Ken Chisholm, RN

Navigating the path to becoming a OR nurse can be complex. If you are looking for a career in the OR, these tips should get you headed in the right direction.

1. Ask yourself what kind of OR nurse you want to be.

There are three different positions within an operating room, and each has a very different role.

A scrubbing nurse is responsible for setting up the operating room, inspecting the tools and handing them over to the surgeon when needed during the surgery. After surgery the nurse removes the tools and prepares patient for post-op.

A circulating nurse is responsible for overseeing the procedure, instead of directly participating in it. This nurse will inspect surgical equipment, verifies patient identity, goes over patient’s history and any special concerns with the surgeon, and  patient’s history with surgeon and anesthesiologist, and makes sure the entire procedure follows hospital procedure.

The RN First assistant is the final OR nursing position. This position is totally different. You must have years of nursing experience in the OR, because you are directly assisting the surgeon.

2. Be flexible in what it takes to get there.

New or inexperienced nurses often complete “externship” or “residency” programs within the Surgical Services Department. Occasionally these new nurses will enter at a slightly lower pay scale until they become “up to speed” in skills and competency.

Many Surgery Departments will mandate at least one year of Med./Surg., or perhaps even Critical Care experience to be able to demonstrate basic nursing competency before adding the specialization that an OR nurse must develop.

If an employer mentions this type of setup, don’t be alarmed. It’s all part of the process, and will make sure you are prepared for the OR.

3. Do your research!

Every hospital and OR is completely different. Keep these questions in mind when researching an opportunity in the area of surgery! (tweet this)

  • Your personal interests
  • Scheduling: Full Time, Part Time, Per Diem, “Traveler”
  • Your level of expertise and overall experience
  • Geographic requirements (if any). Are you willing/able to relocate?
  • Desire for shift work, weekends, “call”
  • Special area(s) of interest versus availability (you may have to get into an OR and function in a variety of areas before branching off into one specialty).
  • Income requirements
  • Religious beliefs
    • For example, Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice and how you feel about controversial procedures such as pregnancy terminations, sterilization procedures (male & female)

If you have the opportunity to meet and speak to someone who works either in the area of specialty that interests you, or who works for a particular facility that you’re considering for employment, don’t pass it up.  Valuable insights can be gained from those encounters which can dramatically enhance your ultimate decision-making.

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Ken Chisholm is a guest contributor to the Relode Vital Signs blog and the Program Director at The Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center at Mercy St. Charles Hospital in Oregon, OH. He has over 20 years of experience in surgical nursing, clinical leadership, and provides great information to Relode users looking to grow professionally.