What Does a Surgical Nurse Do?

NursingFebruary 24, 2015

Editor's Note: This article was updated on August 24, 2018

Your responsibilities as a surgical nurse, also referred to as a perioperative nurse, will vary according to the role you play in the operating room. Professionals who work in this area can assume one of three main positions: scrub nurse, circulating nurse or RN first assistant. To a lesser extent, the duties of a perioperative nurse will vary within their surgical subcategory, such as cardiac surgery, dental surgery or trauma. One of the advantages of nursing is that you can choose the area that interests you the most.

Scrub Nurse

In this nursing role, you will prepare the operating room for the patient, setting up the tools and making sure the field is sterile. Scrub nurses assist the surgical team by donning sterile masks, gloves and gowns as well as aid the physician by passing instruments during surgery. Following the operation, the job involves clearing away the tools and preparing the patient for transport to the recovery room.

Circulating Nurse

The circulating nurse has a different role, as they work outside the sterile field and do not participate in the surgery. Your duties in this position are set at a broader perspective, which focuses on maintaining a safe and comfortable environment. These tasks include inspecting surgical equipment, verifying the patient's identity and seeing that the family has signed the necessary consent forms. Other duties involve assisting the anesthesiologist with a patient and conferring with the surgeon about special concerns that could affect the patient's care.

RN First Assistant

With further education and training, a surgical nurse may assume the role of RN first assistant. Your duties in this job will include watching for complications and monitoring the patient's vital signs—blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. Should trouble arise, you will immediately alert the doctor. This position also involves performing CPR, controlling bleeding and suturing wounds in addition to applying dressings and bandages. You will also perform patient assessments prior to surgery and before discharge.

Operating Room Director

Aside from the three main categories of perioperative nurse roles, you may also work as an operating room director. This job encompasses managing all the business aspects, to include budgets and staffing. Working as a director could later serve as a stepping stone to other careers, such as a clinical educator or managerial consultant. 

The job setting you choose could be a hospital or day surgery unit as well as a clinic or doctor's office. Regardless of the setting or which role of surgical nursing you assume, you will work together with other nurses, surgeons and anesthesiologists to ensure patients receive the best possible care. 

Learn more about the nursing programs at Fortis today. 

Tags: nursing, Empower