How To Become a Theatre Nurse (With FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 13 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A theatre nurse, or perioperative nurse, provides health care to patients before, during and after surgical operations. Theatre nurses work alongside doctors, surgeons and registered nurses to provide the best possible standard of health care in medical settings. If you're interested in becoming a theatre nurse, it could be helpful to learn what steps you may need to take to become qualified. In this article, we define the job role, explain how to become a theatre nurse, discuss their key duties and answer frequently asked questions about the career.

What is a theatre nurse?

A theatre nurse works as part of a health care team to provide essential care to patients undergoing surgery in the hospital. Theatre nurses typically work in operating theatres to assist during surgical procedures, but they may also care for patients before and after an operation. Theatre nurses often sterilise surgical equipment and pass surgical instruments to the surgeon throughout the procedure. There are four primary areas of perioperative care that theatre nurses tend to specialise in:

  • Pre-operative nurses: Theatre nurses often specialise in assisting patients before an operation takes place. They may ensure the patient understands the purpose of the procedure and any associated risks.

  • Anaesthetic nurses: These specialists might work alongside an anaesthetist to administer pre-surgery drugs and anaesthetics to patients.

  • Surgical nurses: These theatre nurses provide assist surgeons during an operation. They might prepare surgical instruments or work as a scrub nurse.

  • Post-operative nurses: This specialisation helps theatre nurses focus on providing patients with care after they've undergone surgery to ensure they have the best chance for recovery.

How to become a theatre nurse

A theatre nurse is a specialised role that requires specific nursing qualifications to carry out the job safely. Theatre nurses are highly skilled, educated and experienced health care providers. Here is a straightforward step by step guide on how to become a theatre nurse:

1. Complete high school

Aspiring theatre nurses may aim to achieve excellent grades at high school and obtain their Secondary School Certificate. Good grades provide candidates with a good Australian Tertiary Admissions Ranking (ATAR) score to enter university. Try to take scientific subjects at high school, such as chemistry and biology, to build a strong foundation of knowledge.

Prospective theatre nurses may also want to gain practical care experience while they are still at high school. Candidates can benefit from learning basic first aid through organisations such as St John Ambulance or complete voluntary work in a local care home.

2. Complete a Bachelor of Nursing

Once you have gained your Secondary School Certificate, you can apply for a Bachelor of Nursing at university. A Bachelor of Nursing is a three-year undergraduate course that equips applicants with the skills and knowledge to work as a registered nurse in a hospital.

A Bachelor of Nursing commonly includes a mixture of classroom-based learning and practical experience. Nursing students usually participate in work placements on hospital wards as part of their undergraduate study programme.

3. Become a registered nurse

After completing a Bachelor of Nursing, the next step is to become a registered nurse. Registered nurses are qualified to work in hospital wards providing health care to patients. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia grant registered nurse licences to qualified applicants. They ask professionals to renew their licences once a year.

If you do not have a bachelor's degree in another subject, you may qualify as a registered nurse by completing a postgraduate conversion course. For example, an applicant with a Bachelor of Arts in English may complete a two year Master of Nursing course. You can apply to become a registered nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia once you have completed the course.

Related: Enrolled Nurse Vs. Registered Nurse: (With Definitions)

4. Gain a postgraduate qualification

Registered nurses typically gain an all-around nursing experience working on hospital wards before they specialise in a particular area. You may need at least one year of experience as a registered nurse before specialising as a theatre nurse.

To specialise in theatre nursing, you may consider obtaining a Master of Nursing (Perioperative Nursing) or a Graduate Certificate in Perioperative Nursing.

5. Apply for theatre nurse jobs

After graduating with a postgraduate degree and sufficient experience as a registered nurse, you can start applying for theatre nurse positions. You may find roles in the same hospital where you gained experience as a registered nurse. Alternatively, you can discover opportunities on Indeed's job search.

As your career progresses, you may choose to undertake further specialisations in an area of theatre nursing, such as anaesthetic nursing. You may also take on more responsibility and leadership challenges as a senior theatre nurse.

What does a theatre nurse do?

The role of a theatre nurse is an extremely varied position that includes technical tasks and thorough patient care. A theatre nurse's exact duties and responsibilities depend on their specialisation and job role within a surgical team. For many professionals in this role, key duties and responsibilities may commonly include:

  • Provide reassurance to patients and family before an operation begins, answer questions and address any concerns they may have

  • Ensure that patients and their family are fully aware of why an operation may take place and outline the risks and benefits involved

  • Provide medical assessments of patients before and after operations

  • Collect a patient's medical data and medical history for doctors and surgeons

  • Ensure operating theatres are sterile before and during operations

  • Ensure all surgical equipment is sterile

  • Provide clinical support to surgeons and anaesthetists during the operation, by passing surgical instruments or holding equipment in place

  • Monitor patients' health and providing reports to surgeons during an operation

  • Apply bandages, dressings or stitches to patients

  • Replace bandages and dressings and clean wounds post-surgery

  • Assist with emergency medical procedures, such as CPR, if necessary

  • Stay up to date with the latest hygiene and health care requirements in hospitals

Related: Nurse Responsibilities for 5 Common Types of Nurses

Frequently asked questions about theatre nurse careers

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about how to become a theatre nurse:

What are the most important skills of a theatre nurse?

A successful theatre nurse typically has an excellent range of nursing skills, knowledge of clinical practices and can communicate well with patients and doctors. Many theatre nurses have technical skills that enable them to treat wounds and prepare surgical instruments. Here are the most important skills of a theatre nurse:

  • Nursing skills: Theatre nurses may have a broad range of nursing skills, including the ability to dress wounds, apply bandages and monitor vital signs.

  • Knowledge of clinical practises: Successful theatre nurses often have a comprehensive knowledge of clinical practises, including sterilisation techniques and hygiene.

  • Communication skills: These professionals often have an excellent ability to convey complex medical facts and surgical procedures to patients in an easy-to-understand format.

  • Teamwork: The best theatre nurses are often able to work well as a team and take orders from surgeons, doctors and anaesthetists, They can also collaborate with other nurses in the operating room.

  • A caring nature: Importantly, theatre nurses commonly have a caring and empathetic nature, with a desire to help others and save lives.

Related: Nursing Skills (Definition and Examples)

How much does a theatre nurse earn?

The average salary of a theatre nurse is $81,177 per year. Salaries often depend on location, experience and qualifications. A theatre nurse may have the opportunity to improve their salary by undertaking specialist training in different aspects of perioperative care. Senior theatre nurses may also earn a higher than average salary.

How many years does it take to become a theatre nurse?

The role of a theatre nurse requires specialist skills, education and experience and it takes several years before you can work in an operating theatre. Therefore, it can take a minimum of five to six years to become a qualified theatre nurse.

It takes three years to complete an undergraduate Bachelor of Nursing course. Registered nurses might then spend a minimum of one year gaining experience providing direct care to patients. You may then spend a minimum of one to two years studying for a postgraduate qualification to become a theatre nurse.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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