How Do You Become an Operating Room Nurse?

The pathway to become an operating room nurse is considerably shorter than a surgeon, but both careers lead you to the same fast-paced work environment. Operating room nurses, also called perioperative or surgical nurses, are registered nurses (RNs) who provide direct care to patients undergoing invasive procedures. Operating room nurses may work directly in the sterile operating room to organize instruments, control bleeding, and monitor vital signs. Other OR nurses may circulate the operating room to file consent forms, replenish surgical supplies, and oversee patient recovery. The AORN estimates that 25 percent of today’s operating room nurses are reaching retirement age. Critical shortages have made OR nursing one of the top seven in-demand nursing specialties, according to HealthCare Traveler. Start your career off right by following these steps to become an operating room nurse.

Earn an Accredited Nursing Degree

Operating room nurses must receive formal nursing training to satisfy the RN requirements for their state board of nursing. Most states allow two different routes to licensure. First, you could obtain a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) from a community college or vocational school. You may also pursue a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a college or university. The AACN recommends bachelor’s degrees as the minimal professional preparation for nursing. Make certain the program is properly accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or an equivalent.

Obtain Clinical RN Experience

During your degree, you’ll likely complete several semesters of clinical field practicum. Start specializing your career by gaining experience in surgical departments, operating rooms, ICUs, and other acute care centers. After graduation, you’ll qualify for taking the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) for licensing. You may have to start with entry-level staff nursing jobs before moving into the OR specialty. Fine-tune your clinical skills for counseling patients, administering medications, recording medical data, and operating equipment. Any experience in the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative process will aid your RN resume.

Seek Operating Room Certification

After accumulating at least 2,000 hours of operating room experience, you can apply for certification. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a Medical-Surgical Nursing (RN-BC) credential. Eligible applicants must have active RN license and two years of full-time nursing experience. You’ll need to pass a computer-based test of 175 multiple choice questions in 3.5 hours. The certification exams are proctored at several testing centers across the United States. Being an ANA member will reap you a significant $125 discount. Certification must be maintained with 30 hours of continuing education.

Consider Pursuing a Master’s in Nursing

Although it’s certainly not required, operating room nurses may consider forging ahead to graduate school for advancement. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can unlock advanced practice nurse (APRN) roles. OR nurses with a master’s-level education could qualify for becoming medical-surgical nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists. Those who attend an accredited nurse anesthetist program could practice as CRNAs. Operating room nurses often can continue working full-time while earning their master’s in an online or hybrid format.

Related Resource: Licensed Practical Nurse

Overall, OR nurses are vital members of the surgical team who advocate for quality patient care on the operating table and in recovery. Operating room nurses may further specialize in oncology, cardiovascular, gynecology, orthopedic, or pediatric surgery. PayScale reports that operating room nurses receive a median yearly salary of $61,775. Taking these steps to become an operating room nurse will put you beside surgeons to keep surgical procedures running smoothly.