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Circulating Nurse Duties

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Although they are involved in all stages of patient surgery, the term circulating nurse was coined because this professional "circulates" the operating room ensuring procedures are being followed. To become a circulating nurse, you need to get your four-year nursing degree, specializing in surgical nursing, earn your registered nurse license and get your operating room nurse certification. Circulating nurses are included in the Bureau of Labor Statistics general medical and surgical hospitals category, earning a median salary of $66,650 as of May 2010.

Operating Room Preparation

The circulating nurse checks all equipment, such as cautery and suction machines, prior to every operation to make sure they are functioning correctly. She ensures the operating theater is clean, the lights work, the operating table is functional and all furniture in the room is ready to use. In this role, she also helps the scrub nurse prepare the operating room by placing a clean sheet and pillow on the operating table and providing a clean kick bucket and pail.


As the main coordinator in the OR, the circulating nurses assists the anesthesiologist by correctly positioning the patient to receive anesthesia. The position depends on the procedure that will be performed. If spinal anesthesia is required, for example, the patient is positioned in a quasi-fetal position. After the anesthesia is administered, the circulating nurse follows the anesthesiologist's instructions for repositioning the patient and places his arms in arm boards and restraints to prevent him from inadvertently injuring himself. To prepare for the operation, she exposes the patient's skin and, if necessary catheterizes him.


Although the circulating nurse is not scrubbed in, she remains in the theater throughout the operation, monitoring lights, connecting or adjusting equipment and replenishing sponges. She may be called upon to refocus a light, reposition a kick bucket, or replenish and record sponges and sutures. It's the circulating nurse's duty to make sure the door remains closed throughout the patient's operation to maintain his privacy and make sure he is fully covered except when nudity is unavoidable.

End of Surgery

As the operation is drawing to a conclusion, the circulating nurse assists with the final sponge and instrument count, as each must be accounted for. She signs the theater register and ensures everyone attending also signs. Other post-op duties include performing quality checks, such as ensuring all specimens are correctly labelled and signed, and assisting the surgeons and scrub nurse in making sure the patient is in the correct position and resting comfortably. She also returns all equipment to their starting positions, making sure it's clean and ready for the next procedure.

Registered Nurses salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $116,230 ($55.88/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $75,330 ($36.22/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $53,410 ($25.68/hour)

Brenda Scottsdale is a licensed psychologist, a six sigma master black belt and a certified aerobics instructor. She has been writing professionally for more than 15 years in scientific journals, including the "Journal of Criminal Justice and Behavior" and various websites.

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