What Does an OR Nurse Do?

NursingFebruary 01, 2023

Operating Room—or OR—nurses work in the operating room of a hospital, clinic, or surgery center. “Operating Room” is a bit of a catch-all term for these subspecialty nursing professionals who work in surgery. OR nurses are also known as surgical or perioperative nurses. 

These nurses take care of patients before, during, and after a surgical procedure. They may interact with the family, as well as manage a patient’s treatment plan. They may work directly with a surgeon during a surgery, or more behind the scenes, preparing the sterile environment for the procedure. Whatever they do, they need specialized skills. 

To become a perioperative or OR nurse, you need to obtain your RN license and then complete a two-year perioperative training program or get an advanced degree with a surgical nursing specialization. OR nursing is a dynamic role, requiring nurses to be able to work in a complex and fast-paced environment, think critically under stress, and handle multiple priorities. The different nursing roles require slightly different duties and skill sets but there is some overlap. Here’s a look at what you could be doing in the operating room as an OR—or perioperative—nurse. An OR nurse might fulfill any of these roles, depending on their specialty.

Scrub nurse

Scrub nurses are perioperative nurses who work with the surgical team. As a scrub nurse, you work directly with the surgeon in the OR’s sterile field. A scrub nurse ensures the correct surgical instruments and other equipment are ready for the surgeon, including gowns, gloves, drapes, and solutions. They’re also responsible for passing instruments, sponges, and any other items to the surgeon during the procedure. They may monitor a patient post-surgery when the patient is waking up from anesthesia. 

Circulating nurse

These nurses manage the patients and surgical suite in the operating room. Their main role is to create and maintain a comfortable environment for the patient inside and outside the OR, usually outside the sterile field of the surgery. Essentially, they’re “circulating” to make sure things are moving along smoothly as they should. That includes making sure materials are ready before the surgery, like supplies, instruments, and signed consent forms from the patient. Circulating nurses keep an eye on the nursing care provided to the patient within the OR and during the post-op recovery phase.    

RN first assistant (RNFA)

With extensive extra training, these nurses provide the most direct surgical care. They might perform tasks alongside the surgeon like controlling bleeding, performing suturing (stitching), and monitoring patients for complications. 

If OR nursing sounds interesting to you, St. Paul’s School of Nursing is here to help you with the next steps. We offer an associate degree in nursing that prepares you with a strong foundation to enter the nursing profession and to position you to pursue a nursing specialty as you develop on your nursing career path. Visit our website or give us a call at (855) 822-3018 to speak to one of our admissions advisors or to schedule a campus tour.