If you are fascinated by a career in healthcare that allows you to be part of the surgical team then you could achieve that by becoming a Scrub Nurse or Surgical Tech or Surgical Assistant.

While all careers are highly rewarding but have some respective merits, demerits, and distinctions that set them apart.

In this article we’ll first try to discuss Scrub Nurses, understanding who are they, what they do, and how to become one. Then we’ll move ahead to discuss the distinctions between Scrub Nurse and Surgical Tech.

Let’s begin –

scrub nurse vs surgical tech

What is a Scrub Nurse?

A Scrub Nurse, also known as a Surgical Nurse, Theatre Nurse, or Perioperative Nurse, plays a crucial role in the operating room (OR) during surgical procedures.

They work alongside the surgical team, helping them by holding and passing instruments and supplies. They are also responsible for maintaining a sterile and organized environment in the OR while assisting the surgical team.

Read -> What is a Surgical Tech?

What do they do? Duties

Scrub Nurses play a vital role in maintaining patient safety and ensuring the success of surgical procedures.

Their meticulous attention to detail, knowledge of sterile surgical techniques, and ability to work as part of a cohesive surgical team are essential for the healthcare industry.

Here’s what a scrub nurse does –

Sterile Preparation

Scrub nurses are responsible for maintaining the sterile condition in the operating room. They prepare the OR before the surgical procedure, which includes sterilizing surgical instruments, arranging sterile drapes, gowns, and gloves, and setting up the surgical table.

Instrument Handling

They ensure the instruments are sterile to prevent contamination and infection, ensuring that all instruments are readily available when needed.

Assistance During Surgery

They work alongside the surgical team, helping the surgeon by holding and passing instruments and supplies. They anticipate the surgeon’s needs, assist in controlling bleeding, and manipulate tissues for better exposure during the procedure.

Infection Control

Throughout the surgery, scrub nurses monitor the sterile field to ensure infection control protocols are followed.

Patient Care

While their primary focus is on maintaining the sterile field and assisting the surgical team, scrub nurses may also assist in patient care tasks. This can include positioning the patient on the surgical table, ensuring their comfort, and preparing the patient for surgery.

Specimen Handling

They handle and prepare surgical specimens for laboratory analysis. This involves proper labeling, packaging, and documentation of specimens.

Postoperative Duties

After the surgical procedure, scrub nurses may assist in transferring the patient to the recovery room or post-anesthesia care unit. They participate in the process of cleaning and restocking the operating room for the next procedure.


Maintaining accurate documentation of surgical procedures, instrument counts, and other relevant information is crucial for record-keeping, quality assurance, and patient safety.

Collaboration and Communication

Scrub nurses work closely with surgeons, anesthesiologists, surgical technologists, and other healthcare professionals in the OR. Effective communication and teamwork are essential for a smooth workflow during surgery.

Read -> What Does a Surgical Tech Do?

How to Become a Scrub Nurse?

Pros And Cons Of Being A Surgical Tech

A healthcare career is very rewarding, and you get such an exciting career opportunity with Scrub Nurse. As a Scrub nurse, you’ll be working alongside the surgical team by helping them by holding and passing instruments and supplies.

So, if you are wondering how could you become a scrub nurse. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you become one –

Step 1 – Meet the Educational Requirements and Become an RN

To become one, you need to possess an RN status. To achieve that, you either need to have a nursing degree and then the RN Licence or should have acquired an RN License by becoming an LPN.

If you are just starting then you need a high school diploma or equivalent to enroll in nursing programs and then need to have an RN licensure to start your journey as a Scrub Nurse.

Also, if you plan to specialize in perioperative nursing then you should opt for a four-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program, as it offers a more comprehensive education.


-> Surgical Tech Requirements

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Step 2 – Gain Nursing Experience

If you possess the education requirements, you can start to take up externships or work as an RN to try to gain as much real-world experience.

While it is not mandatory it’s highly recommended to gain experience in general nursing before pursuing a career in perioperative nursing. Many healthcare employers prefer candidates with a solid foundation in nursing practice.

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Step 3 – Specialize in Perioperative Nursing

To become a scrub nurse, you’ll need to specialize in perioperative or surgical nursing by completing additional training, such as a perioperative nursing program or a perioperative nursing online course.

These programs provide knowledge about surgical instruments, sterile techniques, and perioperative procedures.

Step 4 – Gain Practical Experience in Perioperative Nursing

After completing your formal education, you may need to complete a certain number of clinical hours as part of your training program.

Gaining experience in the perioperative environment, which can be achieved through internships or working in a surgical unit.

Step 5 – Get Certified  

To become a certified Surgical Nurse or Scrub Nurse, besides NCLEX-RN, you need to obtain additional certification, such as the Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR), which demonstrates your commitment to excellence in perioperative nursing.  

Step 6 – Continuing Education and Recertification

You need to recertify your CNOR every 5 years. To do that, you should maintain your certification by fulfilling continuing education requirements.

This may involve completing a certain number of continuing education credits or retaking the certification exam at specified intervals.

Besides recertification, you should also get training certifications in CPR (Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) and BLS (Basic Life Support).

Also, to advance your career as a scrub nurse you need to stay up-to-date with the latest practices and technologies. This can be achieved by attending workshops, and seminars, and earning advanced certifications in perioperative nursing.

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-> AST Surgical Tech 

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Step 7 – Job Search and Employment

Once you’ve obtained the necessary education, licensure, and specialization, you can begin your career as a scrub nurse. Look for job opportunities in hospitals, outpatient surgery centers, or other surgical facilities.

Create a strong resume and cover letter highlighting your education, certification, and relevant experience. Prepare for job interviews by highlighting your knowledge, skills, and dedication to patient care.

Read-> How to Become a Surgical Tech?

Scrub Nurse vs Surgical Tech

What is a Surgical Tech

While both careers are equally rewarding, both have some respective merits, demerits, and distinctions ranging from education requirements to job projections and salary.  

Here’s how they differ –

Interest and Goals

While both careers don’t require you to touch blood, but still, Scrub Nurses are more into assisting the Surgical Team in the surgical procedures in the OR.

Whereas, the Surgical Techs are more of assisting the team including the Scrub nurses.


Surgical Techs

To become one, you typically need to complete a diploma, certificate, or associate degree program in surgical technology. To enroll in the program, you need to possess a high school diploma or equivalent.

Scrub Nurse

The education requirements for a scrub nurse vary. Some hospitals allow licensed practical nurses to scrub under the supervision of an RN, but many require scrub nurses to be RNs. If you have an RN license that should suffice your eligibility for any scrub nursing role.  

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Surgical Techs

Post-completion of your program, you can choose to get certified as the CST. However, certification as a CST is not always mandatory. Since many employers prefer or require certification, you should opt to certify through NBSTSA, AHA, or NCCT.

Scrub Nurse

To become a certified Surgical Nurse or Scrub Nurse, besides NCLEX-RN, you need to obtain additional certification, such as the Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR), which demonstrates your commitment to excellence in perioperative nursing.  

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Role and Responsibilities

Surgical Techs

They are responsible for preparing the operating room, arranging surgical equipment and supplies, and ensuring a sterile environment. They assist surgeons and nurses during surgeries by passing instruments and supplies, handling specimens, and maintaining the sterile field.

Scrub Nurse

Their primary responsibility is to maintain a sterile and organized environment in the OR while assisting the surgical team. However, with their advanced skill set being RNs, they may also assist in surgery directly and perform specific surgical tasks.

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Scope of Practice

Surgical Techs

CSTs primarily focus on providing support to the surgical team. They do not perform surgical procedures or make incisions.

Scrub Nurse

They have a broader scope of practice that includes direct patient care, actively assisting in surgical procedures, performing specific tasks, and maintaining the sterile field.

Earning Potential

As per BLS salary data 2022, the annual average salary of Surgical Technologists is $55,960, with an hourly rate of around $27.

The earning potential of Scrub Nurses varies depending on their education. If you are an RN, then BLS 2020 data states the annual salary as $75,330, but if you are an LPN then the annual salary is $48,820.

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Job Outlook

For Surgical Technologists the BLS projects job growth by 5% in this decade.

For Scrub Nurses, according to the Association for Perioperative Registered Nurses, the job projection is by 6% in this decade.

More On -> Pros And Cons Of Being A Surgical Tech

In Conclusion

Scrub Nurses assist the surgical team by holding and passing instruments and supplies during the surgical procedures. Thus, making it a fascinating career choice along with Surgical Tech.

While both contribute to the surgical process, scrub nurses have a broader scope of practice with direct patient care, and maintaining a sterile environment but surgical techs have a more focused role in assisting with surgical procedures.

Ultimately, each profession is vital for the successful outcome of surgeries, but the choice between them depends on your career goals and interests. So, choose wisely!  


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About the Author
Grant founded OnlineDegree.com with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.