Top Skills Needed to Succeed as an Ortho Scrub Nurse

Feb 27, 2023

Orthopaedic Scrub Nurses collaborate directly with surgeons inside the sterile field (hence the name ‘scrub’) and are responsible for assisting the surgeons during a procedure. Working as a scrub nurse is highly rewarding, with respectable pay prospects. The salary range for scrub nurses starts at about £25,000 at entry-level and can reach upwards of £55,000 for seasoned professionals, depending on location and sector, or for an agency.

So, what does it take to be an orthopaedic scrub nurse? Below, we’ll delve into what the job involves and what you’ll need to pursue it as a career.

How Scrub Nurses Work in the Operating Room

Scrub nurses are part of a larger team of surgical cape-wearing superheroes who quietly work their magic to ensure each procedure is a success, alongside the surgeons, the theatre manager and the anaesthesiologists.

As a scrub nurse, you’re responsible for preparing the operating room and setting up the operating table with the correct instruments that will be used during the procedure. This involves laying out and organising all the instruments in the right order for the scheduled procedure.

Circulating nurses, also known as scout nurses, work closely with scrub nurses. They’re in charge of organising the procedure paperwork and refilling supplies. They also count all the instruments after each procedure is over, to ensure nothing is unaccounted for. Scrub and circulating nurses can alternate shifts throughout the day, depending on what procedures are on the schedule.

Circulating nurses can work in non-sterile areas too, so they can help scrubbed theatre staff with handling non-sterile surfaces. As a scrub nurse, your strong working relationship with circulating nurses comes in handy when you need help with scratching your itchy nose or adjusting your eyeglasses!

Perioperative nurses also work as part of the team to assess and prep each patient before surgery, help with post-op recovery and look after the patient discharge process.

Essential Scrub Nurse Skills

So, how do you know you’ve got what it takes to work in an operating theatre? The core skills and qualifications of nursing are central to scrub nurse work, but there’s a lot more to it – especially these specific attributes.

  1. Teamwork and collaboration

The ability to work well and get along with others is crucial in an operating theatre. Scrub nurses are part of a highly efficient machine where everyone has specific tasks to perform. As everyone must work together to ensure the patient’s safety, there is no room for prima donnas or slackers.

  1.  Excellent communication skills

Inside the operating theatre, knowing when to listen and speak up is paramount. Everyone present is dependant on each other to communicate clearly and bring attention to any issues or emergencies that arise. As a scrub nurse, you can’t step away from a sterile procedure (unscrub) once you’ve become sterile, so you must be able to communicate your needs to the circulating nurse efficiently.

Bedside skills are no less important for scrub nurses. At times you may need to communicate with patients and their families before or after a procedure and ease their concerns.

  1. Highly organised

Anticipating what a surgeon will need next makes up the bulk of the work for a scrub nurse, so you’ll need a solid understanding of the surgical instruments, anatomy, and the procedure you’re assisting with. Speed is essential, as you often have just seconds to find the next item the surgeon needs.

  1. Focus and diligence

Multi-tasking is the true superpower of the scrub nurse, as they juggle several critical tasks at once. These could be a combination of ensuring patient safety and monitoring vital signs, making sure sterile areas and items don’t become unsterile, accounting for every instrument, sponge and piece of raytec gauze, watching the surgeon(s) at work, and keeping an eye on stray medical students in the theatre.

While operating theatre teams do enjoy strong camaraderie, the theatre can be a tense and quiet space where concentration and focus are the name of the game. When an arthroplasty is underway, it’s unlikely you’ll get opportunities to chat with colleagues about your latest Netflix obsession!

  1. Problem-solving and critical thinking

In any operating theatre things can go wrong. The equipment can fail, a patient’s vital signs can go haywire, a sterile area may become contaminated, or a patient’s allergy might suddenly present itself. Others will be relying on you to think fast on your feet about what to do next. Knowing your equipment and protocols inside out will help you adapt to situations quickly and find new solutions.

  1. Resilience

A day in the life of an ortho scrub nurse can involve long hours and lots of time on your feet. (Bladder control is an underrated but critical skill while in scrubs!)

In orthopaedics, you may also be working on emergency procedures dealing with traumatic injuries, so you’ll need to have good coping mechanisms for these situations. Many people new to the role often get caught off guard by the dramatic sight of an arterial bleed!

Emotional resilience, a calm temperament, and the ability to work well under pressure will serve you and your patients well.

How to Become an Ortho Scrub Nurse

Completing a degree to become a registered nurse (RN) is the first step toward becoming a scrub nurse in the UK, along with obtaining a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and a Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration.

To get ready for the operating theatre, a Surgical First Assistant (SFA) qualification will give you the necessary skills for working in surgeries and pre-and-post-operative care.

Gaining experience in general orthopaedics as an RN will give you an added advantage, so you can get familiar with plastering, reconstructive procedures, and rehabilitation. Additionally, working in other theatres such as emergency and ENT can also give you valuable experience when you move into orthopaedic surgery. And if you’re unsure as to how to get into this field, our team of Nursing recruitment specialists are a great source of information.


The days can be long as an orthopaedic scrub nurse, but highly satisfying. Having endurance and the ability to think quickly on your feet will help patients get the best outcome possible. You will be rewarded by helping people to heal after a trauma, improve mobility and overcome pain, while working with a close-knit team. There’s a lot to like!

Are you looking for a scrub nurse position? Whether you have years of experience or are exploring a new career avenue, our team of Orthopaedic Nursing recruitment specialists can connect you with the best healthcare employers in the UK. Get in touch with us today for a chat about your next nursing role.