Operating Room (OR) Nurse Pros and Cons
Nurses might be the closest thing we have to angels on earth; particularly an OR nurse, or an operating room nurse, who specializes in perioperative care for patients going into, receiving, and recovering from surgery. It’s a high-energy discipline that requires both a strong understanding of interpersonal skills and technical skills. Hospitals and specialty clinics are continuously seeking OR nurses to add to their teams.
Of course, it should be clear that this type of work is not for everyone. It’s intense, the stakes are high, and it takes a strong, unfaltering resolve. That said, being that OR nurses are limited to one patient at a time (this is to reduce the risk of mistakes made during the procedure), the work is incredibly rewarding.
Are you curious about the drawbacks and benefits of being an OR nurse? Read on for our detailed list of pros and cons.
Positive or negative work environments can have major impacts on your performance and affect your overall well-being outside the job. Nursing is notorious for having high-stress, active work environments with grueling 12-hour shifts. When you’re on, you’re on. And when you’re off, you quickly revert to recovery mode. In these conditions, nurses rely on each other to survive tough days and appreciate the light ones. Work environments for OR nurses include hospitals, emergency rooms, surgical, geriatrics, and private practices.
Pros of OR Nurse Work Environments
The central characteristic of perioperative care is teamwork. The surgeon and nurses must work together seamlessly to ensure patient safety and the success of the surgery. To stay completely focused on the surgical procedures, surgeons rely on their scrub nurse to exchange surgical equipment as needed. They both rely on the circulating nurse to keep everyone up to date on the patient’s vitals. On top of this, all three of them rely on the anesthesiologist and anesthetic nurse to keep the patient unconscious throughout the procedure by administering the correct amount of anesthesia.
And this only speaks to the surgery itself. Holding bay nurses ensure all the necessary prep work is done with the patient, including confirmation of which body part and which side. Instrument nurses handle the sterilization and ensure that the proper tools are available for a successful surgery. And post-surgery recovery nurses are there to maintain the vitals until the patient is ready for discharge.
When each member of the team has a crucial role in the health or detriment of the patient, the foundation that holds it all together is trust. Trust is what’s needed when complications arise in procedures, when surgeries go into crisis management, and surgeons rely on nurses to anticipate their needs and work together efficiently. And it’s this strong form of camaraderie that can make the nursing work environment, while high-stress, enjoyable.
Cons of OR Nurse Work Environments
Wrong side, wrong site, wrong procedure, wrong patient. These are the four most common surgical errors documented in a seminal study published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. While the chance of one of these errors occurring is incredibly low—roughly one in 112,000 surgeries—the repercussions are severe, even life-threatening.
It’s this high-pressure scenario that is on OR nurses’ shoulders every shift and the reason why this specialty isn’t a fit for everyone.
Personal health should be at the forefront of your goals. For if you cannot help yourself, how will you be able to help others? It may be trite, but it’s true. Keeping track of your personal health offers you longevity in your career. And it’s not just about physical health; emotional and psychological health is important too. If you need support with personal health, check out this list of self-care activities for travel nurses.
On the eleventh hour of your shift, on the third consecutive day, you’re going to be running on fumes. Not only will you be physically exhausted from the constant up-and-go nature of the job, but you will be trying to keep yourself emotionally grounded through the final hour. It’s in these moments, having a strong foundation of personal health will keep you stable.
Working in the OR, this stability can ebb and flow throughout your career.
Pros of personal health on OR nurses
Nursing is a rewarding job by nature. Comforting someone who is going through a difficult time brings a sense of satisfaction. And actively working to give your patient a higher-quality life is incredibly fulfilling. Even the toughest days can be assuaged by a heartfelt thank you after a patient wakes up from a successful surgery.
Nurses relish these moments and cherish the patients who appreciate the work they put in. In terms of job satisfaction, being an OR nurse is hard to beat because patients are typically in critical condition and need top care.
Benefits and Pay
One of the perks of being an employee of a medical establishment can often be their benefits, including fantastic healthcare. In addition, nurses enjoy a comfortable salary and reasonable overtime compensation. Nurses who work with American Mobile Healthcare receive 401k matching, free CEU’s, and free housing or receive a housing stipend.
Exceeding Your Steps
Walking not just keeps you in shape, but also can help prevent or manage various conditions according to the Mayo Clinic, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that nurses can walk over four miles in the span of one 12-hour shift.
This is a great way to get in your 10,000 steps a day. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes that have extra padding and arch support and give yourself a little slack at the gym if you’re not in the mood to work on cardio.
Additionally, walking helps improves mood and cognition and can help reduce stress, something nurses can always use help with.
Cons of Personal Health on OR Nurses
Although getting in your steps sounds fantastic, being a nurse is physically demanding. In surgery, you may find yourself standing in uncomfortable positions for hours on end with little opportunity to rest. And if you don’t have proper posture, you can say goodbye to your hips, knees, and ankles.
To avoid permanent joint damage, try to catch any early warning signs of poor posture or improper walking. Working as a perioperative nurse requires you to stand for long stretches of time and pace quickly. Stretching and taking care of your body is necessary for a long and happy career.
Mentally and Emotionally Taxing
As rewarding as it is to work in the operating room on a good day, it is equally demanding on a bad one. Bad days in an OR unit can mean severe complications, unsuccessful operations, and, at the very worst, the loss of a patient. Although your work allows most patients to live a longer, healthier life, this can all be wiped out by one rough surgery.
This type of stress is mentally and emotionally taxing. Nurses need outlets to vent or else they risk building up this stress inside their body. Many choose to attend therapy or use spiritual practice to cope; others escape through hobbies and social outings.
It’s up to the individual to decide what works best. What’s most important is setting up some way of externalizing the pressure—nurses who don’t have been known to lash out at loved ones or at work.
In the 2021 AMN Healthcare Survey of Registered Nurses, nearly one-quarter of nurses –23% – said it was somewhat likely or extremely likely they would leave the field of nursing as a result of the COVID-19 and they were three times more likely to feel burnt out most days.
Being overworked and losing passion for the work are symptoms of burnout. Burnout is often described as a triple threat—feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. This is usually caused by a combination of extended periods of overwork and lacking a sense of fulfillment.
Long shifts of an intense nature can be strenuous as well as rewarding. One’s work schedule must fit their lifestyle and priorities. You should consider many things when deciding which shift you want and how many hours you can take on each week. Choose your workload wisely and don’t be afraid to speak with your supervisor about managing your time.
Pros of OR Nursing Schedules
ORs must always be staffed, and some operate 24/7. This gives OR nurses to have plenty of shifts to choose from, allowing them to customize their schedule to fit their lifestyle. If you want your weekends free to unwind, you can choose a weekday shift that leave Friday through Sunday open. If you need your nights free to be with your family, you can choose to workday shifts. Or, if you’re a night owl, you can work all night.
You should be aware, however, that different shifts bring in different situations. People who come in for a scheduled surgery during the day are better prepared and more at ease, while those who show up in the middle of the night may have been shot, stabbed, or in a major car accident. Not that these can’t happen during the day, but the craziest stories seem to start with “When I was on my night shift…”
Cons of OR Nurse Schedules
While nurses are supposed to work 12-hour shifts, these consistently turn into 13- and 14-hour shifts depending on the medical circumstance. Extended hours take a toll on the mental well-being of nurses. On weekends, they’re constantly catching up on sleep, while on workdays, they have no time for anything else.
“We’re Short Staffed”
Have you ever met a nurse who doesn’t cringe at these words? “We’re short-staffed” means nurses are dealing with excess patients, crowded waiting rooms, and covering extra shifts.
One of the hardest struggles for a dedicated nurse is to say no to covering a shift when a hospital is short-staffed. Nurses aren’t required to take the extra shift. But knowing how vital it is to have a fully staffed OR, they often feel obligated to help.
Thankfully, nobody gets sick or injured on Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, Halloween, or any of the other festive holidays that nurses enjoy spending time with their families… Oh, wait.
While nurses only work three days a week to gain full-time benefits, this doesn’t mean they have the luxury of picking and choosing which days those are. If one of those three days falls on a holiday, there’s practically zero chance of getting it covered.
Education and Certification
To become an RN, one must attain an Associate Degree in Nursing at the minimum. This can cost between $2,250 and $12,123 according to RegisteredNursing.org, depending on where you choose to go to school. In addition to tuition, you will need to purchase textbooks, trade tools, uniforms, and more.
You must also then be licensed by the state, which requires that you pass the NCLEX-RN examination. Here are some positives and negatives of the education and certification requirements for an OR nurse.
Pros of OR Nurse Education and Certification
Certification Increases Salary
According to ZipRecruiter, the national average annual salary for an OR nurse is over $84,000. Of course, individual salaries depend on experience and the state’s cost of living. One surefire way to increase your pay is to become certified. Perioperative nurses can become CNOR certified through the Competency & Credentialing Institute (CCI). By taking and passing their exam, OR nurses enjoy increased responsibilities and a 14% increase in salary on average.
Learning New Skills on the Job
One benefit of working in an operating room is that you never stop learning. Surgery is an exploratory procedure where the surgeon relies on their past cases to inform their judgment. Yet, there are no two bodies that are put together exactly alike. In that way, people are snowflakes. And this translates to learning new skills on the job constantly.
Cons of OR Nurse Education and Certification
Before your certification is complete, you will have spent over a year of on-the-job training in a hospital. That’s in addition to the time it takes you to graduate from your university. Schooling varies based upon the degree you seek, and higher levels of education often result in increased salaries as well as various future career options.
Some nurses suggest that students complete their hours of training and become fully certified before continuing with further education. This way, you can make money while finishing your bachelor's degree. Advanced degrees for nursing school can be achieved online, and it should be noted that some of the larger hospitals will require that you complete a BSN.
There are incredible benefits to becoming a perioperative nurse. The teamwork-oriented nature of surgery builds an incredible amount of trust and camaraderie among coworkers, and that translates out of the operating room. It’s a job that is incredibly rewarding both professionally and emotionally, as it offers you a space to save lives and continually learn and improve your skill sets.
Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad. Perioperative nurses work in one of the most high-stress environments in the nursing field. They only have one person on their patient load, which speaks volumes to the scrutiny of mistakes. Working in an OR can be taxing physically and mentally, and nurses need outlets to cope with day-to-day stress.
There are many pros and cons of being an operating room nurse; the question for prospective nurses is, which one outweighs the other?
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