If you look at the lists of top-paid nursing positions and best nursing opportunities in the United States, you’ll probably find operating room nurses somewhere near the top. This RN specialty is one that is popular among professionals who enjoy a little bit more autonomy and a little more direct patient interaction than more traditional nursing. Although you will always be working under the supervision of the operating team and surgeon in charge, this position is one that requires you to be able to make assessments and think on your feet in a high-stress situation.
Operating nurses are responsible for patient care in all phases of a procedure: the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative stages. Although the tasks will vary depending on the exact procedure, you can expect some combination of the following:
Preoperative Assessment: An operating room nurse is the individual who will have the most contact with the patient as he or she is preparing to enter surgery. The nurse may be responsible for communicating with the patient and family about what to expect, and ensuring that the patient acts in accordance with the pre-surgery guidelines. Additional tasks include monitoring the patient’s vitals, taking a medical history, verifying paperwork, and discussing the various stages of recovery and what they entail.
Operation Preparation: The best operating room nurses know the individual quirks of the surgeons they work with every day. They know exactly how the surgeon prefers the room to be set up and equipment to be positioned. The nurse is also there to continue to allay patient fears and anxieties. Because the operating room nurse has already built a rapport with the patient, he or she can be the determining factor between a happy patient and an unhappy one.
Working as Part of the Surgical Team: There are many different health care professionals in the room when a surgery occurs. A circulating nurse, scrub nurse, surgeon, and anesthetist are among them—and the operating room nurse must work as part of the team.
Advocating for Patients: In a surgical setting, there are often many different viewpoints and opinions sharing the same space. Because the operating room nurse is the most familiar with the patient and family, he or she may be called upon to clarify the patient’s plan of care.
Postoperative Care: One of the most “nurse-like” jobs of the operating room nurse is to care for the patient during the postoperative period. This includes monitoring vitals, administering medications, and checking for any signs that the patient’s condition is worsening.
Becoming an Operation Room Nurse
If you’re interested in becoming an operating room nurse, you will first need to become a registered nurse (most often with Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing). An additional six months to one year of training will be required. In order to become certified as an operating nurse, you’ll need an additional two years and 2,400 hours of experience. You can then sit for the certification exam.
Operating room nursing is a great field if you want to step away from routine care and work more in patient advocacy and communication. Competition for positions can be a little fierce, though, so you’ll want to be sure and become certified to boost your chances of employment.