From the outside, the world of the operating room nurse seems shrouded in gauze, masks, caps, gowns and scrubs. It is where nursing students tread with immense caution – each one of them hesitant to make a move for fear of contaminating a sterile field. However, seasoned OR nurses dance between operating theaters with grace and ease – a feat only achieved after years of practice and experience. What really lies behind the doors that say ‘Sterile’? What can nurses who want to join the Operating Room team look forward too? What does an operating room nurse really do and how can somebody become one.
What is Operating Room Nursing?
Operating Room Nursing, also known as perioperative nursing, is a specialized field of nursing practice. Nurse practitioners in this filed mainly practice their craft in Operating theaters. They work assisting surgeons, handing them the tools they need to perform the operation required. Other than that, OR nurses are also the ones who handle patients pre and post op. These nurses will be the ones to receive the patients into the OR and they will be the ones to send them off.
Roles of the OR Nurse
Beyond the Operating Room doors, lies a world that is more ordinary that most nurses think, well as ordinary as hospitals get. It is filled of all sorts of nurses – every type from the stereotypical scrub nurse to little known sponge and suture nurses.
Contrary to popular belief, not every nurse assigned in the OR work alongside doctors during surgeries. Some of them work as nurse managers, others work in the recovery room. Still, a select few work as nurse anesthesiologists. Below are some of the roles that operating room nurses undertake.
· Scrub Nurses– Scrub nurses are the nurses who have direct contact with the Surgical team and the patient during surgery. Scrub nurses stand alongside doctors, handing them the required instruments. They may also be called to retract tissue – whenever required. The scrub nurse is the classic image of the Operating Room nurse – this is the OR nurses are portrayed in movies and photographs.
The duties of the scrub nurse greatly depend on the institution where they work. In some hospitals it is the scrub nurse’s duty to gown and glove the surgeon and other members of the surgical team. In others, OR techs and nurse assistants exists to do that job for them. Some scrub nurses also take the shape of so-called sponge nurses.
· Sponge Nurses - Sponge nurse are OR nurses that have been assigned to rinse or clean the operating tools as soon as a surgeon puts it down. Sponge nurses are necessary especially, if the surgery requires a lot of debridement and excavation.
· Suture Nurses - Some nurses, called suture nurses – are allowed and licensed to sew a patient up after surgery. Suture nurses are often required to undergo training, certification and licensure before they can practice. The laws for licensure and certification of suture nurses vary from country to country and state to state.
· Nurses Anesthesiologists – Nurses Anesthesiologists are a special breed of OR nurses that only began to exist during the later part of the 20th century. These are highly specialized and trained nurses that have spent time and money in order to get a license. These nurses are advance practice nurses (APNs) and their field is a steadily growing field that is increasing in popularity each year.
· Circulating Nurses – Circulating nurses can be any nurse from the OR team. Most nurses who are not busy work as circulating nurses. These nurses are the ones who make sure that the surgical team has everything they need. They will be the ones to run to the Central Supply Room and get supplies when necessary. The roles of the circulating nurse may also be taken over by nursing assistants and OR technicians.
· Nurse Managers and OR Head Nurses – The main role of Nurse Managers and Head Nurses may no longer involve scrubbing in to surgery. They are the ones involved of making sure that the OR is in order. They may also be the ones in charge of making organizing the OR and OR staff schedules.
How To Become an Operating Room Nurse
In order to become an operating room nurses, nurses must first have the right qualifications. In order to practice, nurses must first have a degree in Nursing. Some countries like the US and the Philippines require their nurses to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. The US is also open to nurses who have completed an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. These nurses are then required to gain licensure before they can practice. Other countries like the UK require their nurses to gain NVQ levels before they can work.
Some employers, especially those in the US, may also prefer it if their nurses become certified OR nurses. Certification is provided by Operating Room Nurses association and organizations in the US.
The Philippines also has its own organization in the form of ORNAP (Operating Room Nurses Association of the Philippines). The ORNAP provides their members with seminars and continuing education programs.
Work Opportunities for OR Nurses
There are a lot of work opportunities for OR nurses. In fact, OR nurses together with Critical Care Nurses, are a few of the most sought after nurses in the world. In order to secure a job abroad, nurses must make sure that they have enough work experience while they are still here in the Philippines.