Kari was a registered nurse for almost 25 years. She spent most if those years in the operating room.
The Super-Nurse, Otherwise Known as the OR Nurse
Operating room nursing is a very special calling. Not everyone is cut out for it, and most will not put up with it. However, there is much fun to be had if you make it through the first year! You will bond with the staff and make some good friends.
OR nursing requires stamina and quick-thinking on your feet. Whether you are circulating or scrubbing, there never seems to be any time to sit. It is the ever-moving and ever-changing calling of the few, the proud, and the crazy. (Note: You will understand this if you are an OR nurse!)
We live in a world of booming technology, evolving technique, and ever-changing surgeon preferences: Change is the only constant. If you can't live with change on a minute-to-minute basis, don't even come here!
At times, the surgeons will yell at you and call you the stupidest group of people he has ever met. Other times, they shake your hand and say, "Thank you. I couldn't have done it without you." If you are easily flustered or take it personally when people yell at you, you will not make it in an operating room.
And you have to like to work. The longest I have ever worked consecutively is 26 hours. It was a busy day and night! We are the makers and the shakers. As far as I can tell, even truck drivers may not work so long. However, when you start in an OR, you will find out that you are miraculous. Suddenly, you will have powers not endowed on the normal mortal!
Extraordinary stamina, the ability to be in two places at the same time, and more will be expected of you. The ordinary calls of nature (like bathroom breaks, lunch, and a drink of water) will be below you...or at least that is what your surgeons will believe. You will become the super-nurse, the OR nurse!
How Do You Know You Are an Operating Room (OR) Nurse?
Here are 21 ways to tell:
- You have seen so many “privates” you would no longer recognize a "major."
- All the things people don’t like about you make you really good at your job.
- You go to work in the middle of the night in your “pajamas" and don't change when there is a stat section.
- You don't think it is strange when people say, "I've never seen you with hair before."
- It is commonplace to be yelled at if you make someone wait 30 seconds.
- You talk about pus while you eat.
- You yell "Code Brown" to get the surgeon out of the room.
- You will eat anything in the lounge, even jalapeño pretzels.
- You “tie up” your doctors and everyone thinks it is okay.
- When they see you out shopping, people tell you, “I’ve never seen you in clothes before.”
- You sleep when you can, eat when you can, and sometimes it’s just easier to put in a foley catheter!
- When you are out with your friends, you can anticipate who needs a drink two minutes before they ask.
- You also know who will be early, who will be late, and who will be on time, and plan accordingly.
- You do not listen to the conversation until someone says, "I need," "I might," "I think," only to find out you thought of that already.
- Your anticipation skills are so good people swear you are a mind-reader.
- Five people can be yelling at you at the same time and you do not get flustered or upset.
- You can get someone to trust you with their lives in five minutes or less.
- You are so aware of your personal space, your friends swear you have eyes in the back of your head.
- You have the cleanest kitchen and bathroom in town.
- You have thought "where is anesthesia?" when someone is droning on about a boring story.
- You know more about infection control than the infection control nurse does.
More Things All OR Nurses Know
The difference between an OR nurse and a perioperative nurse.
All OR nurses are perioperative nurses, but not all perioperative nurses are OR nurses. The perioperative period is considered to encompass the care given prior to the surgery, the surgery, and the care given after the surgery. Pre-op or holding nurses are responsible for getting the patient ready for surgery, OR nurses take care of the patient during surgery, and PACU or recovery room nurses care for the patient after surgery before the patient goes to another unit or goes home. All of these nurses are considered perioperative nurses.
How little time is there between cases in the OR.
Usually there's a 15-minute turnover for simpler cases such as hernias or gallbladder. A 30-minute turnover is appropriate for large cases such as total joints.
How fascinating OR nurses are.
OR nurses are instantly popular in any social setting. All they have to do is tell some of the stories about the remarkable and crazy things they see every day.
Be More Than You Thought You Could Be
You too can be more than you ever thought you could be. You can achieve that super-human status, otherwise known as an OR nurse. There are never enough of the good ones, so you will always have a job. If you would like to escape from the uncertainty of the economy, become an OR nurse. Not only will you always work, but at times you will work more than you would like to. That's okay, though. because you are doing what you love.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Read More From Toughnickel
Questions & Answers
Question: Is an OR nurse the same as a perioperative nurse?
Answer: All OR nurses are perioperative nurses, but not all perioperative nurses are OR nurses. The perioperative period is considered to encompass the care given prior to the surgery, the surgery, and the care given after the surgery. Preop or holding nurses are responsible for getting the patient ready for surgery, OR nurses take care of the patient during surgery and PACU or recovery room nurses care for the patient after surgery before the patient goes to another unit or goes home. All of these nurses are considered perioperative nurses.
Question: Is operating room nursing a specialty in nursing?
Answer: Yes, OR nursing is a specialty. Unless you are trained specifically for the OR you cannot perform safely.
Question: How long before [the] next case?
Answer: Usually a 15 minute turnover for simpler cases such as hernias or gallbladder. A 30-minute turnover is appropriate for large cases such as total joints.
Question: Why were these interviews done in front of an MRI instead of in an OR suite?
Answer: I did not make the video. I imagine that the people who made it could not get an OK to film it in an OR.
© 2009 Kari Poulsen
Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on February 29, 2020:
Jeanne, 37 years in the OR. Good for you! I remember the pressure. Always making sure the procedure has the best outcome.
Jeanne Sincavage on January 19, 2020:
I spent 37 years in ORs of varies...and positions of responsibilit...and specialties. I once scrubbed 3 CABGs...start to finish, with a 30 mini break between case..with surgeons from 3 different groups, using different cannulation & suture routines...in an 18 hour shift.
I thoroughly enjoyed the article...correlates directly with my experience.
OR Nursing isn’t for everyone...but...oh the stories you can tell!!
Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on January 19, 2020:
That is very true, Lois! Good one!
Lois Boyce on January 17, 2020:
#19. You scrub your kitchen and bathroom as if it’s an OR room.
Thea vermeulen weavers on November 27, 2019:
Lucky to work in theatres still actually later today started in 1978 when we pasturised or boiled up the gu and arthroscopy instuments at georges at hyde park london still love it!!! Xx
Jerry Hankins on November 25, 2019:
There was never a doubt that the OR was where I wanted to carve my niche in. I started out as an oral surgery tech in the Air Force, I was sent to the OR and trained starting with the linen room (yes linen room) where we wrapped our linen packs for a variety of cases, I washed instruments, learned the names of instruments and wrapped trays. After a short time I began to scrub and scrub took on a whole new meaning back then. The white handle black bristles brushes that came in a sterile container was what we used to scrub with (occasionally it would take 3 plus brushes if they were to hard). You gowned and gloved yourself and assisted with everything (this is how you learned). A few months in training I then went back to oral surgery. We had no pneumatic power tools either, the old fiber cord belt driven power was something else to assemble but we managed and it worked well too. Years later we modernized when we went to throw away gowns, better gloves and speaking of gloves we did not have latex free in those days either. Eventually we evolved into case specific packs and instrument containers. Our power tools began to come around and we we went from tools powered by nitrogen tanks to batteries where we are today. The times have changed, I went from a tech to an RN through many hard and rough roads by going to school at night to finish my degree and testing for my RN by going for two consecutive days of testing versus what nursing graduates do today sitting in front of a computer and answering a few questions to pass the NCLEX. My career as a tech and OR Nurse has been my life and I would not trade one moment of it. I am proud to be associated with women and men who work tirelessly hours on end being a patient advocate, a partner to a surgeon and a mentor to new nurses wanting to be an OR Nurse. I'm retired now but will always be an OR Nurse.
Plantz on November 24, 2019:
In the 80's i used to wear scrub dresses. After a particularly messy trauma case, the doctor stripped in the OR. All we had for him to put on was a scrub dress. It was a humorus sight for sure. That was before shields and good protective wear.
Orange Fox on November 23, 2019:
Working 26 hours straight? Phew - ANY resident of the first year a.k.a. Intern puts 30+ each week and does not consider it anything special. Fellows do even more. And if you are a chief resident in neurosurgery field, you can be on call 24/7 for all 365 days, which means you do not even remember how many hours straight you are working.
Linda Spangler on November 21, 2019:
I was an OR nurse in a few different hospitals here in the states and overseas. I also did OB but I will always be and OR nurse.
Sandy Swint on November 21, 2019:
Been in the OR for 26 years from Chicago to Nashville. From L&D,Peds, Adults, trauma and transplants. Still loving it! Seen a lot of changes. The good, the bad and the ugly. I have been blessed to have had great surgeons and residents 98% of my career. But I also have an "I dare you to yell at me face", also! LOL
Mellita Knight on November 21, 2019:
40 years as operating theatre sister,loved every moment,worked with some wonderful people.
Norma Plowman on November 20, 2019:
OR nursing was the exact fit 40 plus years ago during my nursing school rotation. Worked in California (SF area) for 36 years & a 4 year stint in Saudi Arabia. The only type of nursing I did and loved it—from 1 lb babies to liver, heart, ,kidney transplants, to cardiovascular to orthopedics. Way back we did it all. It helped to have wonderful co-workers and MDs who respected we OR nurses.
Laura Daillak on November 20, 2019:
I loved my 28 years in the OR - exciting, exhausting, exasperating! I still miss the patients and my friends who became family I have a photo of myself in mask and gown and keep it on my dresser to remind me of those wonderful years♥️
Mari on November 20, 2019:
I loved my life in the operating room and will be eternally grateful for a beautiful fulfilling journey I’ve had ❤️
Noonie on November 19, 2019:
I did it for 45 plus years, and loved every minute of it.
Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on December 15, 2017:
I'm glad you enjoyed it, too. :)
too on December 15, 2017:
Too funny but so true
Kari Poulsen (author) from Ohio on September 05, 2017:
Haha, and the looks you get from others. Thanks for reading, Peggy! :)
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 03, 2017:
I started my career in nursing as an OR nurse in the Texas Medical Center. It is challenging and fun. I can truly relate to what you mentioned about meeting people outside of the OR and them saying "I have never seen you in clothes before." Haha!
Pat Duerinskx on October 31, 2014:
I have been an OR nurse for 49 years in both GB and Canada and I still love every minute I spend in the OR.
ktt61201 on October 31, 2014:
I have been in the OR for 18 years, I'm a CST not a RN, anybody who thinks OR nursing is easy clearly has not been paying attention.
Red1967 on October 30, 2014:
Agreed w/comments. Over 40yr OR experience I still tell my patients my job simply put is "to know you,to love you,to guide you & protect you through the surgical process. It takes many members on our TEAM to take care of you: Anesthesia, Surgeon, OR Nurses,Surgical Techs & our beloved ORA's." All of us at any time of the day or night will take care of you at a moments notice...IT IS PART OF OUR DNA. We are impassioned about our skills providing you with excellence if care. We read,we study ever challenged with new procedures, new protocols,new equipment to afford our patients excellence of care. Yes, we are unique group of individuals, all with different skill sets, who join together as a TEAM. I can't imagine doing anything else. It is a vocation, a special calling we heard to provide this care to our patients.
or_rn on October 29, 2014:
You did forget one thing. I have been an RN in many different fields, I have never loved any as much as the OR. However it is nice to only have to deal with the family drama and listen to the patients drama for at most 15 min before they go to sleep. Sometimes I will be in line at a grocery store whatever, someone will droning on and on, and I will just think "Hey anesthesia, put them to sleep already!" :-) Plus you also forgot to say we are master contortionists who are not afraid to get on a bloody floor to reposition the surgeons foot pedal.
Gwen B on October 26, 2014:
For 34 years working as a OR scrub sister. I can only say: It was my live !!!! I loved it with heart and soul. Thanks to the rest of the team.
Karen Inno on July 08, 2014:
Surgical tech and RNs stand shoulder to shoulder in the OR and anesthesiologists and surgeons also. We cannot do the surgery without the brain surge of all these people. Did you watch the TV show M.A.S.H ? that's the OR ...
Dustin Hall CST on December 15, 2013:
Not just nurses... i am a OR Surgical Tech.. our nurses are only cirulate.. a lot of these points refer to me... Just givin a little love to the Scrub Techs out there
Mary.K on December 14, 2013:
Yes it is a very hectic job. I did it for thirty three years. It is very rewarding. I enjoyed it. After eight hours of work in the O R and after that six hours of work at home and kids... You are ready to go to bed.
You fall asleep... At twelve the phone rings... Emergency ,rush to the O R.
Then you get a special kick and you are on your feet. The rule at the VA ..in thirty minutes you must be in the OR.
My best days when I worked in the open heart...O R a great place to work. But you have to like it or it is Hell on earth also you must have good co-works. That is half the fun of OR. All you O R nurses congratulations.
Some times even now I miss it.
Marilyn on December 13, 2013:
Only "crazy" people join the OR team: where have you seen people who discuss the best menus while doing some form of bowel operation and all the guts spilling with brown smelly contents!
Kari on December 13, 2013:
I'm an RN with 26 years in. ER to ICU to PACU. I have great respect for nurses in every specialty. Each one has it's own set of demands, priorities, and idiosyncrocies. I did travel nursing for 4 years and dipped my toe in the pools of other specialty areas just because I wanted to move to a particular city and telemetry, radiology, neuro, CVICU or med-surg were the only positions available. Learning to adapt quickly and be able to hit the ground running after 1-2 days orientation was a great learning experience. Not to mention the high pay and fun of being a gypsy every 3-6 months! I've always wanted to get into the OR but I'm cold all the time and think I would get grouchy in 60 degree rooms for long hours. It would be a nice break to care for patients under anesthesia and not have to deal with stressed out families. I was a cruise ship RN for a bit and felt trapped out in the middle of the ocean. I might get that trapped feeling in OR if I couldn't sip a drink or take a bathroom break. I guess the only way to find out is to jump in and see how it feels. I do prefer a fast pace and quick turn overs.
Greg on December 13, 2013:
The only thing I see OR nurses do is sit on the butts and chart while complaining about how little they get paid as the ST sweats out the case and takes the brunt of the surgeons frustrations.
Hh on December 13, 2013:
Kanye on December 12, 2013:
OR nurses have it easy. Floor nurses are the ones who have a tough job. Try taking care of 5 different patients at once. OR nursing is a cake walk.
KathyJo on December 12, 2013:
So great! I also have been asked for the Otis elevator and after 30 years in the OR, I must admit, I've tried this on a few new "pups"! Love my job as much as my docs and co-workers! And of course our pts. Are the icing on the cake!
Rita k on December 12, 2013:
I wouldn't trade my job for anything! I live for this. How lucky am I to say I am going to work and it's not work! Bring it on!