Have you ever wanted to view a heart beating inside a person’s chest? Or to be part of the team racing to save the life of a critically injured patient? Do you thrive in high-pressure situations? Do you excel at verbal communication? Can you juggle a dozen competing priorities with ease? Are you drawn to machinery and gadgets? Do you love performing procedures on patients? Do you prefer a collaborative approach to patient care? Do you have an abundance of empathy and compassion to comfort patients who are literally putting their life in your hands before going under general anesthesia? If so, OR nursing may be for you!
What is OR Nursing?
Operating room nurses – also called circulating nurses or circulators – care for patients during surgery. Circulators take patients from the surgical waiting area to the operating room, where they assist the surgeons and anesthesiologist with intubation, prepping the patient, performing procedures like inserting Foley catheters, and ensuring the patient’s safety throughout the procedure. A circulating RN also accompanies the patient to the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) to give report and hand off patient care to another member of the perioperative team: the PACU nurse.
Circulating nurses do just that: circulate by walking around the perimeter of the operating room throughout a surgery. During these passes, circulators monitor a patient’s vital signs, output, and other status indicators to ensure their safety. OR nurses also ensure the sterility of the surgical field by calling attention to any instance of contamination during the procedure.
Circulators pass items like surgical instruments and suture to the sterile field, roll in equipment like X-ray devices to obtain mid-procedure images, run to the supply room for instrument packs, perform procedures like processing platelet-rich plasma for injection, receive tissue specimens from the field for weighing and labeling, and work collaboratively with all the other members of the surgical team to ensure a good outcome for the patient.
OR nursing can be incredibly rewarding, when the team operates with efficiency and camaraderie. Working in the operating room gives you the opportunity to see inside the living human body and to witness the organs pulsating in situ – which can be a very moving experience. Your ace skills in communication and organization will help you thrive in an often fast-paced environment. During long surgeries you might engage in pleasant banter with other members of the OR team – which includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, surgical techs and orderlies – and that can make for a fun work environment.
On the other hand, the OR can be a high-pressure environment as multiple surgeons work simultaneously to save a person’s life, and during those situations the circulator often must run repeatedly for supplies while also responding to multiple other requests from the surgeons or anesthesiologist. You may be carrying, rolling, and otherwise manhandling heavy equipment which can make the job physically demanding and you may be exposed to things that are difficult to watch, smell or process emotionally. Also, in this high-pressure environment there are times when tempers can fly or members of the OR team have clashes that make the work environment contentious. While this can happen anywhere, in the OR you are in an intimate setting which can magnify the intensity. So this environment might not be suitable for highly sensitive individuals.
Where do OR Nurses Work?
OR nursing is part of the perioperative nursing specialty, which includes pre-op and post-op (PACU) nursing. Circulating RNs work in all types of operating rooms, from ambulatory surgical centers to outpatient clinics to cath labs to inpatient ORs inside hospitals.
Circulating RNs often specialize in particular types of surgeries. You might find yourself drawn to circulating cases only in:
- Bariatric surgery
- Cardiac catheterization
- Cardiac surgery
- General surgery
- Outpatient surgery
- Pediatric surgery
- Plastic and reconstructive surgery
- Sports medicine
Education and Experience Requirements for Operating Room Nurses
A licensed Registered Nurse with any type of degree or diploma is eligible to work as an operating room nurse, though the highly specialized skills involved demand additional on-the-job training. Many circulating RNs are BSN prepared, and advancing your education by becoming a certified nurse – operating room (CNOR) will give you an advantage in competing for the job you want. You also may need certifications in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and/or Pediatric Advanced Life Support to work in the OR.
Each employer sets its own standards for education and experience when it comes to OR nursing. Some hospitals like to train new graduates to become OR nurses, while other facilities prefer to hire circulators with experience. You should carefully review each job posting’s requirements section to make sure you hold the qualifications required to apply.
Characteristics Employers Look For
In addition to your education, certifications and experience, those hiring circulating RNs look for characteristics that support success in the demanding OR environment. These characteristics can also serve as a way to self-assess your readiness for stepping into OR nursing.
- Ability to take charge
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to perform calculations, such as weights, dosages and flow rates
- Problem-solving ability
- Top-notch organizational skills
- Collaborative attitude
- Eagerness to learn
Of course, hiring managers also look for passion. If you have a passion for exploring OR nursing, communicate it!
How do I Find an OR Nursing Job?
Fewer openings exist for operating room nurse jobs than for many other specialties – perhaps because circulating nurses usually love what they do and stay in their roles for a lifetime.
That said, todays search on LiquidCompass shows nearly 11,000 openings across the United States for “operating room/surgery” nurses, which includes listings for positions like first assistants (RNs who work inside the sterile field to directly assist the surgeon) and PACU nurses. The vast majority of these are direct hire positions, with only about 2,000 being agency/traveler listings.
There are many ways to look for your perfect OR nursing job and find out what hiring managers are looking for on LiquidCompass, the most comprehensive healthcare jobs marketplace anywhere.
- Reviewing at the interactive map, you can see the highest demand for circulating RNs is along the eastern seaboard. The Maryland/Delaware region has more than 800 OR nursing jobs available right now.
- You can type in your home address to search for openings near you or click on the map to zoom in on locations where you’d like to relocate.
- Easily put in specific search criteria. For instance, check the boxes that filter results to show only “New Grad Eligible” jobs for OR nurses.
- Perhaps in your life right now you could only work the day shift. Easy! Select day shift in the search filters and find openings for daytime surgical RNs.
- If you don’t know what surgical specialty you’re interested in, you can get lots of ideas about which jobs are in most demand by spending a little time browsing on LiquidCompass. You’ll also be able to find out what the job qualifications are and who is offering signing bonuses.
- Pro tip: Set up an alert so that you are notified when a job you want gets posted.
Get Started Today as an OR Nurse
If OR nursing sounds right for you, start searching for your perfect job today. Have patience, if necessary, while you wait for a position to open up and set up alerts so you know when they do. You can also search for related perioperative nursing jobs, such as PACU or pre-op nurse. If you’re new to OR nursing, you can learn about this specialty by asking to shadow a circulator or taking an OR rotation during nursing school. Later, you can get your CNOR certification, which demonstrates your passion for OR nursing and your commitment to excellence. Then come back to LiquidCompass to find your dream job.
About the Author
Elizabeth Hanes, RN is ‘the nurse who knows' content. She is a freelance writer who combines her knowledge of nursing with over 20 years in journalism. Her unique background brings credibility and authenticity to her writing.