Most nurses have a deep and ongoing passion for their work. In becoming a nurse, you'll be taking care of others, healing the sick, and comforting those in need. There are very few other careers that can allow you to make such a profound impact on the lives of others, but as a nurse, you’ll do this every day.
This compassion drives you to work long hours in an incredibly chaotic and stressful environment and to put up with difficult coworkers and a hospital hierarchy that can seem unfair and suffocating at times. You keep coming back for the patients—and because nursing is simply what you were meant to do.
However, while nursing may be your calling, it is also your career. In providing excellent care for your patients (and the sacrifices you make in pursuit of that goal), you should always expect to be compensated fairly.
Operating room (OR) nurses, in particular, have one of the hardest jobs in the healthcare system. However, a career in OR nursing can be a lucrative one, in exchange for the added stress of caring for patients at their most vulnerable. In this guide, we’ll cover the different pay rates for some of the most common OR nursing roles.
Flexibility in Pay
Before we begin, note that any figures referenced in this guide are based on broad averages. In reality, a ton of different factors determine how much you can expect to make as an OR nurse.
For this guide, we will divide the pay averages among different OR nursing environments and education levels.
The broad categories of OR nursing environments can be split into the following:
- Outpatient care centers
- General medical and surgical hospitals
- Specialty hospitals
- Offices of physicians
While nurses can receive many different certifications and licenses that will improve their comparable value for a given facility, the main levels of licensure are registered nurse (RN) and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).
RN refers to nurses who have received their RN license following the completion of either an associate's or bachelor’s degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).
APRN refers to nurses who have received their APRN license following the completion of all RN requirements and a graduate or postgraduate degree in nursing.
See Also: Should I Go Straight to BSN or Find a Bridge BSN Program?
We’ll be looking specifically at the pay rates for RNs today.
There are many other factors at play that can determine your pay range in an OR nursing position: state of employment, years of experience, educational degree (and alma mater), and per-diem vs. long-term employment.
With all that said, let’s start digging into some of the figures.
OR Nursing Pay for RNs
To work as a nurse in the OR, you must be an RN. And while it’s difficult to track down the salary expectations for a specific OR nursing role, the average RN makes $82,750 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics.
Here’s how the salaries break down according to nursing facility/environment:
Outpatient Care Centers
Nurses in outpatient care centers make the most, on average, of any RN-level OR nurse at $93,070 per year.
The reason for this sizable pay bump compared to other RNs is the intensity of their work. Outpatient care centers tend to involve a revolving door of new patients coming and going, with nurses working on multiple surgeries with multiple patients in a single day.
By their nature, outpatient care centers do not house patients for long periods of time. Because of this, a larger comparative percentage of the nursing duties in these centers relate to hands-on care during a patient’s surgery. Nurses working in these centers are more likely to work with patients at their most critical stages, which explains the healthy pay bump for this workplace.
In addition, these centers tend to operate on a larger profit margin, given the comparably higher number of daily operations. This higher income can contribute to overall wage inflation across the board for staff.
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals
RNs working in hospital surgical units average $85,020 per year.
Like outpatient facilities, surgical units are fast-paced and high-stress work environments. However, these workplaces differ from outpatient care centers in one major way: Patients are much more likely to be housed in these facilities for longer stays.
As a result, these facilities require a more comprehensive nursing staff, including those actively involved in patient surgery, as well as those assisting the patient for days or even weeks after the surgery.
Among many other factors impacting this figure, the presence of nursing positions not specifically associated with intraoperative care results in lower average pay than outpatient care centers, where comparably more staff are involved in the intraoperative process.
RNs working in specialty hospitals (to note: this designation does not include psychiatric or substance abuse facilities) can expect to make about $84,800 annually. As you can see, this is a pretty negligible difference from nurses working in general medical and surgical hospitals—$220 yearly, to be precise.
Pretty much everything that was mentioned in regard to general medical and surgical hospitals also goes for specialty hospitals, with the caveat that specialty hospitals tend to be smaller and may be less tightly structured than larger general hospitals. But this does not seem to have any significant impact on the amount that RNs are being paid in these facilities.
With an average salary of $73,860, RNs working in physician’s offices—which may include assisting with operating room procedures, depending on the nature of the physician’s office—pull in a significantly smaller salary than nurses working in any of the previous three categories.
There are a couple of factors that can explain this. First of all, smaller physician’s offices tend to operate on a much tighter margin than larger hospitals. With fewer patients, the cost of treating those patients is higher, on average, for smaller facilities.
As a result, pay for all employees in a physician’s office (including the physician) is typically lower than for similar positions in larger hospitals.
At the same time, this figure takes into account all RNs working in physician’s offices, not just those specifically working in the OR. These statistics may skew low as a result, and many OR nurses looking for jobs in physician’s offices may be pleasantly surprised.
A Career in OR Nursing
As an RN in the operating room, you have the opportunity to have an amazing impact on your patients’ lives, all while making a pretty solid paycheck. So while it’s not a career for everyone, there are plenty of benefits to pursuing this path.
At Nursa, we’re dedicated to bringing nurses—OR and other—relevant, fun, and helpful content. For more information about the field of OR nursing, be sure to check out our ultimate guide.