Despite the national focus on preventive healthcare, the number of surgeries being performed in the United States continues to rise. According to the most recent survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics there were 48 million surgeries performed in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers in 2010 — that number has only gone up in the last 10 years. Outpatient procedures, for example, is expected to grow to 144 million by 2023.
At the same time that the number of surgical procedures is expected to rise, the U.S. is anticipating a critical nursing shortage. OR nurses play a pivotal role in surgical procedures from ensuring patients are prepared for surgery to managing patient care throughout the procedure and confirming that the surgeon has the appropriate instruments and supplies needed. Qualified OR nurses will find themselves increasingly in demand, and as a result hospitals and ambulatory care centers will likely turn to travel OR nurses in order to meet their patients’ surgical needs.
OR nurses work in many different roles within the operating room. Those who work in Pre-Op collect vital signs and health histories, start IVs, and assess patients to ensure that they are stable for surgery and that all of the necessary paperwork is complete. They also interact directly with the support network that has accompanied the patient to the hospital. OR nurses who work intra-operatively work inside the operating room, managing personnel, ensuring that all equipment and supplies necessary are available, updating paperwork, and providing assistance to the surgeon. OR nurses can also serve in the post-op area, receiving and caring for the patients immediately after their surgical procedure and monitoring them for complications.
Other job titles for OR nurses, include: Circulating Nurse, Scrub Nurse, Registered Nurse First Assistant, Perioperative Nurse, and Surgical Nurse.
OR nurses work long hours on all shifts and are often on their feet for extended periods of time. Their work involves functioning within the surgical team as well as with patients and their families, so they must have excellent communication skills. Nurses who choose the OR environment are generally problem solvers who are comfortable in high-stress conditions. They are also multitaskers who are confident in their skills and able to work collaboratively under the supervision of a surgeon.
OR nurses provide direct patient care in many different ways, and their job description can vary based upon whether they are a Circulating Nurse, a Scrub Nurse, or a Registered Nurse First Assistant. Clinical experience and credentialing requirements vary too.
Most Perioperative/OR nurses:
Though not all hospitals require that OR nurses be credentialed, many are starting to desire it. In fact the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) says that having the CNOR (Certified Nurse in the OR) credential opens doors to greater opportunities. In addition to the CNOR certification, CCI also offers certifications for different roles within the OR, including:
AORN conducts an annual salary and compensation survey specifically for perioperative nursing — its most recent survey was conducted in June of 2018. Though it notes variables in geography, education and experience levels that affected compensation, the survey reported that staff OR nurses working in small hospitals earned an average base salary of $71,200, while those working in large facilities earned an average base compensation of $72,400.
Other findings, OR nurses working in ambulatory surgery centers and physicians’ offices generally earned less than those who work in acute care hospitals, while those who worked in specialty hospitals and university/academic medical centers earned more. The survey also reported that most OR nurses earn additional compensation beyond their base salary in the form of overtime, shift differential, on-call compensation, and bonuses.
Staff OR nurses working in small hospitals earned an average base compensation of $71,600, while those working in large facilities earned an average base compensation of $72,400.
The survey also shows that the need for OR nurses has increased — the median percentage of vacant full-time perioperative nursing positions expanded from 3% five years ago to 7.1 % in 2018. This trend is expected to continue as is the increased number of surgeries being performed. This translates to more facilities seeking experienced, qualified OR nurses, which means increased opportunities and job growth potential for this nursing speciality.
|Being part of a cohesive team that makes a real and immediate difference in patients’ lives.||Long hours and shifts, many of which are on-call.|
|Opportunity to constantly learn new techniques and skills.||Surgical complications can lead to patient deaths.|
|Direct, one-at-a-time patient care.||Management push for efficiency can lead to frustration with feeling rushed.|
|Respect of peers and community.||Intense, high-pressure environment.|
Being an OR nurse isn’t for everybody: The environment is demanding and so are the surgeons. The hours are long and focus must be maintained. But, for organized multitaskers who thrive on instant gratification, the operating room provides the opportunity to see immediate results from their contributions.
OR travel nurse skills generally translate seamlessly into new surgical environments, so it’s no surprise that OR travel nurses are often brought in to help ease staffing shortages and offer respite to overworked full-time staff.
In general, OR travel nurses receive higher hourly compensation than full-time staff nurses, but advantages go beyond pay rate. Depending on the contract, travel nurses are also often eligible for non-taxable stipends, plus bonuses. Working as an OR travel nurse also can advance your career by providing access to new surgical environments, professionals, and procedures.