What Does A Scrub Nurse Do?

What Does A Scrub Nurse Do?

Are you a nurse in training wanting to know more about what scrub nurses do? Or maybe you know a scrub nurse and are curious about what their job entails? If that’s the case, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to discover the main responsibilities and duties of a scrub nurse, both in and out of the operating room.

Scrub nurses and their role

Scrub nurse, or theatre nurse, is a colloquial term for an instrument nurse. Part of the “sterile team” required to wear scrubs, gowns and gloves in the operating room (OR), scrub nurses play a central role in all surgical procedures. They’re positioned right next to the surgeon so they can hand over sterile instruments and supplies throughout each operation. Being present for both elective surgeries and life-saving procedures, scrub nurses are required to have technical mastery, intra-operative knowledge and interpersonal skills to work with the entire surgical team.

What does a scrub nurse do?

To better understand the vital role scrub nurses play in the operating theatre, let’s delve into their duties on a typical working shift.


  • Before surgery 

Since most of the day will be spent in surgery, the first step involves checking the board to see which procedures and surgeons they’ll be working with. Scrub nurses are responsible for ensuring the correct consumables and surgical equipment are set up in the operating room as well as organising them on the back table and the “mayo stand” (a small table with two legs on wheels, positioned close to the incision site, at the discretion of the scrub nurse). The most commonly used instruments for the particular procedure are placed on the mayo stand for ease of use.

  • During surgery 

With the prep work out the way, let’s explore what a scrub nurse does during surgery. In modern-day TV shows, scrub nurses are shown elbow-to-elbow with a surgeon, passing them equipment and supplies as they operate on the patient — and this depiction is actually accurate. One of the main responsibilities of a scrub nurse is to assist the lead surgeons by passing and receiving their medical instruments. Scrub nurses that have an in-depth knowledge of the procedure and are able to anticipate the next item needed are highly appreciated and sought-after by surgeons as this kind of cooperation makes the surgery flow smoothly.

While in surgery, a scrub nurse is required to maintain an inventory of all the items and instruments used and count them when closing. Experienced scrub nurses keep a running tally of key supplies, such as sponges and needles, at all times. It is much easier to stop and find a missing item right away than try and locate it at the end of the procedure.

Another key responsibility of a scrub nurse during surgery is to monitor the sterile environment. An important component of infection prevention is around the patient’s incision site and on the stands holding the surgical tools and equipment that is kept aseptic by using sterile surgical drapes. Never left unattended, the sterile field can only be entered by scrubbed personnel. The circulating nurse, also called a circulator, is usually responsible for coordinating the different personnel in the OR and ensuring the procedure flows smoothly from set-up to end, but they cannot enter the sterile environment as they are not scrubbed in. Communication between the scrub nurse — who is front-and-centre of any action involving the patient — and the circulator is key for a successful operation.

  • After surgery

Once the surgery is completed, the scrub nurse hands the patient over to the recovery team and relays any necessary post-operative information. It’s the scrub nurse’s job to fill out a patient’s care plan with details of the procedure and, in certain settings, act as part of their care team after surgery.

If these tasks and duties sound impressive, you might be surprised to know that this is only a small fraction of what a scrub nurse does every day. From documenting and administering medication during surgery to monitoring a patient’s respiratory and cardiovascular signs and filling out detailed post-surgery reports, scrub nurses have myriad responsibilities to fulfil before, during and after surgery as well.

Are scrub nurses and surgical nurses the same?

If you are familiar with surgical nurses' role, you might have noticed a certain overlap while reading about what a scrub nurse does. And you’re not wrong. Surgical nurses, technically called perioperative nurses, can take on the role of the scrub nurse during an operation, along with a variety of other nursing roles — such as being the anaesthetic nurses, circulating nurses and more for the surgery at hand. It’s not uncommon for the same nurse to cover several of these roles at different times and for different procedures. For surgical nurses, having direct exposure to all the specialist duties that fall under the preoperative nurse umbrella broadens their skillset, so many will actively try and gain that experience.

Scrub nurses’ best equipment and supplies

Just like the rest of the surgical team, scrub nurses need durable, comfortable equipment. Since they are on their feet for many hours at a time, sturdy and supportive shoes are a must, while breathable, soft scrubs make the workday more enjoyable.

Whether you are an aspiring scrub nurse or shopping for a friend or family member, take a look at the eNurse range of nursing scrubs, equipment and accessories to find all the products needed to succeed in the job.

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