Most nurses are drawn to the field because of how rewarding it can be to extend a surgical-glove-covered hand to those in need. But, let’s face it, a salary that allows you to live comfortably and invest in your future is an essential part of the equation, too.
Whether you’re a nurse practitioner looking to break into a more specialized field or a prospective nursing student exploring your options for a future career, you’ll want to take OR RN salary into consideration. Learning the salary expectations can help you make an educated decision about job opportunities moving forward.
No scalpels, scissors, or forceps needed here—just your close attention as we explore the ways that perioperative nurse salaries vary and why.
What Does a Perioperative Nurse Do?
Before launching into the ins and outs of the operating room nurse salary, a deeper understanding of what OR nurses do is important background knowledge to have. In many cases, perioperative nurse-specific skills play a role in their overall earnings.1
For starters, there are multiple kinds of OR nurses that specialize in:
Pre-op OR nurses prepare patients for surgeries whereas post-anesthesia OR nurses monitor patient recovery after surgery as they awaken from anesthesia. Intra-operation nurses, however, can have several different roles including:1
- The scrub nurse, who prepares instruments for doctors during surgery. They assist the surgeon with sterilization and other tasks.
- The circulating nurse, who ensures that everything is flowing smoothly in the operating room.
- The RN first assistant, who is often the most highly skilled nurse in the operating room and can assist with several aspects of surgery.
Involvement in each stage of surgery—pre-op, intra-op, and post-anesthesia—takes training and education. The different types of intra-op nurses also require different levels of education and training. These factors of education and training directly affect earning potential for registered nurses.
Average Salary for OR Nurses
How much do operating room nurses make? Nurses, on average, make about $70,000 a year. A perioperative nurse’s earnings fall in about the same range, earning around $73,000 a year. This roughly translates to about $35 an hour.2
It can be eye-opening not only to know where nursing salaries fall in comparison to each other, but also how they compare to the national median. According to the United States Census Bureau, the national average household income was $67,521 in 20203
As you can see, the average nursing salary is comfortably above that national median. Next, we’ll look at the ways that different nursing salaries compare to each other.
Nursing Salaries in Comparison
At the highest end of the spectrum, nurse anesthetists bring home an average of $130,000 a year. Their higher earning potential is due to their specialized skill, training, and the high risk involved in their job.4
The next three highest-earning nurses are:4
- Family nurse practitioners
- NICU nurses
- ER nurses
Family nurse practitioners can make up to $90,000. NICU Nurses make an average of $80,000, and ER nurses earn over $70,000. For some, the motivation to earn the highest income can attract nurses to specialties in anesthesia and family practice.
While OR nurses are not on the highest end of the spectrum on average for their earnings, they do fall on a middle to high tier. OR nurses earn competitive salaries especially when you look at the income in comparison with other nursing career tracks.
The Lowest Earners
The lowest earners in the nursing profession include ambulatory nurses, pediatric nurses, and labor and delivery nurses. Most ambulatory nurses can expect to make about $65,000. Pediatric nurses earn $66,00 on average, and labor and delivery nurses tally about $70,000 a year.4
An OR nurse salary is quite competitive when stacked up against these other fields. The average and even higher-than-average salary of the OR nurse can make it a desirable career path for many registered nurses.
What Determines OR Nurse Pay?
Like any position, there are multiple factors that play into your annual salary. The list below explains three of the key factors that determine OR nurse pay.
- Certifications – Furthering your professional development by earning a specialized operating room nurse certification could make you eligible for higher pay. To expand your skill set and increase your earning potential consider pursuing one of the following:
- CNOR (Certified Perioperative Nurse)
- CRNFA (Certified RN First Assistant)
- CSSM (Certified Surgical Manager)
- CNS-CP (Clinical Nurse Specialist Perioperative Certification)5
- Education level – Some jobs require healthcare professionals to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a four-year degree. Others may only require an associate’s degree, which typically takes two years to complete. Since a BSN usually involves more coursework and training, these candidates may expect to land higher-paying jobs.
- Experience – Although education and training are important for landing high-paying jobs as a registered nurse, experience is another factor. An impeccable track record of working with doctors, patients, and fellow nurses can often be an indicator of how valuable you are as an employee. Preparing thorough responses to potential OR nurse interview questions that draw on your experiences will be key to explaining how your skills align with your desired salary.
While this list is not comprehensive, it highlights three of the most important aspects that could determine your earning potential as an OR nurse. Considering the factors that impact your earning potential the most can also help you organize your time, plan your next steps, and position yourself in the right field.
Like any job, the location of your work can have an impact on the pay. OR nurses who work in bustling cities may earn a higher hourly wage to accommodate for a higher cost of living, whereas nurses located in a rural area may still be able to live comfortably while earning a smaller annual salary.
A smart way to approach the location factor is to look for a place where there is a high demand for OR nurses. When OR nurses are in demand, employers may be willing to offer more pay to attract competitive candidates to the position.
Expectations for Salary Growth
How much does an OR nurse make and how much can you expect to earn in the future if you continue on this particular career path? As you build your experience and certifications, you’ll be more competitive for higher paying jobs. Furthermore, as the demand for OR nurses increases, employers might offer higher pay to make their positions more desirable for those interested in advancing their nursing career.
Consider Becoming a Traveler with Host Healthcare
OR nursing is an excellent way to work in a dynamic environment and to hone specialized nursing skills. Plus, despite your location or level of experience, you can still expect to earn a comfortable salary while doing what you love.
If traveling the country gets you just as excited as post-op suture care, you might want to consider channeling your passions into a career like travel healthcare. Not only can we offer a competitive OR and ER travel nurse salary, but you’ll also have access to day-one medical, dental, and vision benefits, a matching 401k, and deluxe housing in a location of your choice.
Apply today to Host Healthcare to find your next OR travel nursing job and earn a comfortable operating room travel nurse salary, and let the adventure begin.
- 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/
- Western Governors University. “Surgical Nurse Job Description and Career Guide.” Western Governors University, 19 Aug. 2020, https://www.wgu.edu/blog/surgical-nurse-job-description-career-guide2008.html
- “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2020.” Census.gov, 18 Oct. 2021, https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2021/demo/p60-273.html
- “What Do Nurses Do?” Understanding Nurse Specialties and Duties, https://www.gmercyu.edu/academics/learn/what-do-nurses-do
- “Credentialing.” Perioperative Nurse Education – Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses, https://www.aorn.org/education/individuals/credentialing
- “How to Become a Surgical Nurse.” AORN Career Center, https://www.aorn.org/career-center/career-resources/career-advice/surgical-nurse-career
- “CNOR Prep: Prepare for the CNOR Exam: CCI.” CCI, 21 Oct. 2021, https://www.cc-institute.org/cnor/learn/