Scrub nurse in the operating room

A Scrub Nurse is a nurse who assists surgeons during operations. They work exclusively in the OR, working alongside doctors to ensure a patient’s procedure goes smoothly. 

Scrub Nurses are also called operative nurses and perioperative nurses. Scrub Nurses are registered nurses who can work in hospitals, outpatient surgical clinics, and emergency centers. 

As their name implies, a Scrub Nurse “scrubs in” to the OR or surgical area by washing their hands and donning surgical garments. Then, they count all the instruments, sponges, and medical supplies needed for the procedure and prep the area, so it is sterile for the patient. 

They also assist with patient prep and helping the surgeon scrub in for the procedure. 

Read on to learn more about becoming a Scrub Nurse and what this job could look like for you. 

What Is The Difference Between A Scrub Nurse And A Registered Nurse?

Scrub Nurses are registered nurses who specialize in assisting during surgical procedures. 

Registered nurses can work in several departments but are not randomly assigned to the OR. 

Scrub Nurses specialize in surgical care and assistance, so they are RNs with a concentration in surgery. 

Their primary role is selecting and passing instruments to the surgeon during procedures. Their supportive role ensures that the doctor has everything they need to perform their job efficiently. They also watch closely for signs that the surgeon is preparing to switch tools, and they prep them accordingly. 

They also monitor the surgical environment during a procedure to ensure that it remains sterile. 

What Qualifications Does A Scrub Nurse Need?

A Scrub Nurse must know the various tools used in the operating room, how they’re applied during procedures, and how to manage them during an operation effectively.

Scrub Nurses must hold an RN license, earn the appropriate undergraduate requirements and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. 

Many employers also require Scrub Nurses to have one to two years of surgery experience or additional surgical assistance certifications. Typical qualifications for Scrub Nurses are the RNFA (Registered Nurse First Assist) and CNOR (Certified Perioperative Nurse). 

Scrub Nurses must also be familiar with different types of surgical procedures so they can prep sites accordingly. The procedures include cardiac, orthopedic, neurological, and pediatric surgery. 

What Work Does A Scrub Nurse To Day To Day?

The Scrub Nurse arrives before surgery to prep the surgical site. This includes laying out sterile instruments, counting them, and washing their hands and arms with sterile soap before scrubbing in. 

They will assist the surgeon throughout surgical procedures, handing them tools and making any necessary modifications to the operating room. They will also monitor and account for all surgical instruments. 

After a procedure, Scrub Nurses will account for all tools, sponges, needles, and other supplies and let the surgeon know they are all present. They then remove tools and supplies from the operating area, help apply a surgical dressing, and assist in transporting the patient to the recovery room. 

Scrub Nurses also provide patient care before and immediately after surgery. Although they don’t give the same hands-on, long-term care as nurses in ICU or other healthcare settings, they must still be there to provide assistance and assurance as people go through operations.

Where Do Scrub Nurses Work?

Scrub Nurses can work in various settings, including hospitals and outpatient surgical centers. Some may work in trauma centers or ambulatory clinics that offer emergency, life-saving surgeries to patients in crises.

What Is It Like To Be A Scrub Nurse?

A Scrub Nurse needs always to be prepared for life-saving interventions and sudden changes in a situation. While most surgeries are without complications, anything can change in a second in the OR.

A Scrub Nurse means impeccable attention to detail and a meticulous work ethic. There is no room for error or oversight regarding being a perioperative nurse. 

You may have an interest in surgery and enjoy being able to watch the surgeon perform several different procedures. Scrub Nurses assist various surgeon specialists, ranging from brain surgeons to heart surgeons and everything in between. 

One of the challenges of being a Scrub Nurse can be the tension of complex surgeries. It can be difficult knowing that a patient is unlikely to survive a procedure or having to assist in giving life-saving interventions to no avail.

Scrub Nurses may also have to be on-call for emergency surgeries, prompting them to head into work late at night, on weekends, or holidays. 

Before Surgery

Before the surgery, a perioperative nurse will help position the patient on the operating table. They will take and record their vitals before marking the appropriate sites for surgery. They also disinfect, shave, and wax the surgical site. 

The most significant part of the pre-surgery routine is ensuring the room is safe and sterile. The nurse will adjust the surgeon’s stool so it rests at the appropriate height. A Scrub Nurse will also ensure that any medical equipment required is fully functional and adapted for the procedure. 

Depending on the type of surgery, surgeons will require different equipment. These include microscopes, lasers, and various operative machines. The Scrub Nurse must understand what each piece of equipment does and how it needs to perform so they can prep it for the procedure. 

During Surgery

The Scrub Nurse’s primary focus during the operation is assisting the surgeon with whatever they need. Before surgery starts, this will mean helping the staff put on their gowns and gloves and then handing the surgeon the required tools.

Being a perioperative nurse requires close attention to detail and a deep understanding of surgical procedures. They must know what tool a surgeon will need next and have it ready immediately. This assistance allows the surgeon to stay focused on tasks and avoid accidental injury or complications. 

Knowing procedures well allows the perioperative nurse to prep tools and equipment before the surgeon even has to ask for them. In addition, they help create a flow in the OR that allows for optimal performance and concentration.

Some Scrub Nurses work outside the operating field. These are called circulating nurses. Rather than assist the surgeon directly, they work with other perioperative staff to monitor the patient, track vitals and update family members or other medical personnel as necessary. 

After Surgery

Perioperative nurses will monitor the patient’s condition immediately following surgery, then escort them to recovery. In addition, many Scrub Nurses will speak with patients and their families following a procedure. They will answer questions and give them suggestions on how to aid their recovery. 

Nurses may also remain with patients as they recover from anesthesia, provide additional assistance at the surgical site, and report to the patient’s family. 

Scrub Nurses and surgical technicians also sterilize operating rooms and machinery post-procedure. They then prep the Operating Room to be ready for the next operation. 

Do Scrub Nurses Earn More Than Registered Nurses?

No, Scrub Nurses earn less than RNs on average. However, if you acquire additional certifications and gain experience, you will likely increase your earning potential. Of course, this all depends on where you work, what field of surgery you specialize in, and the demand for perioperative nurses in your area. 

How Much Do Scrub Nurses Make?

Scrub Nurse salaries in the U.S. vary, but the average Scrub Nurse earns around $73,300 annually. Hourly pay for Scrub Nurses in America ranges from $27 to over $50. 

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Are There Different Specialties Of Scrub Nurses?

Yes, Scrub Nurses can choose a specialty, such as anesthesia, cardiac catheterization, otorhinolaryngology, plastic surgery, and transplants. In addition, various certifications can help you further your career with a title in any of these specializations. 

For example, you could consider becoming a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) and assist the anesthetist before, during, and after surgical operations. A Certified Post Anesthesia Nurse (CPAN) specializes in caring for patients immediately following anesthesia and surgery. 

Becoming a Clinical Nurse Specialist-Certified Perioperative (CNS-CP) can also specialize in general surgical assistance. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Career as a Scrub Nurse

There are benefits and drawbacks to being a Scrub Nurse. Consider these pros and cons as you explore your career options. 

Advantages of a Career as a Scrub Nurse

  • Work in the operating room vs. the floor.

  • Witness surgeons perform procedures first-hand.

  • Assist surgeons doing life-saving operations.

  • Be a part of the close-knit perioperative team.

  • Competitive pay and benefits packages.

  • Expand your career and boost earnings through certifications.

Disadvantages of a Career as a Scrub Nurse

  • Physically demanding.

  • Mental and emotional strain.

  • Extended hours (but potential flexibility).

  • Risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals and bodily fluids.

  • Requires additional training and certifications.

How to Become a Scrub Nurse

To become a Scrub Nurse, you must start by earning your RN license. Becoming a registered nurse requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing. These degrees prepare you for the nationally recognized NCLEX-RN exam.

Part of earning your RN also includes on-the-job clinicals in a hospital. This activity helps you prepare for the rigors of your future work environment once you start working under a nurse manager. 

Once you’ve become an RN, you can begin looking for surgery and acute care jobs. You may need to pursue additional qualifications to become eligible for these roles. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Scrub Nurses

How Long Does It Take To Become A Scrub Nurse?

It takes roughly four to six years to become a Scrub Nurse. However, the exact time frame varies depending on your education level, certifications, and employer requirements. 

Any nurse who wants to work in perioperative care must hold basic and advanced cardiac life support certifications (BLS and ACLS). They may also need additional, specialized life support certification for neonates (NAS) and children (PALS). 

Overall, you can expect to spend around five years gaining all of the educational and experience qualifications to be a Scrub Nurse. 

Do Scrub Nurses Earn More Than Registered Nurses?

Scrub Nurses earn slightly less than RNs throughout the country. The average RN earns roughly $76,000 annually, while the average Scrub Nurse makes $73,300.

These figures can all vary based on location and experience. The more certifications a Scrub Nurse has, the more they are likely to earn. 

If you decide to become a travel Scrub Nurse, you can earn $3,000 or more per week. 

What Does A Scrub Nurse Do In Surgery? 

A Scrub Nurse assists the surgeon during surgery as they perform operative procedures—they prep and pass tools and medical equipment to the surgeon as requested. 

They also help monitor patients’ condition during the surgery and are prepared to switch to life-saving procedures at a moment’s notice.

Do Scrub Nurses Perform Medical Procedures? 

Scrub Nurses hold an assistive role. However, as supportive perioperative staff, they have no qualifications to operate themselves.

Instead, they prep patients, ensure that the correct body areas are marked for the procedure, and help the surgeon by passing them instruments. They also prep machines and ensure that equipment is ready for use.

Experienced perioperative nurses can anticipate a surgeon’s need based on the procedure. They know what they need and can pass them the tools instinctively.