The Role of a Circulating Nurse

Nurse making notes during surgery
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A circulating nurse is a registered nurse who works in the operating room environment. The circulating nurse does not scrub in and performs job duties that cannot be done by staff that is scrubbed in and must remain sterile.


The circulating nurse is responsible for charting what is happening in the operating room and tracks the supplies and equipment used. The nurse may be called on to obtain supplies and equipment and performs the count of supplies to make sure nothing was left inside the patient's surgical site.

The nurse may also act as an advocate for the patient, who is unable to act on their own behalf while under anesthesia. There may be additional responsibilities including keeping the operating room clean, managing other staff as a shift supervisor or charge nurse, preparing the patient for the procedure, and helping escort the patient to recovery.

Many circulating nurses are also cross-trained as scrub nurses and first assists. This means that they can also work to assist the surgeon by providing necessary tools, or, as a first assist, may be an active participant in the procedure itself.


The circulating nurse is a registered nurse. There are multiple pathways to becoming a registered nurse. Some nurses were trained in diploma programs, but those are no longer widely available. At this time, nurses either obtain a two-year associate's degree nursing education or a four-year bachelor's degree education to become a registered nurse. After graduating but prior to being able to practice, the nurse must pass a national board examination called the NCLEX in order to practice as a nurse.

Also Known As: OR nurse, operating room nurse, surgery nurse, perioperative nurse, registered nurse surgery, circulator, circ nurse, circulator nurse

Examples: The circulating nurse was present in the operating room during the entire procedure.

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Article Sources

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