What Do Perioperative Nurses Do?

Posted by Shanna Shafer on Apr 30, 2015 5:01:00 PM

What Do Perioperative Nurses Do?



In the operating room, people rely on skilled medical professionals and nurses to ensure the safety, sterility and successful outcomes of this setting. Perioperative nurses work alongside surgeons, anesthesia providers and surgical technologists to prepare for and assist with procedures as well as assist patients during the recovery and post-operative phases. If you want to compare perioperative nurse salaries to other types of nursing positions, download our Nurse Salary Guide to get started today.

Roles and Potential Roles

Perioperative nurses may take on a number of roles in Pre-Op, Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) and even in the operating room. They may prepare patients for surgery by acting as educators, assisting the patient as anesthesia is induced, and by preparing the area to be operated on in sterile fashion. Operating room (OR) nurses get the procedure room ready by organizing and stocking it, and are responsible for maintaining the counts of instruments used during a procedure. An OR nurse provides a surgeon with important patient information, may act as an assistant during surgery, or may remain un-sterile and act as an observer and support person. In the recovery room, or PACU, nurses are vital to assisting patients to recover  As noted previously, nurses are very important when it comes to preparing patients for surgery, performing surgical documentation and providing post-operative care.

Responsibilities and Demands of the Job

If you are interested in becoming a perioperative nurse, you can look for opportunities in the OR nurse, you may wonder what an Operating Room nurse does all day. There are many responsibilities associated with this job. You may be responsible for speaking with patients and families about their surgery and obtaining consent prior to surgery, as well as getting patients cleaned and ready for their procedures in the operating room. This may include sterile prep, catheter insertion, draping and hair removal. During surgery, you may provide tools, observe or document what the doctor is doing, and keep an eye on vital signs and patient status. You may also be asked to obtain and administer medication, and you will be working closely with both the anesthesia provider and the surgeons. Once surgery is over, you'll likely have to reconcile the instruments used in the operating room, monitor and care for the patient until they are stabilized, and assist patients as they transfer from the operating room to the post anesthesia care unit and recover from surgery. As a result of all of these job duties, you must be ready for a physical job that involves spending lots of time on your feet, assisting with patient transfers and functioning in a calm and efficient manner during critical care situations.


As you gain experience in surgery, you may start focusing on a specialized area of the field. Possible specialties include pediatrics, labor and delivery, urology, medical-surgical, oncology, neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, plastic surgery, or trauma surgeries. You may find that you end up working alongside a certain group of providers or surgeons, and you will likely become very skilled at anticipating the needs of both providers and patients in this setting. If you continue in this area of nursing, you may explore pre-operative, post-operative and post anesthesia/recovery room units. With enough experience and time in this specialty, you may find yourself in a managerial role as well, with less time spent in the OR, and more time spent scheduling, preparing and evaluating procedures performed in the surgical suites.


You may have to meet a number of requirements and qualifications before you can apply for an OR nursing job. You will likely need at least an Associate's degree in nursing, although some health care employers do require a Bachelor's degree in nursing. You must also be licensed through your state's Board of Nursing. Experience in critical care, PACU, or on another unit may be required as well. Like many other specialties, you are often considered to be a more qualified candidate if you have at least one year of nursing experience, along with your BSN degree.

Education Requirements for OR Nurses

A career in OR nursing begins with the right education. You'll need to attend an Associate's degree or Bachelor's degree program in nursing. These degree programs will likely give you little experience in OR nursing, as there is rarely a specialized course or clinical rotation based on OR procedures. You'll likely need on the job training in the OR setting before you can work independently as an OR nurse, and you may even want to take a surgical technology course to prepare. Learning about the multiple surgical instruments, various patient preparation methods and legal issues surrounding surgery will be essential to your success. Your basic RN program does not usually encompass these details, but you will learn about sterile technique and patient care, which are essential in the OR. You can find information about nursing schools that offer programs that can prepare you for becoming an OR nurse in our school listings.

Licensing and Certification

Each state has its own Board of Nursing, and to work as an OR nurse, you will need to be licensed in your state. This involves completing continuing education hours and maintaining your active, unencumbered status. You can also obtain your Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR) certification, which is a specialized certificate reserved for perioperative nurses. To become CNOR certified, you must have at least 2 years and 2400 hours of perioperative nursing experience and register, pay for and successfully pass the exam. CNOR certification is good for five years.

Salary Range

Operating room nurses may earn a wide range of salaries, depending upon your experience, education and location. You may also be required to take on-call rotations as an OR nurse, where you may be called in during emergency and after hours procedures. If you want to learn what you can expect to make as an OR nurse, download our free Nurse Salary Guide to see exact figures.

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Job Outlook for 2014 and Beyond

The job outlook for registered nurses is positive across the nation. Through 2022, The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts job openings to increase by 19%, which is faster than average when compared to other occupations (BLS, 2012).

Career Path

The career path for OR nurses is fairly straightforward. After you earn your degree and become a registered nurse, you may gain experience in a general care setting, such as an emergency room or clinic. Once you develop your critical thinking and decision making skills in a health care setting, you can use these skills in an OR setting.

Associations and Organizations

The Association of Operating Room Nurses is the largest professional organization for OR nurses, offering networking, continuing education and up to date nursing resources.


OR nurses may read many nursing publications, including the AORN Journal and the Journal of Nursing.

Topics: Career in Nursing