Perioperative Nurse Careers and Salary Outlook

Perioperative nurses work with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurse practitioners to care for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. Our guide answers questions about perioperative nursing careers, such as, "how do I become a perioperative nurse," or "how much does a perioperative nurse make?"

In this guide, we explore training and education requirements, resources, and responsibilities of perioperative nurses, along with beneficial skills and salary expectations. This information can help candidates decide if this career suits their goals, and if so, how to prepare for the profession.

What is a Perioperative Nurse?

Prospective professionals in nursing may wonder what perioperative nurses are and what they do. These nurses assist with surgical care, including preparation and patient recovery, to ensure that operations run safely and efficiently by tending to sanitation concerns, assessing patient needs, communicating with staff for patient care, and helping surgeons during procedures. Overall, perioperative nurses bring a sense of comfort, stability, and organization to the chaotic world of surgery.

Since each perioperative nurse must hold a registered nurse (RN) license, this position does not qualify as entry-level.

What Do Perioperative Nurses Do?

Perioperative nurses, also referred to as surgical nurses, care for patients undergoing surgery. They assist surgical teams and doctors in learning about the patient's diagnosis, previous medical history, and other information. They also act as a liaison between the patient, the patient's relatives, and the medical team that is treating the patient. Perioperative nursing is an extension of the responsibilities of an RN, which means that they can also care for patients in many other ways, assisting with recovery, education, and postoperative care.

Specific responsibilities vary according to job title. For instance, scrub nurses maintain surgical tools, and RN first assistants help with surgical procedures through tasks like suturing.

Other responsibilities may include discussing treatment and recovery with patients and their families, upholding hospital policies for sanitation and safety in the operating room, creating treatment itineraries for surgery patients, and documenting patients' vital statistics. These tasks involve collaboration with other medical professionals, such as surgeons, anesthesiologists, and intensive care unit (ICU) staff.

Where Do Perioperative Nurses Work?

Work environments for perioperative nurses can include any medical facility where surgeries occur. Options involve hospitals, out-patient centers, ambulatory surgery centers, and doctor's offices that provide surgical care. These nurses can work with several departments within these organizations. For example, some patients may undergo emergency surgery and be admitted into the ICU. A perioperative nurse, in this situation, may communicate with ICU workers regarding post-surgery treatment and expectations.

Candidates can also work in settings that embrace a specialization. For example, perioperative nurses may focus on dental, pediatric, or cardiac surgery. These focuses would require communicating with staff who work within that specialization.

Skills That Could Affect Perioperative Nurse Salaries

Perioperative nurses should be level-headed individuals who can work well in chaotic situations. Candidates should possess physical, mental, and emotional strength to lift heavy items and continue working in high-stress situations.

Individuals should excel at observation and time management to determine when problems arise in operating rooms. Communication skills relate to this quality since alerting other staff of problems or quickly understanding emergency commands can save patients' lives.

These nurses should understand medical terminology and practices to perform their responsibilities efficiently. Organizational skills help nurses keep track of patient needs and plans, while compassion and empathy help these professionals maintain a comforting and positive bedside manner.


How to Become a Perioperative Nurse

Following the path to becoming a perioperative nurse requires significant work and commitment to education, fieldwork, and exam components. However, nurses who complete these steps can work in active and engaging operating rooms to ensure patients' safety. These nurses can bring comfort and guidance that assist patients throughout the surgery process by helping them cope with, understand, and recover from medical treatments. Candidates who want to make a difference in people's lives should consider these careers if they excel under pressure and thrive when multitasking.

Education

Perioperative nurse degree options include an associate degree in the field. This degree usually takes around two years to complete and may call for fieldwork. Candidates can also earn credentials from hospitals in place of college degrees. These diplomas should take 2-3 years to finish. Another option involves a bachelor's degree in the field, which calls for approximately four years of study. These programs may also require fieldwork.

Individuals should note that each perioperative nurse must hold an RN license. States require different criteria for these credentials. Nurses can pursue graduate degrees to earn more advanced credentials.

Training and Certification

Perioperative nurse requirements include an RN license. Requirements for this credential differ in each state but may include a minimum of an associate degree, field experience, and passing scores on the national council licensure examination (NCLEX).

The Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) offers further certification related to nursing in operating rooms, each with unique criteria. These options include the CNOR for perioperative nurses, which requires at least 2,400 hours and two years of experience and completion of the CNOR test.

The institute's certified perioperative clinical nurse specialist credential also requires at least 2,400 hours and two years of fieldwork but mandates a graduate degree and experience as a clinical nurse specialist. The certified surgical services manager (CSSM) credential calls for the same amount of fieldwork, along with the CSSM exam. Fieldwork for all noted CCI credentials should include experience in surgical environments.


Perioperative Nurse Salaries and Job Growth

According to PayScale, the national average for perioperative nurse salaries is $70,559. However, several cities boast much higher expectations for these nurses, with Los Angeles holding the highest average at $97,148.

Average salaries vary by experience. Entry-level candidates average less than $60,000, while perioperative nurses in their late careers average just under $80,000. Other factors, like the specific industry, can affect salary expectations, as well. Specifically, pharmaceutical manufacturing makes up the highest-paying industry for RNs.

When compared to the 2018 average U.S. income for all professions ($52,145), all of the noted salaries indicate that this career is financially lucrative, especially since related careers often include lower average pay than perioperative nurse positions.

Career opportunities also vary based on location and industry. For instance, general medical and surgical hospitals offer the highest employment level for RNs. Likewise, South Dakota delivers the highest concentration of these positions among states.

Highest Salary Locations for Perioperative Nurses
National Median $70,559
Los Angeles, California $97,148
New York, New York $81,094
Houston, Texas $69,329
Dallas, Texas $70,000
Chicago, Illinois $70,330

Source: PayScale


Median Salary for Perioperative Nurses by Career Experience

  • Entry Level: $55,830 yearly
  • Early Career: $60,260 yearly
  • Mid Career: $66,330 yearly
  • Experienced: $73,360 yearly
  • Late Career: $78,560 yearly

Source: PayScale


Related Job Salaries
Registered Nurse Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse, Emergency Room Registered Nurse, Critical Care
$63,393 yearly $27,891 yearly $43,528 yearly $66,391 yearly $72,656 yearly

Source: PayScale


Perioperative Nurse Resources

  • Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses AORN participates in events like the Global Surgical Conference and Expo, the Leadership Summit, and the OR Excellence Conference. Candidates can also attend workshops and view webinars that explore relevant topics. The group publishes the AORN Journal and offers continuing education opportunities, like virtual courses.
  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurses AACN delivers the National Teaching Institute and Critical Care Exposition, along with the AACN Critical Care Webinar Series. The group also offers resources for topics in ethics, neurology, staffing, and pediatric care, in addition to providing funding for research experiences. The site's Career Center maintains a job bank for field positions.
  • Competency and Credentialing Institute CCI awards nursing credentials for perioperative nurses, surgical services managers, and perioperative clinical nurse specialists. The group also plans to provide a credential for ambulatory surgery nurses. Members can view webinars on certification through the website and participate in free learning opportunities, which include continuing education options.
  • Nurse.com Job Search This resource lists open field positions that site viewers can explore by employer, location, or job type. Candidates can sign up for email alerts about new jobs as they become available. The website also connects individuals to continuing education options, including free classes, in areas like advanced practice nursing, bioethics, and care coordination.
  • American Nurses Association The ANA Career Center lists open field positions. The group also offers opportunities for networking among nursing professionals. These opportunities include communities, blogs, and panels on issues like ethics, policy, and nurse abuse. Many of these features can only be viewed or used by ANA members.