Roles of a Scrub Nurse

Scrub nurses play a vital part on the surgical team.
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Scrub nurses spend their time in the middle of the surgical action -- and unlike on TV, most surgeons don't throw instruments, anymore. The ability to duck is no longer a surgical nurse requirement. In many hospitals, surgical scrub technicians, not nurses, have a place at the OR table. But some hospitals still utilize nurses and on some units, particularly labor and delivery, scrubbing in for surgery is part of the job.

Setting Up

Scrub nurses assist on a number of different surgeries, many using specialized instruments. Knowing which instrument trays to set for a each type of surgery and, as importantly, which type of instruments certain surgeons prefer, is part of the scrub nurses' job. Scrub nurses set out instruments in a certain order, so that they can easily find what the surgeon is looking for. Only staff members who have scrubbed first can touch the instruments, to decrease infection risk. Once a nurse has scrubbed in for a surgery, she can't touch any nonsterile objects until the surgery ends.

Handing Out

During the surgery, the surgeon will need certain instruments, usually in a typical order. A good scrub nurse anticipates what a surgeon will want in advance and has it ready before he has to ask for it. In addition to surgical instruments, a scrub nurse also has the sutures needed for different surgeries ready for use. The surgeon often just holds his hand out and waits for the scrub nurse to place the right instrument in it in a way that he can immediately use it without repositioning it.


No one wants to go home with a few extra metal instruments, so the scrub nurse and circulating nurse count the instruments, sutures and the sponges -- which resemble diapers more than sponges -- several time during every surgery. The two complete one count before the start of the surgery, several during the surgery, depending on how long it lasts, and one at the end. If the count comes up wrong, the scrub nurse lets the surgeon know and helps look for the missing object without touching any nonsterile areas. If the count is still wrong at the end of the surgery, it's up to the surgeon to make sure nothing is left inside the surgical site.

Cleaning Up

After the surgery, the scrub nurse often helps the circulating nurse clean up the room, including making sure that all instruments make it out of the room to be sterilized. Surgical instruments are generally stored in cases that include the most common instruments for certain surgeries. Missing instruments can cause a problem for the next scrub nurse who uses that particular instrument case. Attention to detail is essential for scrub nurses.


Scrub nurses usually receive the same pay as other nurses with their education. Scrub nurses work in hospitals, same-day-surgery units or clinics. Both licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and registered nurses (RNs) can act as scrub nurses, depending on the hospital's requirements. RNs made a median salary of $64,690 per year in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Median pay for LPNs was $40,380 per year in 2010, the BLS reports.

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