Demand for OR Nurses Driving Strong Job Market


By Anita Wong, contributor

Operating room nurses care for patients in all phases of surgery, working as part of a skilled surgical team to improve or save a patient's life. As the volume of surgeries in the U.S. grows, registered nurses can find permanent and travel OR nurse jobs across the country.

Also known as perioperative or surgical nurses, OR nurses manage a variety of duties, including preparing a patient for surgery, maintaining a sterile environment, assisting the surgeon and monitoring vital signs. It's a challenging but rewarding specialty in which you can make an immediate impact on a patient's well-being.

The growing need for OR nurses

In a 2018 survey in the journal OR Manager, nearly half of respondents (mostly directors, nurse managers and administrators) reported increased volume in surgical procedures in their operating rooms. While about one-third of OR managers increased staff to meet this demand, 45% had between one and three surgical nurse positions open and 28% of managers had four or more OR nurse jobs to fill.

The need for OR nurses is expected to grow between 1% to 2% annually, as reported by the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses. This growth is compounded not only by increased surgical volume, but also by a shortage of qualified nurses. In the next five years, 20% of OR nurses are expected to reach retirement age.

What's driving this growth?

The baby boomer effect

Baby boomers are the generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964. The first of the baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011. The U.S. Census Bureau notes that by 2029, more than 20% of Americans will be over the age of 65.

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that as this cohort moves into retirement and old age, they have an increased need for healthcare. Comparing the health of baby boomers to the previous generation, the study found:

  • 39% of boomers are obese, compared to 29% of the previous generation
  • 16% have diabetes, compared to 12%
  • 43% have hypertension, compared to 36%
  • 74% have high cholesterol, compared to 34%
  • More than half of baby boomers don't exercise regularly


The shift to ambulatory surgery centers

The healthcare landscape is changing, with ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) having a growing impact. Becker's ASC Review reports that ASCs handled 33% more surgeries from 2006 to 2013. Some of these outpatient facilities are based in hospitals, but nearly 73% are freestanding. According to a report by Kenneth Research, the number of ASCs is expected to grow as the private sector and government work together to invest in and develop them.

An average 6% to 7% annual growth in procedures performed at ASCs is projected through 2021, according to research by Bain & Company, particularly in orthopedic, cardiology and spinal surgeries. This growth is fueling the need for qualified surgical professionals.

OR travel nursing opportunities

As healthcare facilities face challenges in staffing operating rooms, many are turning to travel agencies to fill the gaps. This is creating opportunities for RNs who want to experience different work environments on temporary travel assignments.

The 2018 OR Manager survey found that 20% of respondents increased their use of agency staff in 2018 to meet surgical volume. These travel operating room nurse jobs were in hospitals (20%), community hospitals (21%) and teaching hospitals (22%).

While perioperative nurses are needed across the country, three states in particular currently have a high demand for qualified staff: California, Washington and Texas. You can browse current OR travel nursing opportunities here.

Boosting your career potential

The outlook for OR nurse jobs is very bright, and you can take advantage of these openings by ensuring you have appropriate skills and qualifications. The Association of periOperative Nurses encourages OR nurses to obtain the Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR) credential to demonstrate you're trained to safely care for patients.

CNOR accreditation may lead to better compensation and open the doors to higher paying facilities and more responsibilities. AORN's 2018 salary survey found 38% of staff nurses, 60% of nurse managers and 48% of directors/assistant directors of nursing have CNOR certification.

Consider applying your surgical nursing skills where they're most needed, caring for diverse patient populations in desirable locations throughout the United States. Take the first step toward a rewarding travel nurse career today.


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