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How to Become an Operating Room Nurse

Healthcare Jobs

Becoming an operating room nurse requires many things: grit, organizational skills, and a ton of dedication, to name a few. 

During busy times or periods of understaffing, you may be asked to sacrifice a tremendous amount of your time and energy. There can be a significant emotional toll as well since helping patients through life-threatening and life-altering surgeries will be part of your job, and sometimes those surgeries don’t go well.

But if you’re already interested in becoming a nurse, you probably know that these challenges come with the territory. Any nurse hoping for an easy and boring job will be sorely disappointed when reality sets in. In truth, nursing is a difficult job but also an incredibly rewarding one. Few other jobs allow you to help and heal others in such a profound way.

There are, however, more specific requirements for those hoping to become OR nurses; this article will mostly focus on those. Your nursing program, certifications, and continued education will all help you prepare for the difficult job of OR nursing. This article will give you a broad overview of each of these steps and why they’re important.

So let’s get started!

Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN)

OR nurse

As with many nursing specialties, the first step down the road to becoming an OR nurse is becoming an RN.

This, in itself, is a fairly intensive process that can set you up to take your career in several exciting directions. However, there are some career-specific requirements for nurses hoping to transition into the OR after graduation (or from a different nursing specialty). 

Here’s a quick rundown of the process of becoming an RN:

Complete a Nursing Program

First of all, you’ll have to apply to—and be accepted into—a reputable nursing program. These are broadly divided into Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) programs and Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs. 

Though there are plenty of differences between these programs, the main takeaway is that an ADN program will typically take two years to complete, while a BSN usually takes four. ADNs are usually a bit less competitive and more affordable but may not meet the educational requirements of certain roles and facilities. 

For more information, see our article on how to decide which nursing programs to pursue.

You’ll then have to finish this program, maintain your grades, and finish any required coursework and tests. 

Take the NCLEX

Even after receiving your degree, the largest challenge still lies ahead. 

The National Council Licensure Examination (or NCLEX) is a standardized nursing exam that all prospective RNs and LPNs must pass before they can receive their nursing licenses. The test ranges from 75 to 145 items and tests prospective nurses on their understanding of key nursing concepts and their decision-making skills in the clinical environment.

One interesting aspect of the NCLEX is that it is variable in length. Aspiring nurses pass the test once they achieve a certain ratio of correct answers. As a result, your test may be longer or shorter than another tester’s, depending on how many questions you have answered correctly.

See also: Study Help for the NCLEX?

Upon passing the NCLEX, you’ll receive your RN license. From there, you’ll be able to start working as an RN in a number of different fields, including OR nursing. 

Post-Certification Education and Training

After you receive your RN certification, you can begin applying to your first jobs… just not in the OR. 

To begin working in the OR, you’ll also need to complete some important hands-on training and education programs that will prepare you more specifically for the challenges of working in the OR.

These include obtaining and maintaining two life support certifications.

Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (ACLS) Training

When a situation goes wrong in the operating room, it can go wrong very quickly. A patient may have mere minutes (or even seconds) to receive life-saving medical care.

As a result, all nurses in the operating room must be trained in BLS and ACLS. BLS certification comes via a one-day course in which nurses will learn how to recognize life-threatening medical emergencies, perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and other basic life support procedures, and use an automated external defibrillator (AED). 

ACLS certification is a more advanced course that builds on the lessons taught in the BLS course. It covers many of the same topics—including chest compressions, AED use, and airways management, among others. ACLS can be taken as either a full classroom course or a blended classroom and hands-on training course. You can learn more about ACLS and sign up for a course on the American Heart Association website.

Continuing Education

OR room

Following the completion of your BLS and ACLS certifications, you’ll be ready to jump in and get started in the OR! Of course, there are always advanced degrees and other non-required programs you can take to improve your skills in the field. But as far as required coursework, training, and certification go, you’re done!

It is important to note that some employers will require a BSN in nursing before you can work in the OR. However, many employers also allow their OR nurses to obtain their BSN degrees over a defined timeline while still working in the OR. These policies are defined by the internal facility operating procedures and protocols, so you should inquire about the education requirements of any prospective employers before you move forward.

As an RN, you may also be required to fulfill a certain number of continuing education (CE) contact hours every year or two. A contact hour is defined as fifty to sixty minutes of instructor-led and board-approved classroom time. 

Some states do not require any continuing education for RNs, while others may require as much as thirty contact hours every two years. Here are those requirements by state.

The Long Road to OR Nursing

Becoming an OR nurse requires significant time, hard work, and dedication. After reading through all the requirements needed to pursue this career, you may not be sure whether it’s the right choice for you. And it may not be.

A career in OR nursing is fast-paced, exciting, and lucrative; you’ll be saving lives and making a very real difference for patients every day. 

You’ll also be financially rewarded for your investment. OR nurses specializing in anesthetics make more than nurses in almost any other specialty

But at the same time, the stress, emotional investment, and physical component (you’ll be on your feet a lot) make OR nursing a tough job. If you’re on the fence, you should always take the time to research other nursing specialties before making a decision.
At Nursa, we’ve created content covering most established nursing specialties. You can find a broad overview of the roles and responsibilities associated with each on our site.

Written by Calvin Henninger

Calvin Henninger is a writer currently living in Roanoke, VA. He first began his professional writing career after graduating from Valparaiso University in 2017 with a BA in Creative Writing and Political Science. He's been crafting a variety of online and print copy since then, spanning multiple fields and industries in the process. In his free time, you'll find him hiking, hammering out a piece of fiction, or trying to cook something new.

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