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What is a Perioperative Nurse?

Career News August 2, 2013

A perioperative nurse is a registered nurse who carries the responsibility of ensuring patient and workplace safety in settings where surgeries and invasive procedures are done. Nurses who worked in such a capacity were once called operating room nurses, but the term perioperative nurse came into play as a more effective reflection of the larger scope of their duties.

Their duties include the patient care and tasks that take place before, during and after surgeries. While they are often found in hospital operating rooms, they can also hold positions in ambulatory surgery centers, physician offices and clinics where invasive procedures take place. In addition to working closely with other health care professionals in the surgical environment, perioperative nurses work with surgical patients and their families.


As registered nurses, perioperative nurse duties extend to include those associated with the primary level of nursing, which are pointed out by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

•Administer treatments and medication to patients
•Record symptoms and medical histories
•Observe patient progress and record observations
•Devise and/or contribute to patient treatment plans
•Monitor and operate equipment
•Assist with diagnostic testing and analysis of results
•Consult with other health care professionals regarding patient care
•Explain at-home treatments and ways of managing illness or injuries

Special focus

The Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, or AORN, outlines a number of specialized aspects that fall under the responsibilities of perioperative nursing. These include:

•Anesthesia equipment
•Safe workplace environment
•Prevention and control of workplace hazards
•Sharps safety
•Surgical item counts and retention
•Transmissible infections

Infection control

The prevention and control of infectious disease is a concern for all nurses, especially those who work in environments where invasive procedures are taking place. The perioperative nurse must have a firm understanding of how infection is spread and the most effective precautionary measures to employ to prevent it. Infection has a higher risk of occurring when contributing factors are present, as noted by Chicago Truman College’s nursing student guide.

Contributing factors to infection

An infectious microorganism has a higher chance of successfully preying on individuals who are in a weakened state when the body is less able to resist. Such a state may be caused by a variety of conditions.

•Poor nutrition
•Invasive procedures and therapies
•Open wounds
•Suppressed immune system

The risk of infection is further amplified if a patient is extremely young or extremely old and suffers from one of the conditions. A hospital or medical setting can also raise the risk of infection due to the presence of antibiotics, the very agents used for infection treatment.

Chain of infection

The chain of infection outlined in the nursing student guide explains each link in the chain needs to exist for infection to occur. Nurses who are aware of each link can not only better understand how infection occurs, but can more effectively prevent it with safe practices that do not allow all links to exist. The links are defined as the following:

•Infectious agent
•Exit portal from the reservoir
•Mode of transmission
•Entry portal into a host

Infection prevention

Preventing the spread of infection, either from patient to patient or patient to worker, is a major responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the perioperative nurse. Truman College says two main practices are key for infection prevention.

Medical asepsis – This practice aims to contain infectious microorganisms and keep contaminants out of the environment. Examples include clean sheets on a patient’s bed, hand washing, and the implementation of facial masks and gowns.

Standard precautions – Standard precautions consist of universal precautions and nosocomial infection. The former focuses on precautions taken when dealing with the threat of blood borne infections. It includes the practice of wearing gloves, facial masks, goggles and gowns. The latter focuses on body substance isolation, once again through the use of protective clothing and accessories. Body substance isolation is especially important in an environment where invasive procedures are common, and blood and other secretions are typical.

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