A perioperative nurse, also known as an operating room nurse or OR nurse, is an essential player in smooth surgical operations of all kinds. That’s why OR nurses might also be called surgical nurses. From preparing patients for surgery to educating their families on postoperative care, the responsibilities of an OR nurse help ensure a patient receives the best care possible. 

To be successful in their role, perioperative nurses must possess general nursing skills, as well as skills specific to the operating room and the different stages of surgery: preparation, intra-op, and post anesthesia. In this guide, we’ll explore the responsibilities and skills of OR nurses in greater detail and discuss the pros and cons of becoming an operating room nurse. 

Responsibilities of OR Nurses

From ensuring that patients are properly prepped before surgery to answering postoperative care questions after surgery, OR nurses are important throughout a patient’s entire surgical journey because they help ensure it’s as safe and smooth an experience as possible. 

To better understand the role of an OR nurse, let’s explore their responsibilities within each stage of surgery.

Pre-Operative Work 

OR nurses help prepare patients immediately before their surgeries. They also ready the operating room and any paperwork necessary.1

Specifically, some pre-op tasks that perioperative nurses handle include:

  • Inserting necessary IVs 
  • Administering medications
  • Measuring patient vitals
  • Confirming the patient is ready for surgery

Before an operation, the OR nurse will communicate with the surgeon to make sure that everything is ready.

Intra-Operative Work

Intra-operative work refers to work that takes place during a surgical procedure. To perform intraoperative work, an OR nurse may specialize as one of the following three types of intraoperative nurse: scrub nurse, circulating nurse, or RN first assistant.2 

  • Scrub nurse – As a scrub nurse, an OR nurse is the surgeon’s left, or right, hand, and anticipates the doctor’s needs as the surgery moves forward. They sterilize instruments for surgeries, hand doctors the instruments they need, and offer any other assistance within their skill set.3
  • Circulating nurse – The circulating OR nurse assesses the flow of the operating room to make sure it’s as efficient as possible. They take a bigger picture view of the operating room to make sure everything is in place. They might also manage the coming and going of staff in the operating room. 
  • RN first assistant – RN first assistants are trained to actually perform parts of surgeries themselves. For instance, they might control bleeding while the doctor executes a portion of the surgical procedure and watch for any signs of excess bleeding.1

Post-Anesthesia Care 

OR nurses continue to provide patients with care even after the surgery is complete. First, an OR nurse will monitor a patient’s recovery from anesthesia by measuring their blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs. 

They’ll also: 

  • Ensure dressings and bandages stay clean and dry
  • Administer postoperative medications
  • Communicate with patients and their families about proper postoperative care 
  • Update patient charts  

When in the caring hands of a competent OR nurse, a groggy post-op patient can feel more comfortable. 

OR Nurse Skills

Depending on the specialty of the OR nurse, he or she will have a different skill set. However, all OR nurses must possess general nursing skills, as well as operating room skills, in order to effectively carry out their pre-op, intra-op, and post-op responsibilities. 

For a better understanding, let’s take a closer look at general nursing and operating room skills: 

  • General nursing skills  All OR nurses are RNs first, so they must have basic nursing skills, such as administering medication and checking vital signs.4 Because nurses work directly with patients, they also benefit from having compassion, patience, and understanding. A successful OR nurse needs to have the ability to build rapport with individuals and communicate complicated medical information in a way that’s clear and understandable to the average person. In order to work well under pressure, OR nurses should be skilled in decision-making and critical thinking, as well.
  • Operating room skills – Those in operating room nursing are trained to identify and handle the equipment and tools needed to perform surgeries. They might also have additional training in order to perform parts of surgeries themselves or specialized training in a specific type of surgery. This is because some types of surgery, like ear surgery for example, require a nuanced understanding of that specific body part’s anatomy.

OR Nurse Specialties 

OR nurses have seemingly limitless options for specialization within their field. They can choose to develop a specific skill set based on:

  • A specific kind of surgery, like ear, eye, or throat 
  • A specific patient demographic, such as pediatric1 

For many of these specializations, you can earn specific operating room nurse certification

Who Do OR Nurses Work With?

As you may have gathered from the previous sections, OR nurses work with a variety of providers. In fact, by working in tandem with doctors, surgeons, and health care administrators, OR nurses contribute to the healthcare field at large by bridging care from several sources. 

OR room nurses may work with these individuals in a variety of settings, including: 

  • Emergency rooms
  • Both in-patient and out-patient operating rooms
  • Clinical settings
  • Recovery rooms

Pros and Cons of Becoming an OR Nurse

If you’re trying to determine whether becoming an OR nurse is the right career path for you, it can be helpful to think about the pros and cons of the profession. 

Some benefits of OR nursing include:

  • A dynamic work environment
  • Competitive pay for experience
  • Hands-on care of patients

On the other hand, some potential cons of OR nursing include:

  • Higher stakes in the work environment
  • The need for a larger skillset
  • More investment in education to specialize

The work schedule of perioperative registered nurses may also be tied to the schedule of the doctors they work with, leaving less choice when it comes to shifts. However, for some individuals, the pros of being an OR nurse far outweigh these potential cons. In fact, they may even see some of these cons as pros. For instance, while investing in an OR nurse education takes time, the rewards can be great. One being a higher OR RN salary.

Apply to Become a Traveling OR Nurse with Host Healthcare 

If you want to learn more about what it’s like to be an OR nurse, consider reaching out to an RN with experience in the operating room. If their experience seems like the career path for you, you’ll be excited to learn that OR nurses are needed in operating rooms all around the country. As a travel nurse specializing in operating room nursing, you can help fill that demand while getting the opportunity to explore new cities and meet new people in travel healthcare.  

If you’re interested in becoming a traveling OR nurse, apply with Host Healthcare. We’ll match you with a travel nurse recruiter and find the best OR nurse position for you. Contact us today to learn more.


  1. 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/
  2. “Operating Room Nurse.” RegisteredNursing.org, 17 Sept. 2021, https://www.registerednursing.org/specialty/operating-room-nurse/
  3. 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
  4. “What Do Nurses Do?” Understanding Nurse Specialties and Dutieshttps://www.gmercyu.edu/academics/learn/what-do-nurses-do
  5. “How to Become a Surgical Nurse.” AORN Career Centerhttps://www.aorn.org/career-center/career-resources/career-advice/surgical-nurse-career
  6. “Credentialing.” Perioperative Nurse Education – Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurseshttps://www.aorn.org/education/individuals/credentialing