Perioperative nursing

Perioperative Nurses are a breed of their own. A perioperative nurse is a registered nurse (R.N.) who works in the operating room. Sometimes called a surgical or an operating room nurse, this specialized nurse cares for patients before, during, and after surgery. Handling the responsibilities in the operation room well is critical to the success of any surgical situation. It takes an individual with a clear healthy focused mind to handle the stress and physical burden it can bring.

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.

Specifically the responsibilities and duties of a perioperative nurse are

  • Monitoring a patient’s condition during and after surgery
  • Selecting and passing instruments and supplies to the surgeon during operation (sometimes referred to as a scrub nurse)
  • Working with patients prior to surgery to complete paperwork, and help answer questions or calm fears about surgery
  • Educating patients on best practices for recovery, including pain management and keeping wounds clean
  • Cleaning surgical equipment and operating rooms to maintain a sterile environment
  • Managing the overall nursing care in the operating room to help maintain a safe and comfortable environment (sometimes referred to as a circulating nurse)

Perioperative nurses work in hospital operating rooms, outpatient centers, and doctors’ offices. Perioperative nurses have a lot of contact with patients of all ages, surgeons, and other members of the surgical team. Often times, perioperative nurses are working with new patients every day and typically do not form long-term relationships with their patients. The work environment can be stressful due to the nature of the position, but many nurses find it a rewarding role. The nurse in perioperative care is responsible for the patient’s initial interview and examination. This nurse needs to elicit information that is important and will be used throughout the entire operative experience. 

Types of perioperative nurses include the following:

  • scrub nurse is sterile and is responsible for choosing and handling instruments and supplies used during surgery. Duties include setting up a sterile area in preperation for surgery, helping the surgical team with gowns and gloves, and handing instruments to the surgeon.
  • The duties of a circulating nurse include developing a patient plan of care,  reviewing preoperative assessments with patients, and managing activities in the operating room. The circulating nurse is not sterile, but is there to serve everyone involved in a surgical procidure, not just the surgeon.
  • The RN first assistant (RNFA) assists during the operation by helping with surgical activities such as keeping bleeding under control, exposing wounds, and suturing, all under direction of the surgeon. Becoming an RNFA requires additional training beyond basic perioperative training.
  • PACU (Post Anesthesia Care Unit) RN cares for patients immediately after surgical procedures and anesthesia.

Getting started in perioperative nursing typically requires at least one year of perioperative training. Although some nursing schools offer electives in perioperative nursing, most often nurses get their training through a post-bachelor’s non-degree granting perioperative certificate program or through on-the-job training programs at hospitals and surgery centers.

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