If you’re building your nursing career and crave the energy of a fast-paced operating room, you might want to consider earning a certification to advance your skills. Operating room nursing, or perioperative nursing, is the perfect way to expand your knowledge of surgical procedures and patient care.

But if you’re trying to stand out in a sea of talented, highly skilled OR nursing professionals, certifications are one way to make your expertise known.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to become an operating room nurse, what types of certifications are available, and how they might benefit your career moving forward. 


  1. You’ll need to be eligible to take the CNOR exam. 

According to the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI), you’ll need to have the following qualifications before taking the exam:1

  • You hold an unrestricted registered nurse license in the country where you practice. RN status is the basis for all nursing credentials, whether you attended a 2- or 4-year nursing program.
  • Engage in perioperative nursing clinical practice, nursing education, administration, or research when taking the exam.
  • Acquire a minimum of two years and 2,400 hours of experience in perioperative nursing, with at least 1,200 hours in an intraoperative setting.
  • You need to be a full- or part-time employee of a perioperative practice or in another perioperative-focused setting. Your current employment shows your commitment to working in the field and your accumulation of experience.
  • You need to reach a minimum number of hours of work experience in the field. For many nursing certifications, 2-3 years of employment in a perioperative setting is a must.

2. Sign up for the exam. 

After confirming your eligibility for CNOR certification, you can proceed to register for the exam. Begin by completing the application form online, accessible through the CCI website. Once your application receives approval, you’ll be notified, allowing you to select a convenient testing center, date, and time for your examination. Testing centers are available nationwide, with exams administered every day except Sunday. 

3. Study and prep for the exam in advance. 

Preparing for the exam is crucial for success. You can access numerous study guides and CNOR materials online, both free and for purchase, to aid your preparation. The CCI advises nurses to dedicate at least three months to study before attempting the exam for the first time. Their website offers a range of resources, including textbooks, webinars, personalized study outlines, handbooks, and practice questions. Additionally, they provide practice courses and exams. Take full advantage of these resources to enhance your preparation.

4. Take the exam.

The CNOR exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions, each offering four options with only one correct answer. Candidates are allotted three hours and 45 minutes to complete the exam, and a minimum score of 620 out of 800  is required to pass. This computer-based test provides immediate pass or fail results upon completion.

CNOR certification typically isn’t for a nurse who is starting fresh in a perioperative setting. Rather, it’s for OR nurses who’ve already accumulated a level of experience and professional development. Certification is a way to sufficiently show what you’ve learned and accomplished as a nurse practitioner.

Certification Opportunities

Overall, CNOR certification is the credential that’s most relevant for you to know in order to pursue a career as a certified perioperative nurse. 

However, there are other additional credentials that perioperative nurses can earn. The following certifications aren’t necessarily required to work as an OR nurse, but they can increase your expertise along with your marketability as a candidate. They also show that you’ve passed exams that put your nursing education and knowledge in a specialized field to the test.

The different kinds of certification available for OR nurses include the CNOR, as well as CRNFA, CSSM, and CNS-CP.2 Below, we’ll cover the meaning of these certification types and the skills involved in each.

  • CRNFA – The Certified RN First Assistant is for nurses who assist doctors and surgeons during surgery by preparing and handling surgical tools. First assistants might also perform suturing and the control of bleeding.
  • CSSM – The Certified Surgical Manager Credential is for nurses who specialize in management in operating room settings.3 These nurses might organize the flow of staff in and out of the operating room.
  • CNS-CP – The Clinical Nurse Specialist Perioperative Certification is for nurses with a master’s degree who may be interested in furthering their studies or giving themselves a competitive edge in the field. 

Timelines for Your Career

You might be eager to dive right into certification as soon as possible. However, you won’t be able to pursue certification immediately after starting work as a perioperative nurse. First, you’ll need to spend time accumulating hours and experience. You might even take coursework specific to working in the operating room. So, when planning your timeline, be sure to take real-word experience into account first. 

How Long Does it Take to Earn Certification?

Once you’ve accumulated enough work experience, the CCI recommends that you plan for at least three months of studying to prepare for the exam. Whether you prefer to cram for three consecutive months or spread out your studies as your schedule permits is entirely up to you.

The CNOR exam itself, which is composed of 200 multiple choice questions, takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. It results in a pass or fail grade.1 The exam primarily covers your knowledge of perioperative care, but according to the CCI, it will also include questions on topics such as:

  • Plan of care
  • Patient assessment and diagnosis
  • Emergency situations 

Once you earn your operating room nursing certification, it will last for five years. After five years, you can take the exam again to recertify. 

Why Earn Certification?

Although you already know that you don’t need to have a CNOR or similar certification to work as a surgical nurse, there are compelling reasons to earn one: 

  • The credentials bring attention to your skills and specialties on your resume. Employers can more easily identify your skills and may consider you over another candidate because of this expertise. 
  • You’ll be able to display your credentials after your name, signaling a higher level of professionalism and expertise to employers, coworkers, and patients.
  • Certifications can also act as landmarks of professional development. To stay up-to-date in a rapidly developing field, CNOR coursework can help you refine your skills as a surgical nurse over time. 
  • Earning a nursing certification could be the stepping stone you need to take your career to a higher level. Not only will you be eligible to fill more specialized positions, but you may set yourself up for success in earning a higher OR RN salary

The reasons to earn an OR nurse certification are numerous. Above all, earning a certification is a pursuit that you can feel confident about. Plus, it can be done whenever is best for your schedule. Since there’s no specific time that you have to take a certification exam during your career, you can take your time to plan an approach that works for you. Learning about the exam, studying for it, and completing it are all parts of the process that you can accomplish at your own pace to further your nursing education.

Find Unique Opportunities with Host Healthcare

Once you’ve earned your operating room certification for nurses, your next step is to apply your new skills in your preferred setting. If you’d like to combine career with travel healthcare, explore exciting corners of the country as an OR travel nurse with Host Healthcare. 

OR travel nursing at Host Healthcare means taking advantage of excellent pay, full benefits, and hassle-free housing. Plus, whether you prefer mountains or the sand, we’re committed to providing you with plenty of flexibility and choice in your clinical placement.

Learn how to submit your travel nurse application today and enhance your perioperative nursing career from coast to coast. 


  1. “CNOR Prep: Prepare for the CNOR Exam: CCI.” CCI, 21 Oct. 2021, https://www.cc-institute.org/cnor/learn/
  2. “Operating Room Nurse.” RegisteredNursing.org, 17 Sept. 2021, https://www.registerednursing.org/specialty/operating-room-nurse/
  3. “Credentialing.” Perioperative Nurse Education – Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses, https://www.aorn.org/education/individuals/credentialing
  4. “How to Become a Surgical Nurse.” AORN Career Centerhttps://www.aorn.org/career-center/career-resources/career-advice/surgical-nurse-career
  5. Brooks, Ashley. “Dissecting the Critical Role of an Operating Room Nurse.” Rasmussen University, 4 May 2020, https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/blog/role-of-operating-room-nurse/