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What You Need to Know to Become a Scrub Nurse

Neha B Deshpande
In simple words, a scrub nurse is a registered nurse who assists the surgeon during a surgical procedure. Apart from handling surgical instruments, the job of a scrub nurse also involves ensuring a sterile operating area. This story tells all that you need to know to become a scrub nurse.
Scrub nurses are not to be confused with surgical technologists, who're simply trained in handling sterile instruments, and other surgical equipment.
The main responsibility of a scrub nurse is to carefully select, handle, and provide the surgeon with surgical instruments and other equipment, as and when required during a surgical procedure. Scrub nurses are required to be cohesive agents between a doctor and his patient in the operating room (OR).
Since they assist surgeons during surgeries, their job is demanding and challenging. They need to be emotionally stable, quick to act as per the surgeon's instructions, and extremely alert. Typically, they are paid higher than registered nurses.
Here, we provide you with some information about the educational qualifications and skills required to become a scrub nurse, along with a brief description of the job responsibilities and salary for this profession.


A scrub nurse (also known as an instrument nurse) is one of the job roles involved in perioperative nursing. Perioperative nursing primarily involves nursing in the OR and has three job roles as given ahead.
As aforesaid, they work with the surgeon by helping him with medical instruments as required during an operation. They are involved in handling surgical instruments and sterilizing them before the surgery.
Circulating Nurses : They coordinate with the surgeons and scrub nurses in the operating room, and take care of the room's environment.
RNFA (RN First Assistants) : They assist the surgeon by helping him with suturing of wounds, and other technicalities during a surgery.
Perioperative nurses are required in hospitals, ambulatory surgery units, clinics, and sometimes, by physicians as their assistants.
Scrub nurses are required to be registered nurses, for which one needs to have a BSN Degree (Bachelor's of Science in Nursing), an Associate's Degree in Nursing (ADN), or a Diploma from an approved nursing program.

RNs need to obtain a license by clearing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).
After acquiring a bachelor's or associate degree, and getting registered, one needs to specialize in the perioperative nursing field to become a scrub nurse. There are various medical schools that offer certificate courses in perioperative nursing.
For example, Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) has a certificate course called Periop101. One needs to ensure that the course taken is accredited.
Usually, hospitals prefer experienced RNs for the role of a scrub nurse. However, a perioperative internship proves to be an added advantage to take on the responsibilities of a scrub nurse.
Having a BLS (Basic Life Support) and ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) certification is recommended.

Other Skills

► High emotional stability and decision-making ability which may be needed in case of a medical emergency during a surgery.
► Ability to manage fatigue and a good physical stamina, to be focused and active through long surgical procedures.
► Good communication skills to be able to help the patient deal with anxiety before a surgery, and a good grasping power to be able to coordinate with the surgeons while assisting them.
► A knowledge of the latest advancements in medicine (related to the job role).

Job Profile

'Scrubbing in' involves sterilizing surgical instruments, washing hands, and wearing surgical garments. In short, scrub nurses ensure that the OR is sterile before a surgery. During the surgery, they need to assist the surgeon by handing him the medical instruments as and when required. 
They are expected to be vigilant and be able to estimate the needs of the surgeon beforehand.
They should be able to interpret the surgeon's hand gestures, and be quick with helping him. After the surgery, they are required to assist in the cleaning and dressing up procedures and monitor the patient's recovery.

Career Growth

Many perioperative nurses pursue a master's in nursing for growth in their career. With experience and advanced certification courses like CNOR, one is considered for greater responsibilities and complicated surgeries.
With experience, one can get the job roles of an advance practice nurse, educator, or a manager of the nursing staff.

Salary Range

The salary of a scrub nurse differs with experience and according to the area of specialization. The average salary of a scrub nurse is reported to be USD 67,500 as of April 2020. Hospitals may prefer hiring a surgical technician for handling surgical instruments and other equipment since his pay is lesser.
Before you think of becoming a scrub nurse, you should be aware of the challenges involved. Scrub nursing is a demanding profession that gives you the opportunities to work with surgeons, assisting them in different types of surgeries. Perhaps, the greatest reward in this profession is the satisfaction derived from a successful surgery, for having been a small part of the procedure.