Tips for New Operating Room (OR) Nurses

You’re a recent grad. Having passed your National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) and obtained all the requisite certifications, it’s time to get started in the OR! 

The good news is that you’re just getting started on a career path that can be eternally rewarding, constantly exciting, and pretty lucrative as well! The bad news is that the OR can be overwhelming, especially when most of your experience comes from the classroom. In reality, work in the OR can be blisteringly fast and confusing; it may take some time to adapt to the pace and complexity of the work.

In this guide, we’ll be covering a few helpful tips for getting started in the OR. In reality, there are no substitutes for getting in there and seeing how things work for yourself. But these tips should help make that transition a little smoother.

Be a Sponge

This should go without saying: The OR is a completely new environment, and you’ll be starting at square one. In your first days, you’ll be hit with a tremendous amount of novel information, from the internal operating procedures of your facility to the names and positions of dozens of staff members and coworkers.

Memorizing all of this info is profoundly frustrating for many new OR nurses: you’ve been through all the training, certifications, and tests to get here, so why is all of your mental bandwidth going towards understanding the procedures and protocols instead of helping patients?

But it’s not that simple. Your role within the hospital (and your relationships with the staff, teams, and systems therein) may last years or even decades. Learning the ins and outs of the OR environment—and how you fit within it—will help clear the runway for the many hands-on skills you’ll be developing afterward.

Keep Your Tools Handy

As a new OR nurse, you’ll need three things on your first day in the OR: something to write on, something to write with, and a set of scissors. 


Your pocket notebook will be your best friend for the first couple of months in the OR. This notebook will contain all the relevant names, numbers, reminders, and insights that you pick up on the job. Without it, you’ll be relying on your memory, which can quickly become a blur after the first couple of hours in the OR.

Likewise, you’ll need pens—lots of them. Even the most organized nurse—a quality that every good OR nurse should possess—can lose their pens while moving between rooms. Accordingly, keep a couple on you at all times and a couple more in your locker.

Finally, scissors. Regardless of your specific role within the OR, scissors are a must-have. For work in the OR itself, these can be great for cutting bandages. But that’s not what they’ll be used for most of the time. Practically every disposable item in a hospital is packaged, so having a nice, sharp pair of scissors can really help in the day-to-day.

Organize Everything Always

One of the earliest and most important lessons of the OR is that everything has its place. As an OR nurse, logistics and organization are a larger portion of your job than almost anything else. Whether that means keeping tools ordered for the surgeon, or moving equipment in and out of the OR, depending on the procedure being performed, your job will revolve around the proper organization of the OR.

As a result, learning and practicing organizational skills will pay off for you, especially early on. This tip bleeds into the earlier point about learning the policies and procedures of your facility as well.

Organization goes beyond just the physical aspects of the job. While all tools, equipment, and medicine must be in the right place at the right time, there is also a tight web of policies and protocols governing every aspect of work in the OR. Learning and organizing these in your mind can help you focus on the situation at hand.

Remain Flexible While Communicating

Every individual in the OR has a different idea of effective communication. Working alongside other teammates, you will naturally adapt your communication style to serve the greater team, even as the team shifts to accommodate you.

At the beginning of your journey as an OR nurse, your understanding of effective communication may clash with that of certain team members. In particular, surgeons often adopt an extremely direct and sparse communication style, which may seem rude or short even in the context of the OR.

For the first couple of months, you’ll need to remain flexible when dealing with these new forms of communication. In some cases, they emerge from the fast pace of the OR itself: Staff often don't have the time to explain rationale or context to new employees, and the added stress of a difficult operation can manifest in short tempers or frustration. 

At the same time, you deserve a certain measure of respect, and there will be plenty of ways to improve the entire team’s communication, as no OR has perfect communication.

In time, you’ll develop an intimate understanding of your coworkers’ communication styles, and you’ll be able to begin creating an environment in which you feel respected and heard. However, you should go into your new job understanding that the stress and speed of the OR may call for a very different form of communication than you are used to—or initially comfortable with. And that’s okay!

Getting Started in the OR

The OR is a work environment unlike any other on earth. As a nurse, you will be helping patients at their most vulnerable, acting as their advocate while also providing critical support to those conducting the surgery.

Work in the OR can alternate between terrifying, empowering, exhausting, and exciting. And while you may feel ready for your first day on the job, nothing can truly prepare you for working in the OR without experiencing it firsthand.


See Also: The Ultimate Guide to OR Nursing.


This guide covers some of the most basic tips and tricks for getting started in this crazy job. Of course, there’s so much more than this—which we cover in the ultimate guide above—but following these tips can help you acclimate to the pace of the work once you do get started. The rest is just you learning the job. It may feel impossible some days, but anyone who wants to be a nurse knows they have a tough job. Keep at it, and you’re sure to succeed!

At Nursa, our content spans all aspects of effective nursing, from the very beginning of your career to loan forgiveness after a decade or more in the field! Check out our per diem nursing blog for more nursing-related content!

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