Operating Room Nurse Careers: Salary & Job Description

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An operating room nurse's median annual salary is about $66,000, but is it worth the educational requirements and student debt? Get the truth about the job's duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right profession for you.
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An Operating Room Nurse Career: Pros and Cons

Operating room nurses are registered nurses (RN) who specialize in surgery. Continue reading for the pros and cons of becoming an operating room nurse.

Pros of an Operating Room Nurse Career
20% of nurses work part-time *
Median annual wage is around $66,000 *
Job provides the satisfaction of helping people and potentially saving lives **
Strong employment outlook; the field is projected to grow about 19% from 2012-2022*

Cons of an Operating Room Nurse Career
May incur injuries from lifting patients and equipment *
Must follow rigorous protocol to ensure instruments are sterile *
Work may occur at odd hours because surgeries can happen at any time *
Will have to stand on your feet during shifts*

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** O*NET OnLine.

Job Description

Nurses provide care to patients and assist doctors with surgical treatments and procedures. Operating room nurses aid doctors during surgery and care for patients before and after the operation. Specific duties may include rolling patients in and out of the operating room and passing instruments to the surgeon.

Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2014, registered nurses earned a median annual salary of about $66,000. The bottom ten percent of nurses made an annual salary of $45,000, while the top ten percent of nurses earned about $98,000 during the same year, according to the BLS.

Career Outlook

According to the BLS, employment for all nurses was expected to grow 19% from 2012-2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. This growth is due to a number of factors, including a rise in the number of baby boomer patients needing elder care and an increase in the number of people seeking healthcare.

Career Requirements

To become a registered nurse, you have three educational options; you could receive an associate degree in nursing, bachelor's degree in nursing or nursing diploma. All of these programs include several hours of supervised experience in a clinical setting, such as in an emergency room or in an operating room. After you complete your nursing program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nursing (NCLEX-RN). Additionally, you must meet the licensing requirements for your state.

What Do Employers Look for?

Employers are looking for versatile and dedicated registered nurses who are able to work flexible hours. Many employers need operating room nurses who have previous experience working as part of a surgical unit. To give you an idea of employer requirements, here are some sample listings from May 2012 job boards:

  • A Texas hospital advertised for a registered nurse to work in operating rooms, the intensive care unit and the emergency room. Qualifications included at least one year of nursing experience in an acute setting and the ability to obtain a Texas nursing license.
  • An ambulatory surgery center in New Jersey wanted an operating room nurse supervisor. The nurse was required to have management experience and surgical expertise.
  • In Michigan, a hospital trauma center was looking for an operating room nurse to work afternoon and evening shifts. Qualified nurses must have graduated from an accredited nursing school and had previous clinical experience.
  • A non-profit hospital in New Hampshire advertised for a passionate and visionary operating room nurse. Nurses were required to have 2-4 years of experience and hold nursing certification.
  • In New York, a healthcare service provider was looking for a registered nurse to work in operating rooms in several locations throughout the city. The employer would not consider recent graduates and only wanted applicants with a minimum of two years of experience and a bachelor's degree.
  • A network of hospitals in California advertised for operating room nurses to fill several positions in emergency rooms and intensive care units. Qualifications included two years of experience and the ability to lift at least 50 pounds.

How Can I Stand Out?

Although there are a few paths to become a registered nurse, some employers prefer nurses who've earned a bachelor's degree. You can hone your surgical nursing skills by taking some of your supervised clinical hours in an operating room. Specialty certifications are available through professional organizations. The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses offers the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) credential. Not all employers require this credential, but earning one demonstrates dedication to this specialty.

Alternative Fields

If you're not quite sure whether a career in nursing is right for you, there are a couple of other careers related to healthcare that might be of interest to you.

Emergency Medical Technician

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) offer immediate medical care to people in emergency situations. They respond to 911 calls, give on the spot care and aid in transportation to hospitals. EMTs must complete a formal education program, but other requirements vary from state to state. Demand for EMTs is expected to rise much faster than other occupations, at about 33%, from 2010-2020. According to the BLS in 2011, EMTs made a median annual salary of about $31,000.

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants work directly under surgeons and doctors, providing health services such as x-rays, blood tests and medication prescriptions. They also help diagnose and treat illnesses. Most physician assistants hold a master's degree or a bachelor's degree with some medical experience. The BLS states that employment of physician assistants will grow by about 30% during the 2010-2020 decade. This is much faster than the average growth for all careers. Physician assistants made a median income of $89,000 in 2011, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
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      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
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      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
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    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
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      • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
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  • Online Programs Available
    2. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
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      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
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    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
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  • Online Programs Available
    3. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
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      • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
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  • Online Programs Available
    5. The University of Texas at Arlington

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
      • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Utica College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Online Programs Available
    7. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
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  • Online Programs Available
    8. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
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    10. Abilene Christian University

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice
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Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing

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Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

The University of Texas at Arlington

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
  • RN to BSN

What is your highest level of education completed?

Utica College

  • RN to BSN

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

What is your highest level of education?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator

What is your highest level of education completed?