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How Much Do Operating Room Nurses Make?

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated March 6, 2023
Operating room nurses are in demand. In this guide you'll discover the states with the highest RN salaries and how nurses can improve their earning potential.
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Operating room nurses remain in high demand across the country. These professionals work in a high-pressure environment in interdisciplinary teams of healthcare providers. Operating room nurses prepare patients for surgery, speak to family members, and care for patients during surgical procedures.

RNs interested in working in operating rooms can consult this page for salary information and steps they can take to maximize their earning potential.

Average Salary for Operating Room Nurses

An operating room nurse’s salary depends on several factors, including their location, experience, and credentials. Professionals can raise their potential salaries by earning certifications, gaining experience, and moving to cities or states with higher operating room nurse pay.

According to July 2022 Payscale data, the average annual operating room nurse salary is $76,650, which equals an hourly wage of $34.55. For comparison, the average base salary for an emergency room RN in the emergency room is $73,520.

Average Annual Salary
Source:Payscale, July 2022

Average Hourly Wage
Source:Payscale, July 2022

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The Highest-Paying States for Operating Room Nurses

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not gather state-specific salary data for operating room nurses. However, its reporting on overall RN pay by state can offer some insight into income for all nurses.

The state with the highest employment level and average salaries for RNs is California. While New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Florida have high employment levels, they do not make the list of top-paying states for RNs.

In addition to California, the top-paying areas are Hawaii, Oregon, the District of Columbia, and Alaska. The annual mean wage for the top five states spans from $97,230 in Alaska to $124,000 in California. Not surprisingly, these five states rank among the top eight states with the highest cost-of-living figures.

4 Ways to Increase Pay As an Operating Room Nurse

There are several ways for operating room nurses to increase their pay without moving to another state. Working in an underserved area may offer the opportunity to qualify for student loan forgiveness. While this is technically not a pay increase, receiving loan forgiveness allows you to keep more of your salary.

Other options to increase your salary include pursuing certifications, changing your practice setting, or advancing your education.

  1. 1

    Consider Pursuing Certifications

    This challenging career requires specialized knowledge. Earning a certification in perioperative nursing demonstrates your commitment to the profession and validates your advanced knowledge. Nurses with fewer than 23 months’ experience can pursue certified foundational perioperative nurse (CFPN) credentials.

    More than 40,000 nurses currently hold CFPN certification. Nurses who work in ambulatory care can become certified ambulatory care nurses. A certified surgical services manager credential can suit nurses who want to validate their managerial skills. APRNs may also seek clinical nurse specialist perioperative certification.

  2. 2

    Earn an Advanced Degree

    Operating room nurse pay depends on your level of education, too. Nurses who choose to earn advanced degrees can seek certification to practice as surgical nurse practitioners. These healthcare professionals can specialize in areas like cardiac surgery, ophthalmology, trauma, and plastic and reconstructive surgery.

    A master’s or doctoral degree can also open doors for nurses to move into administrative roles in inpatient and ambulatory care surgical departments.

  3. 3

    Get Experience

    Experience also helps to increase operating room nurse salaries. Nurses with extensive experience in cardiac surgery, urology, or transplants may find positions within specialty surgical teams.

    Nurses can also pursue certification as registered nurse first assistants (RNFAs). These nurses are the first assistants during surgical procedures. Each candidate must have completed an acceptable RNFA program, hold an active RN license, possess at least two years of experience as a perioperative nurse, and earn a certified perioperative nurse designation. Payscale data from July 2022 indicates an average base salary of $103,000 for RNFAs, though this figure represents fewer than 50 respondents.

    Nurses may also gain experience in management or administration to increase their pay. An operating room nurse may seek a promotion to charge nurse on the path to taking a job in administration.

  4. 4

    Change Practice Setting

    Nurses can change their geographical location from lower-paying states to higher-paying areas. However, it’s crucial to balance the cost of living index in the area against the pay raise you anticipate.

    Another option is to move from an ambulatory setting to an inpatient surgical unit. Patients’ critical needs and the increased complexity of surgeries contribute to higher pay in this setting.

Frequently Asked Questions About Operating Room Nurse Salaries

question-mark-circleWhat is the difference between a surgical nurse and an operating room nurse?

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) uses the terms “surgical nurse” and “operating room nurse” interchangeably, indicating little or no difference between the two roles. However, some professionals believe there is a difference between the two positions, making it crucial to understand how your employer uses the two terms.

question-mark-circleWhat does an operating room nurse do?

An operating room nurse takes care of patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. They may speak with the patient’s family after surgery to relay information. In the operating room, they typically work as the circulating nurse or the scrub nurse.

The circulating nurse helps with intraoperative duties such as charting, grabbing supplies, or running samples to the lab. The scrub nurse works under sterile conditions to hand instruments to the surgeons or may directly assist if they are an RNFA.

question-mark-circleAre operating room nurses in demand?

According to AORN’s top 25 nursing specialties, operating room nurses were the sixth-most in-demand specialty as of 2019, and post-anesthesia care unit nurses were the ninth-most in-demand. The nursing shortage is only expected to grow, indicating that the demand for OR nurses will likely also grow.

question-mark-circleWhat skills do you need to be an operating room nurse?

Operating room nurses must possess excellent communication and conflict resolution skills, physical stamina, organizational and time management abilities, and critical thinking. These professionals need to be alert and observant, able to work under stressful conditions, and detail-oriented.

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