What is a Scrub Nurse?

Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 July 2017
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A scrub nurse is a medical professional who assists surgeons and other healthcare experts in the operating room. These nurses are required to “scrub in” to each surgery, which is where they get their name. “Scrubbing in” usually involves thoroughly washing hands and arms with an antibacterial soap, then putting on a sterile mask, hat, gown and gloves so that patients cannot be contaminated when their bodies are exposed for surgery. Nurses who work in this environment are usually responsible for handing surgeons the necessary tools and instruments, as well as monitoring the patient’s vital signs.

Specific Role in the Operating Room

Scrub nurses usually work as part of a perioperative nursing team, and play a very important role in most surgeries. They are often described as the surgeon’s primary assistant. They are responsible for arranging all necessary equipment — scalpels, saws, and suction tools, to name a few — and handing them to the surgeon when called.

The nurse is also responsible for ensuring that all needed equipment is in the room before the surgery begins. He or she is typically tasked with sterilizing instruments and ensuring that they are clean. At the end of the procedure, it is the scrub nurse’s job to make sure that all of the equipment is accounted for.

In some cases, the scrub nurse may actually participate in the surgery in limited ways. He or she will often comfort the patient as anesthesiology is administered, for instance, or may hold certain tools in place for surgeons during an operation. The nurse may also be responsible for monitoring the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, or breathing regularity.

Knowledge Required

Even though scrub nurses are not performing any surgeries themselves, they must nevertheless be very knowledgeable about the procedures happening in their presence. It is often the case that more senior nurses are able to pick and choose their surgeries, and can “specialize” to a certain degree. More often than not, however, they are simply assigned to assist in specific procedures. This often requires a bit of studying to keep up with the latest trends, tools, and techniques in order to be effective.

Difference Between Hospital and Private Practice Jobs

Most scrub nurses work on a rotation basis in a hospital. Some work in private practice, however, usually in association with a specific private surgeon. For some procedures, particularly those that are voluntary, patients will hire specialists and surgeons who are independent of regular hospital staff. Many of these surgeons employ their own teams of nurses who accompany them and assist with all procedures.

Both hospital and private practice nurses perform the majority of their job duties in a hospital setting, which can make the distinction somewhat arbitrary when it comes to daily tasks. The main difference is in how they are paid and where their main office is.

Essential Training

Training to become a scrub nurse usually starts with nursing school, often at the graduate level — the vast majority of practitioners are registered nurses, or RNs, which typically requires a master’s degree. Depending on the jurisdiction, nurses may also have to pass certification or licensing exams before being permitted to work in an operating room. Sometimes these are one-time tests, but in many cases they are credentials that must be renewed every few years.

Job Security

There is usually a somewhat steady demand for scrub nurses, which means that the job is relatively secure. The work is often grueling, as many surgeries are long, intense, and happen at all hours of the day and night. In most places, though, the pay is quite competitive, and the potential for advancement is generally strong.

Related Nursing Roles

Scrub nurses are often joined in the operating room by other perioperative assistants known as “circulating nurses.” These professionals typically monitor the periphery of the operating room, ensuring that it remains sterile and secure during the procedure. Circulating nurses are also usually responsible for prepping patients for surgery, and are often nearby when the patients eventually wake up in recovery.

Circulators may also be in charge of communicating with the patient’s family members during the surgery and recovery periods. A scrub nurse is usually too preoccupied with the logistics of the procedure to handle these sorts of details.


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Discuss this Article

Post 7

Scrub nurses and circulating nurses are both roles undertaken by any qualified theatre nurse. For one procedure, they may act in the scrub role, for the next case they may act in the circulating role.

Post 6

could you please describe the difference between a circulatory nurse and a scrub nurse?

Post 5

could you please tell me where is the right position for the scrub nurse during operation? Is it beside the doctor or beside the assistant of the doctor?

Post 4

Sabinab, I found a brief discription of information on the duties of the theatre nurse.

Theatre nurses are nurses that can either be a scrub nurse or a circulation nurse. They can also perform anesthetic duties in some situations. Aside from operations, theatre nurses are responsible for overseeing the completion of prescribed treatments during the patient's recovery period. They can also be trained to provide post-operative consultations.

A scrub nurse is expected to pass operating equipment to the surgeon upon request and are very knowledgeable about every piece of equipment.

The responsibility of the circulation nurse is to obtain and open packs that are to be used in the operating room. This duty requires the circulation nurse to open sensitive materials that need to remain sterile and in perfect condition prior to any procedure.

Post 1

could anyone please describe the roles of a theatre nurse please?

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