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Mayo Clinic perioperative nurses in a hospital room

What does a perioperative nurse do?

A perioperative nurse is a registered nurse (R.N.) who works in the operating room. Sometimes called a surgical or an operating room nurse, this specialized nurse cares for patients before, during, and after surgery.

In the operating room, the perioperative nurse may serve as a scrub nurse, selecting and passing instruments and supplies used for the operation, or as a circulating nurse managing the overall nursing care in the operating room and helping to maintain a safe, comfortable environment.

Scope of practice

Perioperative nurses use a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to patient care, assisting surgeons and surgical teams to care for a patient before, during, and after surgery.

Specifically, responsibilities and duties of a perioperative nurse include:

  • Working with patients prior to surgery to complete paperwork, and help answer questions or calm fears about surgery
  • Monitoring a patient’s condition during and after surgery
  • Selecting and passing instruments and supplies to the surgeon during operation (sometimes referred to as a scrub nurse)
  • Managing the overall nursing care in the operating room to help maintain a safe and comfortable environment (sometimes referred to as a circulating nurse)
  • Educating patients on best practices for recovery, including pain management and keeping wounds clean
  • Cleaning surgical equipment and operating rooms to maintain a sterile environment

Work environment

Perioperative nurses work in hospital operating rooms, outpatient centers, and doctors’ offices. Perioperative nurses have a lot of contact with patients of all ages, surgeons, and other members of the surgical team. Oftentimes, perioperative nurses work with new patients every day and typically do not form long-term relationships with their patients. The work environment can be stressful due to the nature of the position, but many nurses find it a rewarding role.

Becoming a perioperative nurse

Successful perioperative nurses are excellent problem-solvers with the desire to care for people. Many nursing degree programs require a strong background in science along with taking the certified nursing assistant course. Prior experience in the health care field can often help set a nursing student or a recent graduate apart from their classmates.

Higher education requirements

The typical pathway to becoming a perioperative nurse is different for everyone, but most include the following:

  • Obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree
  • Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • Work experience as a registered nurse (R.N.)
  • Completing a perioperative nurse certification program

Job opportunities for registered nurses are excellent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of R.N.s will continue to grow at an average pace.

With additional education and experience, perioperative nurses can advance their careers and work as operating room directors who help manage budgets, staffing, and other business aspects of the operating room. Some perioperative nurses complete advanced degrees to become nurse anesthetists or become certified first assistants. They may also work as clinical educators or researchers.

Perioperative nurse programs at Mayo Clinic

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