multiple patients simultaneously.


Intermediate care: Allows you to firmly ground your nursing knowledge and skills.



Skills Needed to Become an Operating Room Nurse

Becoming an operating room nurse requires a certain set of skills; skills that are applicable to a career as a registered nurse in general, and skills that are applicable to a career as an operating room nurse.


• Able to demonstrate knowledge of current nursing theory and practice relevant to the Operating/Recovery Room

• Able to function productively in a very demanding environment with a large patient turnover

• Able to organize assigned workload and set priorities

• Able to deal effectively with a variety of contacts, including co-workers, physicians, patients, residents and families

• Knowledge of the professional and legal responsibilities relating to nursing care

• Able to identify types of pain, such as neuropathic, visceral, somatic, and psychological

• Cardiac monitoring skills


In addition to these skills, operating room nurses must be able to recognize the clinical presentation of, and provide care for, patients with a wide variety of ailments, including:


• Neurological (neuromuscular disorders, head injuries, seizures, altered levels of consciousness, etc.)

• Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat (hearing or vision loss, inflammatory processes, infectious processes, etc.)

• Cardiovascular (heart failure, shock, cardiac arrest, hyper/hypotension, etc.)

• Respiratory (airway obstruction, pleural effusion, lung cancer, sleep apnea, atelectasis, etc.)

• Gastrointestinal Systems (inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, bariatric issues, liver diseases, etc.)

• Genitourinary and Reproductive Systems (urolithiasis, prolapse, infections, cancer, renal failure, etc.)

• Musculoskeletal and Integumentary (osteoarthritis, traumatic fractures, infections, ulcers, skin cancers, etc.)

• Immunology, Hematology and Endocrinology (diabetes, blood dyscrasia, immunosuppression, etc.)

• Infectious Diseases, Prevention and Control (Antibiotic-resistant organisms, communicable infections, etc.)



Characteristics Needed to Become an Operating Room Nurse

In order to enjoy performing the duties of an operating room nurse, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties as an operating room nurse is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which usually leads to having a long and successful career.


• A keen interest in the theory and practice of nursing care

• A commitment to professional development and self-directed learning

• Good interpersonal skills

• Able to take direction, as well as direct the work of others

• A patient-centered approach to healthcare work

• Physical, emotional and intellectual stamina

• Good personal coping skills

• Able to maintain calm within chaotic surroundings

• Able to think fast and on your feet



Additional Qualifications for Becoming an Operating Room Nurse

In addition to demonstrable skills and the proper education and certification, you typically need additional qualifications in order to be employed as an operating room nurse. These qualifications may include:


• Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification

• Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification

• Current Trauma Nursing Core Course certification

• Current driver’s license and use of a vehicle may be required in some work settings

• Able to pass a criminal record check



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Operating Room Nurse Salary

The salary level of operating room nurses can vary, depending on their level of education, their level of experience, their level of certification, the region in which the work, and many other factors.


Operating Room Nurse Salary Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Registered Nurses occupational group earn an average salary of $63,922 per year.


Operating Room Nurse Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, Canadian workers in the Registered Nurses occupational group earn an average salary of $51,038 per year.


Operating Room Nurse Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of American workers in the Nurse Practitioners occupational group is $95,070 per year. The top 10% of workers in this occupational group earn salaries of around $126,250 per year.



Careers Similar to Operating Room Nurse

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Operating Room Nurse, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Emergency Room Nurse

Geriatric Care Manager

Health Care Administrator

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

Registered Nurse



References: Operating Room Nurse Career Information

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an operating room nurse.


Wages & Salaries in Alberta: Registered Nurses.” (April 11, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Occupational Employment and Wages:Nurse Practitioners.” (March 29, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

News:Life as an Operating Room Nurse.” (n.d.). London Health Sciences Centre website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.


Please Note: Some of the information for this career guide was gathered from actual job postings, which due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as sources.




Scholarships for Becoming an Operating Room Nurse

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming an Operating Room Nurse can be found on our Nursing Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming an Operating Room Nurse: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an operating room nurse. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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