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Perioperative RNs: School, Degrees and Training for OR Nurses

One of the more exciting and specialized patient care areas for RNs is the operating room. OR, or surgical nurses, are employed in a few different and very unique roles in what’s come to be generally known as the Perioperative Specialty. RNs working in this environment may work in the recovery room, as PACU RNs, alongside doctors and other specialists during surgical procedures as OR nurses, as supervisors of OR nurses as Circulating Nurses, and more.

Few schools of nursing deliver a “surgical nurse” curriculum, per se, but here’s how you can get a leg up in this challenging and competitive nursing specialty.

Is OR Nursing Up Your Alley?

Before you dream about the glamour of a job like this you will want to know exactly what’s involved.

  • PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit) RNs work with patients immediately following surgical procedures and anesthesia. They are responsible for close and regular assessment, monitoring patients for all life function and generally clearing a patient to another floor. Here is where complications can typically arise compounded by anesthesia reactions and medical conditions. During a patient’s stay in the PACU RNs monitor and manage vital signs, provide care for surgical wound sites, monitor patients for urine flow and manage pain.
  • OR Nurses, a.k.a. scrub nurses, work with physicians during surgical procedures. These RNs are trained to handle and manage all a physician’s instruments with near expert precision.
  • Circulating RNs are management level nurses responsible for monitoring and management of perioperative nursing practice. This professional RN is instrumental in addressing any issues that arise between Nursing and other surgical services, evaluating and developing better care and RN practices in these specialties, and collaborating with other medical teams in the delivery of high-quality and safe surgical processes.

Breaking Into Perioperative Nursing

Again, few nursing schools provide targeted coursework in “surgical” nursing, but either of the undergraduate degrees—Associates in Nursing and BSN—give you the nursing skills you need to get started along the right track. What is the right job track for a perioperative nurse?

Since this area of nursing can be competitive, you’ll want to give yourself as many advantages as possible when it comes to breaking into the surgical nursing area. When you graduate from nursing school you might consider targeting a job in Critical Care or in Emergency or Trauma Nursing. RNs working these areas of specialty are closest to sharing similar job requirements, chiefly the ability to fly by the seat of your pants in sudden life threatening situations AND to work as part of a team.

Possible degree and coursework pre-requisites for Perioperative RNs:

  • Associates Degree
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing (preferred)
  • RN license
  • Some experience in a closely related area of nursing
  • Specialized Perioperative Nursing Internship/Program

The Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) is the leading organization for professional RNs working within the field.

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