It takes a team of medical professionals to get a patient through surgery. While surgeons handle the operation, anesthesiologists make sure the patient is comfortable. Nurses and technicians help with basics such as controlling bleeding and monitoring equipment. Students interested in operating room careers can spend anywhere from a few months to more than a decade on the right education and training.
Doctors are the highest-profile OR professionals. As general surgeons, they operate to repair bone or tissue after injury, remove tumors and fix physical deformities. General surgeons repair hernias and treat conditions of the digestive tract, pancreas and gallbladder. Surgeons may also specialize in one practice, such as orthopedic surgery to treat musculoskeletal problems, or neurological surgery to treat disorders of the brain and spine. Other common specialties include cardiovascular surgery and plastic or reconstructive surgery. Not all OR docs are surgeons: anesthesiologists administer drugs that reduce or eliminate pain during procedures, and monitor patients’ vital stats.
Registered nurses staff operating rooms to assist patients and doctors. Before surgery, OR nurses meet with patients to resolve issues with medication, such as collecting information on drug allergies. In the operating suite, scrub nurses select and pass instruments to doctors. Circulating nurses manage nursing care in the OR, and maintain a safe environment. RN first assistants provide direct surgical care by controlling bleeding and suturing wounds. OR nurses also help develop plans for patient recuperation.
Operating rooms are staffed with technicians who help nurses and doctors before, during and after surgery. Surgical techs check supplies and prepare patients for surgery. They’re also responsible for maintaining a sterile environment during surgery. They help doctors and nurses with gowning and gloving, and assist with sponging and suctioning. Plus, they prepare specimens for laboratory analysis. After surgery is complete, they apply dressings and account for instruments. Anesthesia techs test anesthesia equipment, troubleshoot anesthesia-delivery problems and monitor equipment used to evaluate patients during procedures. In addition, they keep maintenance records on anesthesia equipment.
There’s an OR job for every educational level. Surgical and anesthesia techs need a high school diploma and a postgraduate certificate, which takes one to two years to earn. RNs need a diploma, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing, as well as a certificate in operating room nursing, which requires a semester of work. Surgeons require the most training. It can take more than a decade to work your way into the OR as a doctor, starting with a four-year undergraduate degree, four years of medical school and several years of residency, depending on specialty. Anesthesiologists, for example, must complete a three-year residency, while general surgeons have to finish five years of residency.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.
- Southwestern College: The Operating Room Nursing Program
- Mayo Clinic: Perioperative Nursing
- Chicago Tribune: Operating Room Nurses Rely on Quick Thinking, Thorough Approach
- New York University: Division of General Surgery
- What Physicians and Surgeons Do
- Oakland Community College: Surgical Technology
- Great Lakes Institute of Technology: Surgical Technologist
- University of California, Irvine: Anesthesia Technicians
- Renton Technical College: Anesthesia Technician
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physician or Surgeon
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Physicians and Surgeons
- Career Trend: Physicians and Surgeons
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
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