How to Become an Operating Room Nurse:
The Definitive Guide

Are you the type of person that enjoys making people feel comfortable in their most tender moments?

As an Operating Room Nurse, you’ll help patients who are getting prepped for surgery, monitor them through the surgery, as well as take care of them afterward.

If you enjoy direct care and a constantly changing schedule, then this might be the right career for you.

What is An Operating Room Nurse?

As an Operating Room Nurse, you may have several different roles.

It may be required that you help the patient before surgery, through surgery, or after surgery.

Sometimes you may do all three.

You’ll likely get patients ready for surgery by collecting vital signs, begin IVs, perform detailed assessments and ensure a stable condition before the surgery.

Throughout the surgery, it may be required that you keep up with the patient’s vitals, assist the surgeon, and complete necessary paperwork.

After surgery, you will likely need to monitor the patient for any changes, then you’ll need to discharge the patient to the recovery center.

If this sounds like a high impact, an interesting job, then you are right!

Get ready to find out how to become an Operating Room Nurse.


There are several duties that come along with being an Operating Room Nurse, these include, but are not limited to:

  • Coordinating supplies, instruments, and equipment
  • Maintaining patient safety standards
  • Monitor and record patient vitals
  • Provide patient care
  • Evaluate and document changes in the patient

With a job like an Operating Room Nurse, you’ll always need to be on your toes and ready for the next step.


The average salary for an Operating Room Nurse in the United States is $77,000 a year.

Typically, the range falls between $69,000 and $85,000 a year.

This means that when you have the experience, certifications, or specializations, then you can likely make more.

If you are just starting out as an Operating Room Nurse, you will likely make around the lower average salary.

One of the main things that should be taken into consideration is how much experience you have in the field.

Many nurses spend time doing clinicals and internships while they are still in school, to get a head start on their careers.

This can help with advancement and promotions.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $77,460


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$94,820
New Hampshire$73,880
New Jersey$84,280
New Mexico$73,300
New York$87,840
North Carolina$66,440
North Dakota$66,290
Rhode Island$82,310
South Carolina$64,840
South Dakota$59,540
West Virginia$63,220
Puerto Rico$35,040
Virgin Islands$68,500

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $113,240.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $113,240
Hawaii - $104,060
District of Columbia - $94,820
Massachusetts - $93,160
Oregon - $92,960
* Employment conditions in your area may vary. * Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

How to Become an Operating Room Nurse

Step 1Earn a Nursing Degree

In order to begin your career as a nurse, there are a few different avenues you can go down.

First, you can earn an Associates’s degree in Nursing, or you can earn a Bachelors’s degree in Nursing, as well as some nursing programs that can be taken through employers or community colleges.

An Associates’ degree can take around two years to complete, while a Bachelors’s degree takes roughly four years.

Some other nursing programs may take two to three years to finish.

The important thing to remember is that you need an accredited program in order to be hired as an Operating Room Nurse.

The type of degree or diploma that you get is up to you, what’s more, important is the experience you have as a nurse.

Step 2Become Licensed

After you have completed your accredited program and earned a degree in Nursing, it’s time to get licensed as a registered nurse.

In order to become a registered nurse, you must take the NCLEX-RN exam.

The licensing exam covers subjects such as:

  • Management of Coordinated Care
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychological Adaptation
  • Pharmacological Therapies
  • Safety and Infection Control

The exam is computer-adaptive, which means that if you are more knowledgeable about the subject, you won’t have to answer as many questions.

This exam can take up to five hours to complete.

Once you have passed the exam, you are a registered nurse and should be able to gain employment.

Step 3Gain Experience

Before jumping right into the operating room, you’re going to need some experience as a nurse.

Many surgeons and operating room teams will not even consider hiring you until you have at least one year of experience as a nurse.

If your goal is to become an Operating Room Nurse, then it is advised to begin a career in the hospital that you would like to work for.

You can work in any area, from pediatrics to oncology, having experience with real patients is key in this career.

It is possible that experience can be obtained during schooling, which could help to advance your career much sooner.

One more thing to keep in mind is becoming certified as an Operating Room Nurse.

This is not a requirement, but it does show health care professionals that you are serious about your career.

In order to be a certified Operating Room Nurse, you must have at least two years and 2,500 hours of experience in the operating room.

Step 4Advance Your Career

One of the great things about the nursing career is that there are so many avenues to go down, you can work in hospitals, clinics, doctor’s offices, labs, etc.

If you have a desire to be an Operating Room Nurse, then you may decide to go beyond that and becoming an Operating Room Director.

Consider this to be the head nurse in charge of the Operating room.

It’s also possible to obtain a career in OR management, which will allow you a more desk centered job.

With the addition of a Master’s degree, many doors can open.

Careers that you can obtain with a Masters degree in Nursing include:

  • Medical Researcher
  • Medical Educator
  • Certified Nurse Midwife
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist


Anyone that is interested in becoming an Operating Room Nurse must first earn a degree in nursing and become a registered nurse.

As long as you earn an Associates’ degree in Nursing and have a certain amount of employment experience (which can vary by state), you can become an Operating Room Nurse.

The first thing that you are going to need to do is to enroll in a nursing program.

Many community colleges, universities, and technical schools provide these programs for people who have a high school diploma or GED and have filled all of the requirements.

Then, after you earn an Associates’ degree, you can either begin working to gain experience or continue to go on and earn a Bachelors’s degree.

Some of the courses that you will likely take to earn a Bachelors degree in Nursing include:

  • Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy
  • Medical Terminology
  • Patient Care
  • Psychology
  • Nutrition

An Associates’ degree in Nursing can take around two years to complete but does not give you the extra knowledge that a Bachelors’s degree will.

There is another option for some students, which requires you to partake in a program through a hospital.

This type of program can take around two to three years.

Each type of education is designed to give the student hands-on experience of life as an Operating Room Nurse.

Most of the focus in any nursing program is on conceptual knowledge, which means you’ll be transforming theories into practice.

Non-clinical medical courses in a nursing program may include:

  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health assessment
  • Information systems

Some of the clinical courses you may have to take in a nursing program include:

  • Fundamentals of nursing
  • Patient care
  • Evidence-based practices

It’s likely that the program will also focus on different types of nursing from adult to pediatric and even maternal.

After earning a degree, it’s important to gain experience in the field of nursing.

While going to school, it may be wise to do an externship, internship, or another form of work-study in order to have nursing experience before entering the workforce.

Video About The Career

Certification and Licensing

In order to do any type of nursing, it’s important to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

There are some requirements to be eligible for this exam.

Students must register with their state’s board of nursing.

It’s also necessary to register for the NCLEX-RN exam through the private organization that hosts the exam.

Lastly, you must submit proof of the completion of an accredited nursing program.

The NCLEX-RN exam is given through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.

It typically costs $200 to enroll to take the exam.

This exam is adaptive to the taker so that if you are more knowledgeable about the practices of nursing, you won’t have to answer as many questions as some other students.

You’ll have up to 6 hours to complete the exam, and you won’t know whether you passed or failed until someone reviews the exam and it is released to you.

After becoming a registered nurse and working in the operating room, it may be likely that you want to earn some credentials.

There are a few different certifications that can be earned by Operating Room Nurses.

These certifications are:

  • CNOR
  • CSSM
  • CNS-CP

CNOR stands for Certified Perioperative Nurse and is a mark of distinction that demonstrates the commitment to the field.

CRNFA is the Certified Registered Nurse First Assistant certification and is for nurses who assist in surgical procedures.

The CSSM is the Certified Surgical Services Manager.

This certification indicates the knowledge of managerial positions within the operating room.

Lastly, the CNS-CP certification stands for Clinical Nurse Specialist Perioperative Certification.

This certification shows an advanced understanding of the operating room and requires a Bachelors’s degree to earn.

Depending on where you see yourself in the operating room, some of these credentials might open a few doors for you.

The most important thing to do is earn experience and dedicate your time to doing what you love.

Certification Example:

nursing ba example

Average Training Program Duration: 2-4 Years

Depending on which path you take for your education, it can take from two years to around four years to complete training.

Some people go for an Associates’ degree, which can take around two years to complete.

Others decide to earn a Bachelors’s degree, which can take four years.

All in all, training should be done on the job as well as in school so that you have the maximum support and experience needed.

Popular Degree Programs

Job Outlook

There seems to be quite a good outlook for Operating Room Nurses within the next ten years.

The career looks to be growing around 12 percent.

This means that there will likely be more nursing jobs available.

With advancements in technology, more surgeries are available and it is safer than ever to perform the most common surgeries in the United States.

People who previously were unable to receive surgeries may now have the opportunity to do so.

Along with that, the baby boomer population is growing older and may need more medical care.

There will not be a nursing shortage any time soon!

* The numbers reflect the entire population of registered nurses and are not specific to operating room nurses.

Employment Growth Projection: 12%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 371,500 jobs.

Should You Become an Operating Room Nurse?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

Depending on where you work, you may have a little more stress than some Operating Room Nurses.

This is why the satisfaction rate of Operating Room Nurses varies so much.

There are positives and negatives to this career, one of the major ones being camaraderie.

On the flip side, the operating room can be very high pressure, which means that some nurses have a hard time handling it.

Nursing is a very important career but also very stressful, so you must make sure you are the type of person that can handle the pressure.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

In the United States, the average salary for an Operating Room Nurse is around $77,000 a year.

If you are fresh out of a nursing program, or someone who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about being an Operating Room Nurse, you may have a salary of around $64,000 a year.

But, with experience, education, certifications, and specializations, you can make up to $85,000 or more a year as an Operating Room Nurse.

Some other factors you may want to consider are where the hospital is located, how large the hospital is, and how many Operating Room Nurses are on staff.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

When it comes to nursing, the rise in jobs seems constant over the next decade.

As an Operating Room Nurse, you will likely see a growth of around 12 percent.

This is much higher than many other careers.

There will likely always be a demand for nurses, as people are getting sick, older, and there are more precautions to medical procedures these days.

With the popularity of technology growing, it seems that more people are able to receive the surgeries and medical procedures that they need because the equipment is capable of now.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 2-4 Years

It can take up to four years to earn the education needed to be an Operating Room Nurse.

Along with four years of college, it is important to have experience in the operating room.

Most employers want at least one to two years of experience as a nurse before considering you as an Operating Room Nurse.

That experience, along with four years of education, will get you where you want to be.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

Being an Operating Room Nurse can be intense, and it takes a special kind of person to work in a stressful situation like the operating room.

Here are some personal skills you should have if you are looking at being an Operating Room Nurse:

  • Ability to work as a team
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Highly organized
  • Attention to detail
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Quick on your toes and always one step ahead
  • Ability to multitask
  • Knowledge of medical tools

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary of an Operating Room Nurse?

On average, most Operating Room Nurses make around $77,000 a year.

When just beginning as an Operating Room Nurse, it is more likely to make around $64,000 a year.

Those that have a lot of experience in the field, certifications, and other specialties can make up to $85,000 a year.

In order to gain the most out of your career, earning certifications and specializations can help set you apart from the rest.

Q. How long does it take to become an Operating Room Nurse?

It takes around four years to earn the education needed to be an Operating Room Nurse.

Some nurses earn an Associates’ degree, but others prefer to earn a Bachelors’s degree, which takes around four years.

It’s possible to earn a certification through hospitals, trade schools, or other nursing programs that take around two to three years to complete.

It all depends on which road you take.

Q. What does an Operating Room Nurse do?

There are three major roles for an Operating Room Nurse.

The first is to help the patient before surgery, this could be taking vitals, making sure they are prepped and ready for surgery, and keeping up with IVs.

Then, it’s important to monitor the patient and help the doctor while the surgery is going on.

After surgery, patients still need extra care.

It’s likely that you’ll have to monitor them and ensure that their vitals are appropriate.

There are many other duties for an Operating Room Nurse, as well.

Q. What is the demand for Operating Room Nurses?

There is a high demand for Operating Room Nurses, as surgeries are becoming more available worldwide.

The use of technology helps with surgery success, and every successful surgery needs an Operating Room Nurse to help.

There will always be a need for nurses in every variety, so this career will likely not be going away any time soon.

Q. How much does it cost to become an Operating Room Nurse?

This depends on how much education you want.

Some nurses work toward an Associates’ degree and then begin working in a hospital, doctor’s office, or clinic.

This can cost around $12,000 for a two-year degree.

Others decide to go for a Bachelors’s degree, which can cost around $30,000 depending on the university that you attend.

Roughly, it can cost between $10,000 and $40,000 to become an Operating Room Nurse.

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