Q&A: OR nurse offers insight into perioperative nursing

By | 2021-05-07T17:28:13-04:00 November 25th, 2016|Tags: , , |4 Comments

Marty Higgins, RN

Marty Higgins, MS, RN, NE-BC, director of surgical services at The Medical Center of Plano, Texas, said working in the OR is one of nursing’s best-kept secrets. After graduating from nursing school, Higgins worked in labor and delivery before transitioning into a career as an OR nurse. In this Q&A, Higgins offers advice for nurses who are considering a career in perioperative nursing.

Q: Can you describe the traits/characteristics of a nurse who is successful and working in the preop and OR settings? 

A: Perioperative nursing is a specialty area where nurses assist patients before, during and after surgery. Yet nurses who work in preop, the OR and postop have three very distinct roles and each job attracts candidates with different personalities and skill sets.

Nurses who work in preop should enjoy working at an energetic and fast pace. They need to be organized and very detail-oriented, because they are gathering a lot of data in a short amount of time, and they also need to be calming and not let patients feel as though they are being rushed.

In the OR, nurses take on more of an Energizer Bunny type of role. They need to have good time management skills and be critical thinkers. Working in the OR isn’t for everyone. Nurses can be exposed to stressful situations, and often tensions run high among staff.

As an OR nurse, you’re working with three to five other colleagues for hours at a time, so nurses need to feel comfortable working as part of a team, but also confident enough to do their job independently.

Q: What skills do nurses need in order to be effective in a postop setting?

A: Nurses need to have good assessment skills and be able to make decisions quickly if a patient’s status changes. A big part of the job is monitoring patients after they awake from anesthesia and watching for signs of pain, nausea or other symptoms that might occur as a result of surgery.

Q: How can nurses investigate the three settings to determine if one might be right for them? 

A: We’ve had nurses who work in other departments and are interested in learning about this specialty area ask if they can come down and do an informational interview or shadow a perioperative nurse.

Q: What words of wisdom do you have for nurses who are interested in transitioning to the periop setting?

A: When I’m hiring nurses, I look for candidates who are high energy, have good people skills and a great attitude, and are looking for a challenge. I had one candidate tell me that working as a perioperative nurse was her dream job and she explained why. I loved her enthusiasm. Another candidate told me she guessed she could work in the OR, but this isn’t the kind of specialty area that you can be halfhearted about.

Once nurses work in the field for two years, I encourage them to look into CNOR certification for perioperative nurses interested in enhancing and validating their specialized knowledge and skills.

Q: What are some of the reasons nurses choose to stay in perioperative nursing and what are the reasons they choose to leave?

A: Most of the nurses I know who work in this field never leave. They stay in the field because they love the fast pace, and the fact that no two days are the same. In one shift, you have multiple patients facing different surgeries. It can be gratifying to see someone come in to surgery with an orthopedic injury or to have their gallbladder removed and know after the surgery they will heal and go on to live their lives.

Nurses also choose to stay because it’s a specialty area in which they really become close with their team members and they enjoy the camaraderie.

In addition, this specialty area offers a lot of flexibility. Many nurses opt to work in a surgical center where they can have weekends off. At the hospital, I need staff to work 24/7. So I can be flexible with their schedules, if they want to leave early to pick their kids up from school or if they prefer to work nights and weekends.

There’s also a lot of opportunities for growth in this specialty area. Nurses can be promoted to charge nurses, team leads or nurse managers/supervisors. I’ve seen very few nurses leave this specialty, and for those who do, it’s just not the right fit.

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About the Author:

Special Topics Editor Deborah Filipek develops and edits content for OnCourse Learning’s Nurse.com blog, which covers news, trends and features relevant to nurses. She has more than 25 years of writing and editing experience, having previously worked for weekly newspapers and ad agencies in the Chicagoland area.


  1. Avatar
    Vincent L.Deliberto, RN MSN CEN OCN December 17, 2016 at 7:04 pm - Reply

    Peri-operative nursing would have probably been a good fit for me. My career and specialty was ER or ED, depending on your era. It was definitely fast paced, and for sure never was it the same two days in a row. In fact it was never the same one hour to the next. We could have slow times, as it was said, it could be 99% boredom and 1% sheer panic. I did achieve my MSN and CEN, my career spanned from Staff nurse to director. ER was a great fit for me I enjoyed the fast pace, and the fact that building rapport with a patient happened rapidly. We got to know and interacted with patients in what ever time they had with us. ER nursing was all the specialties rolled into one, patients ranged from neonatal to the death and dying phase of life. It was critical care nursing in the highest form.

  2. Avatar
    Joanne Walker December 18, 2016 at 1:11 am - Reply

    Marty Higgins’ answers to the questions on OR and periop nursing definitely resonate with me. As an OR nurse of more than 35 years’ experience I can attest to the fact that once in it you never want to leave. However it definitely is not for the half-hearted or the fainthearted either! Surgeons are without doubt a breed apart. OR nurses need skin like rawhide and strong personalities to deal with them. But I can’t think of a single day that I regretted choosing OR nursing as my specialty.

  3. Avatar
    Dianne Dorrough December 19, 2016 at 1:46 am - Reply

    As a retired OR nurse after 45 years I agree completely. Most nurses in this field stay because they love the work and the role of patient advocate.

  4. Avatar
    Raquel Medina July 24, 2021 at 3:10 pm - Reply

    A few months ago, I passed the AORN certification Working in OR is where I always focus to work. I also took my sterile processing technician certification. I wanted to learn the instruments, but the training they gave me to enter the OR was very bad and unprofessional. I decided to resign because I did not feel prepared enough. The residency was only for three months, including the class part, I think a residency for OR should be six to nine months, since it is not only the preparation and care of the patient, we must also take into account, medications and training of the assessments on the computer since different types of surgeries are performed. I feel bad because this has always been my dream and I achieved it, but it did not last long. Now I watch videos and read about the responsibility and work of an OR nurse. I am not going to give up, even if I had a bad experience.

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