What does a scrub nurse do? (With skills and FAQs)

Updated 12 May 2023

If you're preparing for a career in nursing, exploring different roles in this discipline may help you better understand your options. Scrub nursing, or theatre nursing, is one of the specialisations that combines patient care with expert medical skills. By researching the responsibilities and requirements of scrub nurses, you may decide whether it's a nursing role you want to pursue. In this article, we answer, 'What does a scrub nurse do?', discuss the role's requirements and skills and answer frequently asked questions about the profession.

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What is a scrub nurse?

A scrub nurse, also known as a theatre nurse, is a nursing specialisation that combines patient care and surgical experience. Scrub nurses provide practical support to surgeons during surgeries and other medical procedures. They may handle medical equipment, help with strategies during operations and monitor patients while they're recovering.

Related: What's the difference between scrub nurse vs surgical tech?

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What does a scrub nurse do?

Finding the answer to 'What does a scrub nurse do?' is a key step in ensuring this nursing specialisation is right for you.

Preparing the operating theatre

Scrub nurses provide practical support to surgeons during operations, but their work usually starts before any procedures in which they participate take place. They may prepare operating theatres by sterilising and organising equipment. A nurse who has worked with a specific surgeon for a while is likely to understand their thinking and how they operate. They use this knowledge to put surgical instruments in a specific order, which makes work easier for medical specialists.

Related: 13 operating theatre staff roles (With salaries and duties)

Collaborating with surgeons

During surgeries and procedures, scrub nurses collaborate with surgeons, focusing on improving the quality and comfort of the doctor's work. They may memorise specific procedures and observe surgeons' movements. In this way, they know which instruments to hand the surgeon and at what stage of the procedure. To prepare, scrub nurses may attend pre-operation meetings, during which surgeons explain what's about to happen in the operating theatre.

Checking equipment

In addition to preparing surgical instruments, scrub nurses may check the equipment in the theatre. Operating tables, overhead lamps and suction are all devices that require regular maintenance, so making sure they work properly can help ensure a successful procedure. If a nurse finds something wrong with a piece of equipment, they immediately report it to the hospital or clinic technical staff and ensure a replacement arrives quickly so that the surgery takes place on time.

Related: Differences between paramedic vs nurse (With definition)

Filling out patient documentation

Scrub nurses are present during entire surgeries and have a close look at what the surgeon does. As they perform their duties during operations, they also focus on how the procedure goes and if a patient's vital signs remain stable. As soon as the surgery finishes, they use this knowledge to fill out patient documentation, which the post-operative and recovery teams use to take care of patients.

Related: How to increase your surgical nurse salary in the UK

Requirements for scrub nurses

Working as a scrub nurse requires expert knowledge and several years of specific training. Here are the requirements for scrub nurses:


To become a scrub nurse, complete a nursing programme at a university or college. If you already have a different undergraduate medical degree, consider choosing nursing for your postgraduate studies. In this way, you may use your existing knowledge and acquire additional expert skills that may qualify you for roles in the operating theatre. To qualify to study for a degree in nursing if you're still in school, consider choosing chemistry, biology or another science subject for your A-levels or related level 3 qualifications.

Related: How to become a scrub nurse


When recruiting scrub nurses, employers look for candidates with specialist knowledge of various medical instruments and equipment. Having experience in emergency medicine is beneficial. If you want to specialise as a scrub nurse, consider volunteering to participate in complex surgeries as the second scrub nurse. This allows you to work under an experienced scrub nurse, learn their techniques and observe surgeons at work.


Scrub nurses are useful members of the surgical team. They use both their soft and hard skills, which they develop during years of training and practice. If you're currently working on developing your nursing qualifications, here are some skills that may help you excel as a scrub nurse:


Scrub nurses work alongside surgeons, theatre support staff and anaesthetists. They may also regularly meet with post-operative staff to inform them about a patient's vital signs during procedures. Having strong teamwork skills helps them make work easier for themselves and others. By concentrating on these skills, you may contribute to the well-being of other staff members and help make the surgical facility more efficient.

Related: How to improve teamwork in nursing (And why it's important)


Scrub nurses use different types of communication throughout their shifts. When they're comforting patients and their families, they may use non-verbal techniques, such as eye contact, body language and how fast or slow they speak. Verbal communication helps them during surgeries, as it allows them to better understand requests and comments from surgeons. When it comes to their written communication skills, scrub nurses use this competency to create accurate and detailed patient records.

Related: Valuable communication skills in nursing and how to use them

Physical strength and stamina

Theatre nurses may assist during both quick procedures and long, complex surgeries. A high level of physical strength and stamina helps them stand, hold surgical instruments and maintain focus for long periods. Nurses may improve their strength and stamina by regularly engaging in physical activities, such as attending a gym, swimming or running.


In some instances, nurses may help surgeons handle critical situations, such as sudden internal bleeding. Problem-solving skills help them remain logical and calm. It also improves their effectiveness when they're working under pressure, which may happen when they're working long shifts or if several patients ask for their attention simultaneously.

Related: Problem-solving skills: definitions and examples

Computer skills

With various technological advances, hospitals may provide patients with more types of surgeries and services. Nurses typically update their computer skills by learning about different types of software, including patient management apps. It's also helpful if they have a general understanding of how complex medical systems work, such as the equipment used in laparoscopy.

Scrub nurse FAQs

Learning what it's like to work as a scrub nurse may help you decide if this career is right for you. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the profession:

Where do scrub nurses work?

Scrub nurses usually work in hospitals and medical clinics. They may consider any medical facility with a suitable operating theatre if they're looking for a job. Due to their expertise and surgical experience, they may also be effective members of emergency medical teams, as their quick problem-solving skills may help stabilise patients or assist with caesarean sections.

Related: 15 types of hospital jobs (With responsibilities and salary)

How long is a scrub nurse's shift?

A scrub nurse's shift varies, depending on their job type and where they work. A standard shift may require them to work 10 or 12 hours. On other days, especially when they're assisting during complex surgeries, they may spend more time at work. It's also possible for scrub nurses to work part-time and on call, which might make their shifts shorter.

Related: Challenges in nursing (Plus tips on how to overcome them)

What advancement opportunities are available to scrub nurses?

Scrub nurses may explore various advancement opportunities. To decide which one may be best, you might wish to assess your skills and career expectations. Outgoing nurses with strong leadership qualities may consider advancing to scrub nursing team leader positions. Those who prefer to concentrate on medical work rather than managing people may specialise, for example, as certified registered nurse anaesthetists.

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