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Ask a Nurse: Do Nurses Perform Surgery?

Nicole Galan, RN, MSN
Updated February 28, 2023
    Read here to find out whether nurses can perform surgery and options for nurses who wish to work in the operating room.
    Nurse assisting prior to a surgeryCredit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

    In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

    Question: Can a nurse perform surgery?

    While nurses cannot perform complex surgical procedures independently, there are so many different roles that nurses can fill before, during, and after surgery. The good news is that according to the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), surgical and postanesthesia care unit (PACU) nurses are among the highest in demand. So if you are passionate about pursuing a career in the operating room (OR), you will have lots of opportunities and room for professional growth.

    What Does It Take to Be an OR Nurse?

    • Patience
    • A team player
    • Good communicator
    • Calm under pressure
    • Good at multitasking
    • Resilience
    • Flexibility
    • Personal integrity
    • Sense of humor

    Yes, that was a sense of humor. Believe it or not, in high-stress environments like the operating room, a good sense of humor is a necessity for relieving stress and bonding with co-workers.

    Ready to dive in? You have lots of options!

    Nursing Roles in the OR

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    How to Work as a Nurse in the OR

    No matter which area is calling out to you, you will start by earning your license to practice as a registered nurse. In addition, there are lots of educational programs offered by AORN that will help you gain the training and experience you need to get the position you want.

    If you are thinking about the surgical nurse practitioner or nurse anesthetist roles, plan for a few more years of school in order to get a master’s degree after you have a few years of experience in surgical or critical care units.

    In Summary

    • Nurses cannot perform surgical procedures independently.
    • Nurses can fill many different roles before, during, and after surgical procedures.
    • Consider additional training or education to get the job you are most interested in.

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    Portrait of Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

    Nicole Galan, RN, MSN is an RN who started on a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved to infertility care, where she worked for almost 10 years. Galan has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. She currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master’s degree in nursing education from Capella University.