Operating Room and Surgical Nursing

Nurses who care for patients before, during, and after surgery are known as operating room (OR) nurses. Also called perioperative or surgical nurses, these types of nurses prepare patients for surgery, assist surgeons during procedures, and monitor patient conditions.

Nursing schools that train students to become registered nurses may have a portion of their programs dedicated to teaching the different aspects of surgical nursing. Students may pursue a clinical rotation of observing surgical procedures and assisting OR nurses with patient recovery. After graduation from nursing school, nurses typically must have at least one year of experience before working as perioperative nurses.


Surgical nurses work with patients as they are getting ready for surgery. They help patients to sign the necessary paperwork and answer questions about their procedures. They will explain to patients what to expect while going into surgery and being under anesthesia. They assist patients as they are taken into the operating suite.

During a surgical procedure, OR nurses play various roles in the operating suite. Some surgical nurses work alongside surgeons to assist them with the actual procedure. Because these nurses are next to the patient and the surgeon, they are working within the sterile field, and must wear special gowns and surgical gloves. Prior to the procedure, they must also scrub their hands and forearms with a sterilizing soap to disinfect their skin.

Other OR nurses work as circulating nurses. They are present in the OR and can assist with bringing extra supplies or surgical trays as necessary. They document times during surgery, such as what time it began and when it was completed; they also chart any medications that are given. Circulating nurses work to manage the environment in the operating suite to ensure that the procedure flows smoothly.

Once the surgery is complete, the patient enters the recovery period, and some surgical nurses work to monitor patients during this time. This involves frequently checking patient vital signs and controlling pain. These perioperative nurses stay with patients to keep them comfortable until their conditions are stable and they can be moved to hospital rooms.

Surgical nurses perform a variety of functions, and becoming a surgical nurse may take time and experience. Even after hire, a transitional period occurs to learn about the different types of surgical procedures and how best to assist surgeons and patients.