How To Become a Scrub Nurse in the USA (2023)

Scrub nurses, sometimes called surgical nurses, are vital to any surgical team. These nurses work to maintain a sterile environment within the operating room. In addition, they assist the surgeon and help minimize complications during surgery.

While scrub nurses usually work the day shift, they’re often on-call for emergency surgeries that can happen at any time. That means they may be called in on weekends, holidays, or the middle of the night.

Here, we’ll discuss how to become a scrub nurse, what certifications are available, opportunities for advancement as a scrub nurse, and how much money scrub nurses make.

What are the steps to becoming a scrub nurse?

What are the educational requirements for becoming a scrub nurse? Do you have to take an exam? What certifications and specialties are available? These are the questions answered in the sections below.

Earn a nursing degree

The first step to becoming a scrub nurse is to become a registered nurse (RN). Next, you’ll need to earn either an associate’s degree in nursing or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). A bachelor’s degree takes four years.

While the ADN requires less time, some employers require a BSN. You’ll also need a BSN for some certifications and advancement opportunities.

Pass the NCLEX-RN nursing exam

Once you’ve completed your education requirements, you must pass an exam to become an RN. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the NCLEX-RN. You’ll need one to two months to study for this exam.

Gain work experience

Now that you’re an RN, you must go to work. Finding a job won’t be hard. Elderly Americans are one of the fastest-growing population groups. With an aging population, demand across the healthcare sector is higher than ever before. Experts expect a 9% growth in demand for scrub nurses through 2030.

It’s best to work in an operating room, as certifications for scrub nurses require a certain amount of surgical experience.

Consider specialty qualifications

As a scrub nurse, you have several opportunities for certifications, including critical care RN (CCRN), certified nurse operating room (CNOR), and Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN).


The American Association of Critical Care Nurses (AACN) provides several CCRN certifications, including

  • CCRN (Adult)

  • CCRN (Pediatric)

  • CCRN (Neonatal)

    (Video) A Day in the Life of a Scrub Nurse

  • CCRN-K (Adult)

  • CCRN-K (Pediatric)

  • CCRN-K (Neonatal)

  • CCRN-E (Adult)

The CCRN-Ks are for “knowledge professionals.” These RNs influence patients' care but do not provide direct care. The CCRN-E is for RNs working remotely via video. Next, we’ll focus on CCRNs that provide direct care to adults.

The first step to becoming a CCRN (Adult) is, of course, to become an RN. We’ve already covered that, so let’s jump to the experience requirements. You have two options: the two-year option or the five-year option.

For the two-year option, you must have completed 1,750 hours of direct care to acutely/critically ill adults while an RN or advanced practice RN (APRN) within the last two years. At least 875 of those hours must have accrued within the previous year.

For the five-year option, you must have completed 2,000 hours of direct care to acutely/critically ill adults while an RN or APRN within the last five years. At least 144 of those hours must have accrued within the last year.

Once you have met the experience requirements, you’re eligible to take the exam. After you pass the exam, you’re a CCRN.


As an RN, you can take the CNOR exam after completing at least two years and 2,400 hours in a perioperative setting. You will need 1,200 hours of experience in an intraoperative environment. At the time you take the exam, you will need to work either full-time or part-time in one of the following settings:

  • Perioperative nursing clinical practice

  • Nursing Education

  • Nursing Administration

  • Research



The Medical Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) offers the CMSRN credential. You need two years as an RN in a medical-surgical setting and 2,000 hours practicing as an RN within the last three years to qualify for this exam. Pass the exam, and you’ll have this certification.

Apply for scrub nurse jobs

As mentioned, scrub nurses are in heavy demand. A few years ago, a few studies showed having too many choices makes people unhappy. You know a great deal about nursing. But do you know as much about potential employers? How are you going to decide? That is where working with experts can help you find the right fit for you.

Can you become a scrub nurse online?

There are several options for taking online classes for ADN and BSN degrees. So, yes, you can qualify for the NCLEX-RN with online courses. But you’re not a scrub nurse until you’re an RN working as a scrub nurse. So before considering online classes, ensure you’re dealing with a reputable school.

What is the difference between a scrub nurse and a registered nurse?

Scrub nurses, sometimes called surgical nurses or perioperative nurses, are RNs that specialize in keeping the surgical environment sterile and assisting the surgeon.

What positions can you progress to from being a scrub nurse?

Being a scrub nurse sets you up for many other opportunities. We have already touched on CCRN, CNOR, and CMSRN certifications. Those are just the start. Other areas of opportunity include

  • RNFA

  • Nurse practitioner (NP)

  • CRNA

  • APRN

Frankly, this list doesn’t come close to showing all the opportunities. However, your experience in a surgical setting lays the foundation for multiple paths for advancement.

You can advance to become an RN first assistant (RNFA). This means you’re the surgeon’s primary assistant. In this role, you’ll perform some tasks that most people believe only surgeons perform. Some of the tasks you will perform:

  • Handling and cutting tissue

  • Suturing the patient

  • Stopping bleeding

    (Video) What it's Like to be an Operating Room Nurse

  • Preparing the surgical site

  • Using medical devices

As you can see, RNFA is an important position. You’ll need to complete courses that can require a few days to a few weeks. You may also need a 140-hour internship before you’re an RNFA. To be eligible for the RNFA program, you’ll need to be an RN with a BSN. You must also be a CNOR with two years of perioperative nursing experience.

Notice that RNFA programs aren’t open to RNs with associate degrees. But it’s worth the extra work to become an RNFA because they earn very high salaries. According to, the average salary for an RNFA in the US is $106,000.

Both CRNAs and NPs make six-figure incomes. You can advance to these jobs with a master’s degree in nursing (MSN), which requires two to three years. RNFAs, NPs, and CRNAs are advanced practice RNs (APRNs). Your work as a scrub nurse can help you reach many other types of APRN positions.

Do your scrub nurse exam qualifications expire?

Yes. The CMSRN expires after five years unless renewed. To be eligible for renewal, you must accrue 90 hours of continuing education over the past five years and 1,000 hours working in a surgical setting.

CNOR certifications expire after five years. You must work in perioperative care to be eligible to recertify. In addition, CCRN certifications require a continuing education requirement. If you cannot meet this requirement, you can take an exam to recertify.

How much do scrub nurses make?

The median salary for a scrub nurse across the US is $73,366.94. The state with the highest median salary for scrub nurses is Hawaii at $119,905, followed by California at 105,852. Conversely, the states with the lowest median salary for scrub nurses are North Carolina at $57,972, Florida at $57,262, Tennessee at $52,519, and in last place is Mississippi at $52,296.

It’s important to remember that these are median salaries. That means half of the scrub nurses make more than these numbers, and the other half earns less. That’s slightly different from averages since a few higher earners can skew the average. For example, if Bill Gates walks into a bar where 99 other people are all homeless, the average net worth of each person in the bar is $1 billion.

A few high earners can have a similar effect on income averages. It also matters that you can’t buy near as much with $119,905 in Hawaii as you can in Alabama. Consider the cost of living in a location before moving there to make the highest salary. The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) provides good data on how far your money will go in different states.

Entry-level salaries will be on the lower side of the median, while more experienced scrub nurses will make on the higher side of the median. Similarly, scrub nurses with ADNs usually earn less than those with BSNs.

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

How long does it take to become a scrub nurse?

You can become a scrub nurse shortly after becoming an RN. However, since you can complete the educational requirements to become an RN in as little as 18 months with an ADN and allow a couple of months to prepare for the NCLEX-RN, you’re looking at 20 months to become a scrub nurse if your first job is as a scrub nurse.

Becoming certified takes longer. The first level of certifications requires 2,000 hours of practice or, sometimes, two full years. After that, you will need a BSN to be eligible for some certificates. That’s a four-year degree, though many people complete their BSN in less than four years.


There are ADN to BSN programs, sometimes called RN to BSN, that you can take entirely online. This allows you to get your bachelor’s degree while working as a scrub nurse.

This may be your best option if you’re in a hurry to reach the hands-on training you can only get in the operating room but would like your BSN too.

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

Extra FAQs about becoming a scrub nurse

This FAQ will answer some fundamental questions many prospective nurses ask.

Is it hard to be a scrub nurse?

This answer depends on you. It’s not easy for anyone. The educational requirements may be quick, but the work experience can be tough on some people. If you enjoy the camaraderie of the high-pressure operating room environment, being a scrub nurse may come easier to you. But on the other hand, some people find this environment too stressful, resulting in burnout.

What’s the difference between a nurse and a scrub nurse?

A nurse is a general term. Nurses work across many fields and settings. For example, scrub nurses are specialists who focus on their surgery team role.

What does a scrub RN do?

A scrub nurse’s primary duty is to maintain a sterile environment in the operating room. But they also may:

  • Hand tools to the surgeon

  • Set up the operating room for the patient

  • Assist the surgical team in other ways

Is a scrub nurse an RN?

Yes, scrub nurses are RNs that specialize in assisting the surgical team. There’s some overlap between what a scrub nurse and a surgical tech do.


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(Video) A Day in the Life of General Operating Room Nurses - Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC)

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How many years does it take to be a scrub nurse? ›

Becoming a surgical nurse takes at least two years if earning an ADN or four years for a BSN. It takes six years to earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) and become a nurse practitioner. To become certified, you need at least two years of experience in nursing and at least 2,000 hours of work as a surgical nurse.

What qualifications do you need to be a nurse USA? ›

You will need either a nursing diploma from an accredited RN program, an associate degree in nursing, or a bachelor's degree in nursing. Prepare to sit for the nurse licensing exam. Take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for registered nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Is it hard to become a nurse in USA? ›

Nursing requires more dedication than many other careers. However, it's one of the most rewarding jobs you can have. Nursing school is notoriously difficult—and it's not for everyone. Graduate school is challenging as well.

Is a scrub nurse an RN? ›

Best Nurse Midwifery Schools

A surgical nurse, also known as a Perioperative nurse, Operating Room nurse (OR), or scrub nurse, is a Registered Nurse that's been trained to assist during surgeries.

What is the fastest way to become a nurse in the US? ›

An associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) are the two most common fast track options. With each of these ways to receive nursing instruction, they require passing the NCLEX licensure examination.

What is a scrub nurse called? ›

Surgical nurses are also known as perioperative nurses, and work in the OR and with surgery patients before, during, and after their surgery. There are many specific things that a perioperative trained registered nurse will do to help surgeons and nurse practitioners during surgery.

What is the title of a scrub nurse? ›

A scrub nurse, also called a perioperative or operating room (OR) nurse, plays a key role in providing safe and effective medical care by serving as an assistant to the surgeon during operations.

What is the major of a scrub nurse? ›

Scrub nurses usually study nursing, medical technician or nursing science.

Do hospitals sponsor green card? ›

Again, the basic requirements most hospitals will require to sponsor a nurse green card are: NCLEX RN license. Nursing degree. Healthcare skills.

Can I work as a nurse in USA without NCLEX? ›

Is NCLEX mandatory to work as a foreign nurse? While the NCLEX exam is not technically required to work as a nurse in the United States, employers typically require it. This is because the exam serves as a way to assess a nurse's knowledge and competency in order to ensure patient safety.

What is the age limit for nurses in USA? ›

There are currently no age limits on enrolment in American nursing schools, although there are limits enforced in the military nurse corps.

What is the easiest nurse to become? ›

An LPN or LVN program usually takes around a year to complete, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). What makes an LPN or LVN preparation program the easiest type of nursing education you can pursue is its focus on training for basic nursing services only and its quick completion time.

What is the hardest nursing class? ›

Hardest Nursing School Classes
  • Pathophysiology. In this course, students learn how different anatomical systems work and how diseases or injuries affect these systems. ...
  • Pharmacology. ...
  • Medical Surgical 1 (also known as Adult Health 1) ...
  • Evidence-Based Practice.

What state is the easiest to become a nurse? ›

Easiest states to become a nurse – Length of licensing process
  • Maine: 1-2 weeks.
  • Maryland: 2-3 days.
  • Missouri: 2 weeks.
  • Nevada: 1-2 weeks.
  • North Carolina: 1-2 weeks.
  • North Dakota: 1-2 weeks.
  • Texas: 2 weeks.
  • Vermont: 3-5 business days.

What is scrub nurse short? ›

: a nurse who assists the surgeon in an operating room.

Can scrub nurses perform surgery? ›

Nurses cannot perform surgical procedures independently. Nurses can fill many different roles before, during, and after surgical procedures. Consider additional training or education to get the job you are most interested in.

Is scrub nurse stressful? ›

Perioperative nurses work in one of the most high-stress environments in the nursing field. They only have one person on their patient load, which speaks volumes to the scrutiny of mistakes. Working in an OR can be taxing physically and mentally, and nurses need outlets to cope with day-to-day stress.

What is the shortest nursing program? ›

Licensed Practical Nurse

An LPN program prepares students to become practical nurses in as little as 54 weeks.

What is the shortest nursing course? ›

Undergraduate Certificate or Diploma Courses in Nursing
Course NameDuration
G.N.M.3 years - 3.5 years
Advanced Diploma in Ophthalmic Care Management2 Years
Diploma in Home Nursing1 Year
Diploma in Emergency and Trauma Care Technician2 Years
9 more rows

What type of nurse are most demanding in USA? ›

Registered nurse (RN)

BSN-prepared nurses are the most sought-after RNs in the job market and can advance to leadership and management roles more quickly than the ASN nurse.

What is scrub nursing skill? ›

Three common soft skills for a scrub nurse are communication skills, compassion and detail oriented.

What is the difference between a scrub nurse and a regular nurse? ›

Scrub Nurses are registered nurses who specialize in assisting during surgical procedures. Registered nurses can work in several departments but are not randomly assigned to the OR. Scrub Nurses specialize in surgical care and assistance, so they are RNs with a concentration in surgery.

Why are nurses called scrubs? ›

Today any medical uniform consisting of short-sleeved shirts and drawstring pants is called a scrub. The uniform acquired its name quite simply because of the fact it was initially worn by medical personnel in the scrubbed environment.

What state do scrub nurses make the most? ›

What State Pays Scrub Nurses The Most Per Hour? Hawaii has the highest Scrub Nurse salary at $57.65 per hour, or $119,905. This salary is 63% higher than the national average for all Scrub Nurses.

What does a scrub nurse do on a daily basis? ›

Working with patients prior to surgery to complete paperwork, and help answer questions or calm fears about surgery. Monitoring a patient's condition during and after surgery. Selecting and passing instruments and supplies to the surgeon during operation (sometimes referred to as a scrub nurse)

What is a recovery nurse? ›

A Recovery Registered Nurse or Recovery RN is responsible for postoperative care in health facilities including acute care and ambulatory care facilities. The recovery RN is also responsible for preventing any postoperative acute complications and intervening if complications from a surgery occur.

Do nurses get green card easily? ›

Registered nurses are classified by the US Department of Labor as a Schedule A shortage occupation which makes it easier for RNs (and Physical Therapists) to immigrate to the United States than for persons in other occupations.

Can I get a green card if I become a nurse? ›

Nurses can also qualify for a green card if they have a job offer for a full-time position in the United States. These benefits can be significant to those seeking permanent residency.

How to get a green card fast? ›

You can generally request expedited processing by calling the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283 (TTY 800-767-1833) or by asking Emma after you have obtained a receipt notice.

What happens if I fail my NCLEX? ›

NCLEX-RN candidates can fail the NCLEX and retest up to eight times each year in most states. Some states limit the number of times a candidate may retest before a refresher course is required. If you failed the NCLEX, it is best to contact your state Board of Nursing to verify guidelines for repeat testing.

What happens if you never pass the NCLEX? ›

Failing the NCLEX means you will not be issued a nursing license. Nursing school graduates in every state must pass the NCLEX-RN before being issued a license to practice as a registered nurse.

Can you be a nurse if you fail the NCLEX? ›

All nurses have to pass the NCLEX to acquire a nursing license and practice. If you fail the exam, you should reschedule and restudy as soon as possible to get closer to working as a nurse. In some states, you must inform your employer once you learn you didn't pass the NCLEX (if you're already employed).

What is the oldest age for nursing? ›

There is no official age limit to becoming a nurse.

Is it too late to study nursing at 50? ›

Thanks to a variety of diverse nursing programs, it's 100% possible to follow your heart and become a nurse at any age. In fact, it's even easier if you already have a bachelor's degree. Whether you want to kickstart your career after having a family, or quit a job that doesn't truly satisfy you, nursing is an option.

Which state is best for NCLEX? ›

Complete List of Average NCLEX Pass Rates by State
State (including Washington D.C.)NCLEX Pass Rate Five-Year Average (2017-2021)Average Salary (2022)
West Virginia90.2%$67,640
District of Columbia90.16%$98,540
47 more rows
Apr 25, 2023

Which type of nurse has the lowest salary? ›

Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) and Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) have the least education requirements among nurses and therefore tend to make lower incomes than other nursing specialties. LVNs and LPNs can increase their income by getting an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in nursing.

What's the easiest job in a hospital? ›

8 Health Care Jobs That Require No Experience
  • Caregiver. ...
  • Medical Assistant. ...
  • Medical Biller. ...
  • Medical Secretary. ...
  • Nursing Assistant. ...
  • Occupational Therapy Aide. ...
  • Patient Sitter. ...
  • Psychiatric Aide.

Which nurse makes the most money? ›

What is the highest-paid nurse? Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists! Earning $195,610 annually, CRNAs earn significantly more than any other type of nurse or nursing specialty.

Is it common to fail nursing class? ›

Many nursing schools require a minimum grade of roughly 80% to actually pass, as well. By the time you realize you aren't doing well enough to be successful in the course, the choices can be pretty limited. Failure happens all the time. It happens every day...

How many nursing students fail? ›

How many nursing students fail? According to the National League of Nursing, the dropout rate for nursing programs in the United States is around 20%.

Why is RN school so hard? ›

Why is nursing school so hard? The top 6 challenges of earning a BSN include the rigorous curriculum, fast pace, need for multitasking, time commitment, personal sacrifices, and NCLEX preparation. However, despite these rigors, it's possible to rise up and master how to succeed in nursing school.

What is the fastest nursing license to get? ›

5 States Where One Can Get a Nursing License Quickly
  • Georgia. ‍Georgia notoriously has one of the quickest turnaround times for permanent nursing licensure. ...
  • Alabama. ‍Alabama is another state with an average licensure time frame of around 2-3 weeks. ...
  • Hawaii. ...
  • South Carolina. ...
  • Kentucky. ...
  • Summary.

What state has the lowest paying nurses? ›

The lowest-paying states are South Dakota ($60,540), Alabama ($61,920), Mississippi ($63,130), Iowa ($64,990), and Arkansas ($65,810).

How many times can you take the Nclex? ›

Frequently Asked Questions About the NCLEX

According to NCSBN rules, you can take the NCLEX eight times a year with 45 days in between attempts.

How do I become a US military nurse? ›

What Are the Steps to Become a Military Nurse?
  1. Step 1: Earn a BSN. Military nurses will need to earn a minimum of a BSN. ...
  2. Step 2: Pass the NCLEX Exam. ...
  3. Step 3: Obtain RN Licensure. ...
  4. Step 4: Gain Civilian Nursing Experience or Enlist as a Graduate Nurse.
Aug 12, 2022

What type of nurse is a scrub nurse? ›

Scrub nurse. Scrub nurses do a surgical scrub and go into the surgery with the surgical patient and doctors. They set up the operating room for the patient, ensure all the tools are sterile and ready to go, hand tools to the doctor during the surgery, and perform other duties inside the surgical room.

What is the easiest nursing job in a hospital? ›

Low-Stress Nursing Careers
  • Nurse Administrator. ...
  • Public Health Nurse. ...
  • Nurse Researcher. ...
  • Nurse Informaticist. ...
  • Case Management Nurse. ...
  • Home Health Nurse. ...
  • Clinic Nurse. ...
  • Occupational Health Nurse.
Sep 30, 2020

What is the highest paid nurse? ›

What is the highest-paid nurse? Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists! Earning $195,610 annually, CRNAs earn significantly more than any other type of nurse or nursing specialty.

What is the age limit for a U.S. military nurse? ›

Requirements for either active or reserve duty include being between 21 and 47 years old. To qualify for the Army Nurse Corps, you need a BSN from an accredited program; for Army Reserve, a BSN, an associate degree, or a diploma from an accredited school of nursing is required, but the BSN is preferred.

How long is military nursing school? ›

It takes about 3-5 years to become a military nurse, including earning a nursing degree or degrees, becoming licensed, and gaining work experience. This time period can also include sitting for a certification exam.

How long is military nurse training? ›

The Army Public Health Nursing course lasts nine weeks and is offered at The Army Medical Department Center and School in Texas. This course requires a minimum of one year's experience in military nursing (any clinical specialty).

Do you have to go to med school to be a scrub nurse? ›

Aspiring scrub nurses must get either an associate's degree (ADN), a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN), or a diploma from an approved nursing program to become a registered nurse. All of these scrub nurse programs will require candidates to take courses in the following subjects and others: Physiology. Anatomy.

Do scrub nurses give medication? ›

That said, scrub nurses can monitor patient vitals, administer medication, perform injections and other tasks that surgical technologists cannot typically perform.


1. Top 5 Perioperative Nursing Tips for the Scrub Nurse
(St. Paul's Hospital OR Clinical Skills)
2. Scrub Nurse Training
(Belfast Health and Social Care Trust)
3. Surgical Technologists: What They Do
(Great Lakes Institute of Technology)
4. Join Renown's Operating Room Registered Nurse Training Program
(Renown Health)
5. Learn more about Perioperative Nursing at Cleveland Clinic
(Cleveland Clinic)
6. From Nurse to Orthopedic Surgeon: How I did it!
(Antonio J. Webb, M.D.)


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