Salary of a Perioperative Nurse vs. an RN Nurse

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Perioperative care is a nursing specialty that can pay substantially more than general nursing.
Perioperative care is a nursing specialty that can pay substantially more than general nursing. (Image: Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Perioperative nurses, also called operating room (OR) nurses, are registered nurses (RNs) who work with patients and surgeons immediately before surgery; during surgery, and in the recovery room. During surgery, the perioperative nurse may function as a “scrub nurse,” working inside the sterile area; as a “circulating nurse," working outside the sterile area; or as an “RN first assistant” (RNFA), who performs such aspects of the surgery as suturing and control of bleeding. With experience and certifications, especially the CRNFA, an OR nurse can expect to earn significantly more than a staff or general duty nurse.

Salaries Compared

According to Salary.com, the salary range for an RN in the United States varies from $59,257 to $71,714 with a median of $65,165. In comparison, the salary range for an operating room nurse runs from $62,415 to $74,664 with a median average of $68,473, about $3,000 more than a general duty RN makes. The salary range for an RN surgical first Assistant is $72,037 to $86,384 with a median average of $79,647 -- about $12,000 to $14,000 more per year than a staff RN earns.

Salaries by Certification

Salaries by certification are registered Nurse (RN) $47,892-$77,333; certified nurse, operating room (CNOR)$62,069-$83,745; basic life support (BLS) $51,395-$83,524; pediatric advanced life support (PALS) $46,016-$75,000; certified registered nurse first assistant (CRNFA) $53,660-$74,880; critical care $49,004-$73,356; cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) $49,878-$72,543; advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) $50,263-$72,097. These figures are from April 2011, according to Salary.com.

Salaries by Experience

A general duty nurse may start out at a higher salary than an operating room nurse, but the scales tip in favor of OR nursing after that first year of experience. Salaries by experience for registered nurses: less than one year, $38,386-$52,162; one to four years, $40,517-$59,028; five to nine years, $47,791-$65,730; 10 to 19 years, $49,830-$71,106; 20 years or more, $51,121-$73,879. For OR nurses, the numbers are: less than one year, $35,000-$49,263; one to four years; $41,492-$62,301; five to nine years, $50,877-$71,373; 10 to 19 years, $55,864-$77,041; 20 years or more, $57,953-$79,912.

Best Paying Areas

Based on a sample of 761 perioperative nurses, PayScale reports the highest earnings in these cities: New York, New York $63,893 to $94,600; Chicago, Illinois $52,993 to $92,580; Seattle, Washington $56,334 to $89,724; Houston, Texas $52,402 to $78,742; Los Angeles, California $48,000 to $78,683; Atlanta, Georgia $47,794 to $72,909; Baltimore, Maryland $50,000 to $72,151. But the AORN, whose 2010 salary survey included 4,921 OR nurses, found that the salaries for perioperative nurses are highest in the Pacific region by a margin of some $23,000. Next-highest paying is the New England region, where OR nurses earn about $15,000 more than their colleagues in other parts of the country. Perioperative nurses in the Mid-Atlantic and Mountain regions earn about $7,700 more and $5,000 more respectively. Salaries in other areas were about equal, except in the East South Central region, where perioperative nurses earned about $2,500 less.

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