Top 10 Pros and Cons of Being an OR Nurse

or nurseBy Sarah Stasik

An operating room nurse is at the heart of one of the most critical spaces in a hospital, but do you have what it takes to handle this high-stress job?

Becoming an OR nurse does come with great benefits, including being part of an elite team and potentially making more money. 

But a career as an OR nurse also has some disadvantages when compared to other nursing specialties.

Discover the top 10 pros and cons of being an OR nurse below to help you make a decision whether you should become an OR nurse.

5 Benefits of Being an OR Nurse

1. Potentially Higher Pay

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median pay for registered nurses across the country was $68,450 as of May 2016. The median pay for RNs working in hospitals — including operating room nurses — was $70,590. 

That’s a three percent increase in pay on average, and an OR nurse salary can be as much as $94,000 a year depending on experience and performance.

2. Immediate, Tangible Results of your Work

The outcome of operations are often known right away, at least to some degree. That means OR nurses are part of a team that sets out to address a problem and sees immediate results of work, which isn’t always the case in other RN occupations.

“All nursing is about patient care and even saving lives,” says Stacey Emerson, an RN who has worked in OR environments. “But in the operating room, you have a specific task and you get it done. You can check that off before you go home — there’s more closure there than in a lot of nursing jobs.”

3. Constant Opportunities to Learn and Grow

OR nurses may work on a variety of cases alongside other clinicians, which means they can see other specialties in action and have constant opportunities to perfect various skills. 

That experience can translate into future career moves; operating room nurses might find future work in infection control, transplant nursing or consulting for insurance agencies.

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4. Ability to Take on One Patient at a Time

Depending on the procedures of the facility, OR nurses often work one-on-one with patients to get them through prep, a procedure or recovery. 

For introverted nurses, that can be a boon, says Emerson, who enjoys working with one or a few patients at a time in contrast to the many patients nurses in physician’s offices or ERs may see daily.

5. Working as Part of a Cohesive Team

OR nurses often work closely with the same clinical teams, allowing them to develop strong working relationships with surgeons, other nurses and anesthesiologists. 

OR teams also develop seamless working procedures that can make the work slightly less stressful.

“Collaboration is a critical part of success in the OR,” says Emerson. “And knowing that you’re part of that team and have other responsible people, all working on the same thing, is awesome. It makes a huge difference in how you feel about the work or the day.”

5 Disadvantage of an Operating Room Nurse Career

1. You Might Work an On-call Schedule

Most OR nurses work eight to 10 hours per day or shift, though many do work modified schedules or part-time. 

Nurses trained to perform in an operating room environment may also work on-call schedules, which means they could be called in to assist with emergency surgeries at night or on weekends in some facilities. 

While on-call work often comes with overtime or bonus pay that can increase an OR nurse’s salary, it can be stressful and interfere with social or family obligations.

2. Emotional Failures are Possible

The work in an OR may come with immediate gratification, but the outcome isn’t always positive. Losing a patient is hard on any nurse, but the adrenaline that comes with OR nursing followed by the crash that occurs when treatment isn’t successful can be extremely emotional.

Nurses that deal in the extremes that may be present in operating rooms have to be cognizant of their own emotional and mental states. 

Emerson says it helps to have a strong personal support structure when dealing with emotional issues related to being an OR nurse.

3. Extreme Pressure on a Regular Basis

All nursing requires adherence to detail, long shifts and physical demands, but work in the operating room is especially unforgiving. OR nurses have to be able to move quickly, communicate quickly and accurately and make on-the-fly decisions that are best for the patient.

While some nurses may thrive on the adrenaline of the operating room, dealing with this type of stress long-term can lead to burnout for professionals that don’t have strong coping mechanisms.

[RELATED: 10 Tips for Working in a Hostile Nurse Work Environment]

4. Shift Work and Missed Relief

Like all other RNs, operating room nurses typically work in shifts. Depending on the policies of the particular facility, OR nurses may not get relief as regularly as it’s scheduled. 

Some supervising nurses may expect operating room RNs to see cases through to a certain point, emergencies may delay relief or scheduling snafus may lead to overtime.

State laws and administrative rules come into play with shift requirements, and OR nurses also have to stay up-to-date about those rules. Unions may also require nurses to report relief failures, especially in states with mandatory overtime laws.

5. A Constant Push for Efficiency

A final disadvantage of work as an operating room nurse is the need to keep pace. Nurses and other OR staff may only have 10 minutes to clean the room between procedures, for example. 

Facilities may try to leverage efficiencies in OR spaces to boost revenues, which means performing more procedures in the same space.

“Other staff may try to bring patients to the OR before you’re ready,” says Emerson. “People might still be cleaning, or you might not even be back to the room yet, and someone is ready to go with a procedure.”

For many OR nurses, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. And if you do decide OR nursing is no longer the right choice for you, your experience and skills make it easy to find a different type of nursing job.

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