Interview With an OR Nurse
The operating room presents nurses with the chance to make a tremendous difference in patients’ lives by speaking up and advocating on their behalf when they cannot and doing so in a fast-paced environment.
In the OR, “every day is different, every patient is unique,” said Linda Groah, MSN, RN, CNOR, NEA-BC, FAAN, CEO/executive director of the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN). The “lack of routine is exciting, rewarding and challenging all at the same time. No two cases are the same.”
OR nurses are in high demand, with hundreds of OR travel nursing positions available. In fact, the operating room is one of the top five specialties for travel nurses. Job growth for OR nurses is expected to increase 15 percent by 2026.
Groah reported that the average age of OR nurses is 52 years. Therefore, nurses will be retiring from the OR. AORN estimates 20% of perioperative nurses will retire during the next five years. OR nursing remains a physically demanding job.
“Some cases may take over four hours, and the team is standing without relief,” Groah explained.
In addition to hospital operating rooms, OR nurses may also practice in ambulatory care centers, often having weekends off.
What Makes a Good OR Nurse?
Several attributes are associated with becoming a successful OR nurse.
“OR nurses should have critical thinking and time management skills. OR nurses must be a team player, in emergency situations and remain flexible and adaptable. It is encouraged that OR nurses possess mechanical and technical skills to troubleshoot equipment, maintain grace under pressure, show compassion and are able to set priorities and to change them with little notice. Most importantly, OR nurses should have self-confidence, a sense of humor and a resilient mindset,” Groah expressed.
An OR nurse should have a “willingness to be a patient advocate and to speak up in all situations when there is a potential or actual issue that may cause harm to the patient,” Groah said. “Patients in the operating room are frequently anesthetized and cannot express their concern or discomfort; the OR nurse serves as the patient’s advocate in these situations.”
Additionally, emotional intelligence is an important attribute. Nurses in the operating room should “be aware of their own emotions and are able to cope with interpersonal relationships judiciously and with empathy,” Groah said.
The OR is a team place, albeit with a hierarchy. OR nurses should have strong communication skills, and especially strong listening skills. They may ease patients’ fears and educate the patient and family about the procedure and post-operative care instructions.
Nurses in the OR are “working with a team to achieve optimal outcomes for the patient,” Groah said.
OR nurses tend to be problem solvers. They also must be able to adapt to changing equipment and procedures.
Certification shows employers and others that a nurse has the skills to practice safely in an operative suite. Currently, the CNOR credential is held by more than 35,000 perioperative nurses. Additional certification is available for first assistants, managers and clinical nurse specialists.
Thinking of Joining an Operating Room Team?
Many roles exist for OR nurses, including clinical nurse, team leader, manager, supervisor, educator, safety officer, first assistant, patient navigator and researcher, Groah said. First assistants require additional training, but scrub, circulating nurses and other roles do not.
“There are more than 10 surgical specialties, so OR nurses have the opportunity to care for patients in several specialties or to specialize in one,” Groah said.
Groah recommends nurses considering a move to the OR - shadow an OR nurse to observe the pace and team interaction. If a nurse still likes the environment, he or she should find a facility that offers training for novice OR nurses.
AORN offers an Introduction to Perioperative Nursing course, which helps prepare nursing students or nurses aiming to change specialties with the information needed for a career in the OR.
Perioperative nurses earn a median salary of $70,000 annually.
Prepared and Ready for a Travel Assignment?
Nurses seeking an OR travel position should have experience working in an OR. Some facilities require two years of experience. They also usually must have credentials in basic and advanced cardiac life support. Facilities determine the travel nurse’s salary. However, travelers also receive housing or a housing allowance and a stipend for meals and incidentals.
Regardless of the basics, OR travel nurses are expected to walk into the surgical suite ready to care for patients.
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