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Perioperative Nurse Career Overview

Written by: North Carolina Central University   •  Feb 1, 2024
Perioperative Nurse Wearing Scrubs in an Operating Room Working With Other Nurses.

Perioperative Nurse Career Overview

Nurses play a vital role in supporting patient outcomes throughout their clinical journeys. This includes promoting patient health, comfort, and safety for patients having surgery. The role of the perioperative nurse is to care for a patient before, during, and after they have an operation, to help ensure the best outcome and the fastest possible recovery.

For those who are drawn to the nursing profession and who gravitate toward the more fast-paced nature of the operating room (OR), the perioperative role may be highly rewarding. Obtaining an undergraduate degree in nursing can provide the foundational skills they need for a long-lasting and impactful career, along with a competitive salary.

What’s a Perioperative Nurse?

Perioperative registered nurses (RNs), also known as scrub nurses or OR nurses, can play an essential role in supporting the surgical team and ensuring ideal patient outcomes. The role of a perioperative nurse is based in the OR. Nurses who work in this position are present during operations, assisting the surgeon and monitoring the vital signs of the patient to ensure their comfort and safety.

These nurses may also work with patients before they enter the OR, ensuring that they’re prepared for safe and successful procedures. Additionally, perioperative nurses help surgical patients feel as safe and comfortable as they can during the early stages of their postoperative recovery.

What Does a Perioperative Nurse Do?

The roles and responsibilities associated with this position can vary from one job to the next. A typical job description looks something like this:

  • Working with patients to complete their intake forms and other preliminary paperwork

  • Sterilizing OR as well as surgical instruments

  • Addressing last-minute questions from patients before their  procedures

  • Monitoring the vital signs of patients throughout their operations

  • Listening to directions from the surgeons and passing them instruments as needed

  • Verifying the safety of patients throughout their procedures

  • Providing patients with postoperative instructions and recovery guidelines

What’s the Typical Perioperative Nurse Salary?

Those who are drawn to this position will naturally have questions about the salaries. The annual median salary for a perioperative nurse is approximately $81,370, according to December data from Payscale. Workers with salaries in the lowest 10% of the salary range make approximately $60,000. Meanwhile, workers with salaries in the highest 10% of the salary range make approximately $119,000.

As with all nurse salaries , several factors can influence the salary range. Some of the most consequential factors are years of experience and geographic location. Education can also be a determinative factor; nurses with more advanced degrees typically command higher salaries and are eligible for positions of greater leadership and authority. 

How to Become a Perioperative Nurse

To succeed in this high-stakes profession, cultivating the right set of clinical competencies and patient care skills is critical. The best way to do so is through diligent academic study, combined with on-site experience.

1. Earn a Degree

Before taking on any kind of nursing profession, a must is to obtain an undergraduate degree in nursing. Coupled with this degree, one must develop the foundational skills needed to care for patients and interface with physicians. Some individuals earn a two-year associate degree, but they more commonly pursue a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

2. Pass Exams

After completing a degree program, the next step is to obtain a nursing license. This means taking the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), an exam that’s administered by the local nursing board. Passing the exam is a gateway to achieving RN status and makes it possible to start obtaining full-time nursing jobs.

3. Gain Work Experience

The next step in the perioperative nurse career path is to gain experience assisting physicians, collaborating with other nurses, and tending to patients. Nursing shifts that allow for some time in the OR or even the intensive care unit (ICU) give individuals valuable experience that translates into a more permanent role in the perioperative position.

4. Seek Certification

Usually, the most in-demand perioperative jobs go to nurses who are appropriately certified. A credential such as the Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR), offered by the Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI), is available for those who have a couple of years of nursing experience, including some OR training.

5. Cultivate Skills

Through this balance of education and experience, nurses can hone the skills needed for perioperative success. Some particular skills to focus on are as follows:

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Verbal communication

  • Physical and emotional stamina

  • Cultural competence

Pursue a Career in the Operating Room

Working as a perioperative nurse is a richly rewarding opportunity to support surgeons, provide high-impact patient care, and participate every day in a fast-paced and stimulating environment.

To prepare for a meaningful career in perioperative nursing, pursue an online degree focusing on vital nursing skills. North Carolina Central University offers a BSN path designed to help nurses develop broad skills that translate into many clinical care environments. Learn more about the program today.

Recommended Readings

North Carolina Veterans’ Benefits: Nursing and Education

Famous Black Nurses in History

How Diversity in Nursing Supports Patient Health


Community Eye Health, “The Importance of the Perioperative Nurse”

Competency & Credentialing Institute, Certified Perioperative Nurse

Indeed, Perioperative Nursing: Definition, Duties and Career Path

Payscale, Average Registered Nurse (RN), Operating Room Hourly Pay

Trusted, “What Does a Perioperative Nurse Do?”

ZipRecruiter, What Is a Perioperative Nurse and How to Become One

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