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OR Nurse Roles


Specializes in Student. Has 2 years experience.


I've been interested in the operating room since beginning nursing school but we don't rotate there for clinical. I have heard of circulating nurses and peri-op nurses but I haven't been able to find any articles that list all the roles that nurses can fill in the OR. I was wondering if anyone could explain the different roles and their responsibilities (or share a link)? Also, are most ORs specialized in the types of surgeries they perform? If so, which specialties of surgeries are the most interesting or best to work during in your opinion?

Thank you!

Rose_Queen, BSN, MSN, RN

Specializes in OR, education. Has 16 years experience.

Periop is an all encompassing term that refers to nurses working in preoperative, intraoperative, post-anesthesia care, and postoperative care.

Preoperative nurses work with patients who are admitted from home or patients who are transferred from an inpatient nursing unit. They prepare the patient for the OR: assessment, ensuring consents are completed, starting IVs, beginning medications as needed, ensuring safety (NPO status, piercings that may be an issue removed, etc), and so much more.

Intraoperative nurses are the patient care providers in the OR itself. They may fulfill a handful of roles: circulating nurse, who is not part of the sterile team but is responsible for assessing, positioning, prepping, and other things that are required to be done in the specialized setting of the OR. Another role is the scrub nurse, although depending on facility staffing models RNs may not scrub much. This role is part of the sterile team and works with preparing the set up and providing instruments, suture, and more to the surgeon. A third role is that of the first assistant. This is a role that requires additional education but is not a separate degree. The first assistant is much more hands on and had expanded duties.

The PACU nurse provides patient care to those who have just completed surgery and are waking up from anesthesia. They deal with airways and pain as priorities along with other nursing care.

Postoperative nurses work with those patients going home immediately after surgery who will not be admitted. They manage postoperative teaching, discharge instructions, and everything else that needs to happen before the patient leaves the facility.

Very brief and not all inclusive overview.


Specializes in Student. Has 2 years experience.


Thank you! That helps a lot!