5 Skills That Make a Good Operating Room Nurse
By Moira K. McGhee, Contributor
Operating room nursing is a specialized field in which nurses provide quality care to patients before, during and after surgery. An operating room nurse must have the same knowledge and skills as other registered nurses, but certain skills are even more invaluable during surgical procedures. Learn what makes a good operating room nurse and the five must-have skills to transition into surgical nursing.
Visit American Mobile to find operating room nursing jobs that help enhance your specialized OR skills.
Job description for operating room nurse
Operating room nurses, also called perioperative nurses and surgical nurses, are in charge of patients scheduled for surgery. OR nurses are specialized registered nurses (RN) and, depending on the situation, may act as scrub nurses or circulating nurses. Scrub nurses hand surgical instruments to the physician, while circulating nurses oversee nursing care during the procedure and ensure the operatingroom remains sterile. An operating nurse also acts a liaison between the patient, the patient’s relatives and the medical team. After extensive additional education and training, you may also become a RN First Assistant and deliver direct surgical care.
Education to pursue operating room nursing includes standard RN requirements, which may be followed by certification to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in the field. After obtaining two years of operating room nursing experience, you’re eligible to take the Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR) Certification Examination. The Competency and Credentialing Institute and the Association of Perioperative Nurses (AORN) both offer CNOR certification. Reach out to professional nursing associations to learn more about training and certification options.
Job outlook for operating room nursing
Operating room nursing has a very favorable job outlook, including competitive wages and plenty of room for advancement. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t maintain salary information specific to the surgical nursing field, an operating room nurse’s salary is comparable to standard RNs. While the median annual wage of RNs in May 2017 was $70,000, the increased knowledge and skills required in the operating room usually leads to slightly higher salaries. Any credentials you’ve acquired and your years of experience also affect how much you earn. According to the Mayo Clinic’s College of Medicine and Science, operating room nurses should also see 15 percent job growth between 2016 and 2026.
What makes a good operating room nurse?
A good operating room nurse should have the same skills and traits as other RNs. Certain skills are even more important than others in this environment, including the following five skills.
1. Ability to work as a team
“The operating room is a very complex and dynamic environment and each member of the operating room team requires specific skills,” explains Trent Douglas, MD, FACS, of Restore SD Plastic Surgery. “In addition to the individual skills necessary to perform a surgical procedure safely and successfully, there are common traits that the surgeon, nurse, scrub tech and anesthesia provider all need to share. The most successful OR teams I’ve seen share the traits of good communication, respect, organization and anticipation.”
2. Excellent communication skills
Tensions can run high in the operating room, so your ability to effectively communicate with medical team members in a calm, professional demeanor is essential. Your communication skills are also invaluable in easing the fears of patients and their family members. The Nurse Journal also points out the importance of effective communication while educating patients prior to their surgery and going over recovery methods after surgery.
“The most important trait is the ability to communicate effectively with all members of the team,” adds Douglas. “Patient safety is always paramount, and a successful OR team trusts one another to speak up if a safety issue is identified. It doesn’t matter who identifies an issue, safety is respected above all else, so any member of the team must be comfortable speaking up. The team nurse is the director and must keep the surgeon, scrub tech and anesthesia provider in sync with timely communication, anticipating the needs of the team and maintaining contact with the patient's family during lengthy procedures.”
3. Highly organized
As an operating room nurse, it’s imperative to be very organized when it comes to charting and highly competent in organizing supplies and actions to ensure the best possible outcome throughout any surgery.
OR Nurse Kari Poulsen writes on ToughNickel that operating room nurses must be able to find any surgical items and medications quickly, preferably within 30 seconds. She says this is only possible by being extremely organized.
4. Attention to detail
Being detail oriented goes hand in hand with being organized. You must know where everything is and monitor everything in the room. This requires you to pay attention to both the overall picture and the smallest details, requiring you to always stay alert to the needs of the patient, equipment and surgical team.
OR nurses must be able to handle several things at once, and small mistakes can have a major impact on a patient’s well-being, warns Gap Medics. Being detail oriented means you must be able to assist with the procedure while listening to the surgeon and monitoring the patient, equipment gauges and other indicators that the procedure is going smoothly.
5. Problem solving and critical thinking
Gap Medics also stresses the importance that operating room nurses be excellent problem solvers and capable and confident in making critical decisions. Poulsen also emphasizes in her post that OR nurses must be able to judge, analyze and respond quickly and appropriately to changing situations. Even the most routine procedures can change in a second, so you must be able to change with it. Good problem solving and critical thinking skills ensure you confidently come up with the best solution to any situation and perform necessary steps to swiftly get things back on track, ensuring patient safety and the best outcome.