Career Series: Spotlight on Perioperative Nursing


Insights on OR nurse jobs that involve caring for patients before, during and after surgery

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

A career in perioperative nursing offers a combination of secure employment, challenging work and the chance to make a significant impact on patient outcomes and quality of life.

“There is a high degree of personal satisfaction that you get,” said Linda Groah, MSN, RN, CNOR, NEA-BC, CEO and executive director of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), which represents the interests of 160,000 perioperative nurses across the country.

Education and career development

Perioperative nurses begin their careers with an RN, and can continue their education with additional degrees and demonstrate expertise in this specialty by pursuing certification.

Perioperative nursing employment has remained remarkably steady and the future outlook for these OR nurse jobs appears promising

A perioperative nurse can earn the CNOR certification from the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI). CNOR is not an acronym, according to CCI, but is defined as “documented validation of the professional achievement of identified standards of practice by an individual registered nurse providing care for patients before, during and after surgery.”

“To hold the CNOR, you must engage in a level of professional development that far exceeds the requirements for non-certified nurses,” noted James Stobinski, PhD, RN, CNOR, director of credentialing and education for the CCI.

Once you have logged some time as an operating room nurse (OR nurse), and perhaps even received CNOR certification, you might consider some additional career paths within the specialty. Nurses may pursue subspecialties, such as cardiovascular OR nursing. Clinical options for next steps also include becoming an RN first assistant or a clinical nurse specialist (CNS). Perioperative nurses can also pursue management positions, related fields like nursing informatics, or roles in nursing education. Most of these options require advanced degrees.

There are also additional certifications available, including the CSSM, or Certified Surgical Services Manager credential, and the Registered Nurse First Assistant (CRNFA) certification program. AORN’s Center for Nursing Leadership offers additional resources for professional development.

Whatever path you choose, prepare to work on staying abreast of the latest evidence-based research.

“Lifelong learning is absolutely essential, because of all the changes that are occurring,” Groah noted.

Working environment

Perioperative nursing can demand a lot of nurses both mentally and physically--and sometimes even emotionally.

In the operating room, nurses can be on their feet for a 12-hour surgery. Patients are utterly dependent on the surgical team when they are anesthetized, which puts a huge responsibility on an OR nurse’s shoulders. In this setting, developing communication and collaboration skills is essential. Nurses will be asked to adjust to constant changes in technology in the OR, as well as evidence-based guidelines for ensuring optimal patient care.

Many nurses thrive in this challenging environment of the OR, knowing that they are constantly learning and making a difference in their patients’ lives.

Other choices in perioperative nursing include prepping patients for surgery or working in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU), which involves caring for and closely monitoring post-operative patients. Both OR nurse jobs and PACU nurse jobs can involve working in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Salary and compensation

Your operating room nurse salary will depend on your job title, as well as the size and type of facility in which you work.

A staff nurse--that is, one who spends about 90 percent of his/her time involved in direct patient care--can expect to make just over $68,000 per year, according to the AORN Salary and Compensation Survey, published in the December 2015 issue of AORN Journal. Meanwhile, a charge nurse might earn between $74,500 and $81,800 annually, depending on the size of the facility.  The survey also found that the average salary for an RN first assistant in 2015 ranged between $81,200 and $85,200.

“In general, most hospitals pay more for certification,” adds Stobinski.

Lucrative jobs are also available for temporary nurses in the perioperative setting. Recruiters report that facilities are consistently looking to fill OR travel nurse jobs, and the compensation will vary on the region and facility where the job is located.

Job outlook

Perioperative nursing employment has remained remarkably steady in recent years, despite many changes in healthcare. And the outlook for OR nurse jobs continues to look promising, according to Groah and Stobinski.

During the recent recession, many older nurses put retirement on hold. But as the economy has improved, a growing number have started looking forward to retirement again.

“Sooner or later, they are going to retire,” said Stobinski, noting that it will mean vacancies that younger nurses will be able to fill.  In fact, AMN Healthcare’s 2015 Survey of Registered Nurses found that 45 percent of OR/PACU nurses over 54 said they are thinking more about retirement.

So, if you’re planning to seek an operating room nurse job or other perioperative position, you should be in a good position. In addition to hospital employment, OR nurses can expect to find opportunities in the ambulatory setting, where a growing number of surgeries are taking place.

Learn more about OR nurse jobs and search for current openings with

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