How to Become a Surgical Nurse: Welcome to the Operating Room!

Being a health care provider in the operating room, you will find surgery a surreal world at first. But many registered nurses (RNs) call the operating room home during their working day. Let’s look at how to become a surgical nurse in this article.

First, you must be an RN before doing blue scrubs and entering the operating room to practice your skills. Here are the basic steps to get your license first.

1. Get the proper education

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) or an RN can be a surgical nurse practitioner.

Certainly, there are higher professional levels and titles to advance to later your career.

The required education will depend on which role you have set your goals on or which is more feasible to you at the moment.

To be an LPN, you can take a 12-month program from vocational schools, community colleges, or health career centers.

The curriculum will focus on science courses on anatomy and physiology. You will also learn practical skills that you will need to become an LPN.

To become an RN, you have two options. Get a 2-year associate’s degree in nursing (ADN), or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN).

Either of these degrees will make you a good candidate to become an RN.

Both degrees, though, require you to complete prerequisite classes prior to the basic nursing curriculum.

When talking to your college advisor, make sure to bring this subject up because every college or university will have its own policies on prerequisites and admission requirements.

2. Obtain a license.

After completing your LPN, take and pass the NCLEX-PN. Inquire from your state nursing board about detailed information on requirements for licensing as these do vary from state to state.

If you have earlier opted to complete an ADN or BSN and have completed your degree successfully, you may take the NCLEX-RN. Inquire from your state nursing board for requirements other than passing the exam.

3. Go to work.

Before you acquire specialties in many possible areas, including surgical nursing, you have to gain experience as LPN/LVN or RN.

Actual work as nurse also opens opportunities to learn and train. You’ll learn about sterile fields and sterile asepsis, among many others.



Inquire from the state nursing board about the number of years required for you to work as a nurse to comply with the surgical nursing requirements.

Some states also specify that at least 1 year of this work experience is in an acute care work environment.

4. Get necessary training.

Operating room training may take weeks or months. This opportunity might be available in your current workplace, so check there first. The clinical training will give emphasis on operating room critical care, ambulatory surgery, pre- and post-operative care, or more advanced areas, such as cardiac OR care.

5. Undergo the process of certification.

Take the certification exam for OR nurses (Certified Nurse for the Operating Room, or CNOR).

Board certification is given by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) or the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Prepare adequately for the exam. The American Society of Plastic Surgical Nurses and the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses are only two of several professional resources that assist nurses in the process of certification. Inquire from these organizations to get detailed information.

How different is working in surgery different from other specialties in nursing?

As mentioned earlier, nurses from various educational backgrounds and training can take further training or certification.

The degree of their responsibilities and the roles that they take will vary, too, depending on states and medical facilities.

An LPN or LVN in the OR, for instance, is usually given the responsibility for routine pre-operative and post-operative care of patients.

Their tasks also include monitoring the patient, administering medication, starting an IV line, dressing the wound, bathing the patient, and providing bedside care.

An RN or APN in the surgical team assists during the procedure. Their tasks also include the coordination of all activities, medical professionals, and departments that are involved in the operation.

Generally, OR RNs prepare patients prior to the operation, design and modify treatment plans, coordinate with other professionals involved with the patient’s case, assist the surgery team during the operation, plan out post-operative care, and orient patient and patient’s family about home management care.

Is there room to grow in operating room nursing?

Certainly. If you currently hold an LPN diploma but are working as a surgical nurse, you can take bridge programs to advance your level of education to ADN or BSN.

This is a basic requirement to higher responsibilities in the surgical team. This will also open opportunities for broader jobs and higher monetary rewards.

If you have an ADN, it is important for you to start considering completion of a BSN.

More jobs will be available to you and it is a great advantage when you are being considered for promotion.

After your BSN education, you may consider taking graduate education to become nurse practitioners (NPs) or clinical nurse specialists (CNS) with special focus on surgery.

They may also train for subspecialty areas in surgical nursing, such as pediatric surgery, intensive care surgery and cardiac surgery.

What salaries do they receive and what is the job outlook?

According to the salary.com, 50% of all operating room RNs in the country earned lower than the median annual salary of $85,581.

The other 50% earned higher than that median with the top 10% earning more than $101,351.

Those with bachelor’s degrees were paid higher salaries compared to those with vocational courses or associate’s degrees.

The job opportunity for RNs is expected to increase at a rate of 20%+ by 2020, significantly higher than the national average for all occupations (14%).

The ageing population will necessarily increase the demand for health care services. At the same time, the present nursing workforce will also approach retirement.

These factors significantly cause the projected increase in demand in the future.



I hope this has helped you learn how to become a surgical nurse in the operating room.

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