Orthopedic Nurse


Orthopedic nursing started during the Victorian times due to the matriarch, Dame Agnus Hunt.  The first hospital in the United States that focused on the field of orthopedics was in New York and was called the Hospital for Ruptured and Crippled Children and it was established during the 1800s.  This is where orthopedic nursing was born, and later in the century, nurses and physicians began to better understand the growth and development of bone and the functions of the different muscles throughout the body.  Orthopedic nursing has really taken off in the last few years due to many hospitals opening orthopedic and rehabilitation units.

Nurses in this area will assist in all aspects of orthopedic care and rehabilitation and will work with a total healthcare team to prepare patients for discharge.

Orthopedic Nurse

Orthopedic Nurse Salary

The average median salary for an orthopedic nurse is about $57,000 per year.  The lower 10 percent earn around $46,240 per year and the highest 10 percent earn about $81,000 per year.

Where you work will greatly impact your earning power.  For example, if you are working for a nationally-recognized hospital system, you will command a higher salary than if you were to work for a smaller rural or suburban hospital.  Other factors to take into consideration include your individual level of experience, how much education you have and the area of the country that you will be working in.

Orthopedic Nurse Job Description

Orthopedic nurses have a variety of choices when it comes to where they can work and which population they can serve.  Throughout the country this type of nurse may work in the following environments:

  • Emergency departments
  • Adult orthopedic units
  • Adult medical-surgical units
  • Trauma units
  • Rehabilitation units
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Operating rooms
  • Pediatric orthopedic units
  • Pediatric medical-surgical units
  • Gerontology units
  • Oncology units

As an orthopedic nurse, you will perform a large variety of duties on a day-to-day basis.  While your tasks will vary depending on your employer, some common orthopedic nurse tasks include:

  • Administer pain medications
  • Assist orthopedic doctors
  • Change dressings
  • Monitor surgical sites and monitor post-operative follow-up
  • Insert intravenous lines
  • Reposition patients
  • Assess new patients
  • Change bed pans
  • Create and follow through this patient care plans
  • Monitor the patient’s condition and report any abnormalities or improvements
  • Monitor patient vital signs
  • Educate the patient and provide support

Orthopedic Nurse Education

Those who wish to find employment as an orthopedic nurse must first possess the following:

  • An associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited US nursing program
  • An active registered nursing license
  • Some hospitals may want some type of prior registered nursing experience – usually six months to a year

If you pursue your associate degree, it will take you about two years to complete it when attending school full-time.  If you choose to pursue your bachelor’s degree, you will finish in three to four years when attending school full-time.  You will need to complete clinical hours per your state’s requirements as well as nursing classes.  Common nursing classes include the following:

  • Fundamentals of nursing
  • Health assessment
  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Medical surgical nursing
  • Geriatric nursing
  • Obstetrical nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Acute care nursing

Orthopedic nurses can continue on with their education and open up new job prospects by pursuing a Master’s of Science in Nursing.  This path can allow you to work toward becoming an Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner.  This makes you an advanced practice nurse who enjoys more responsibilities and autonomy.  On average, it takes three to four years to complete the degree and all associated clinical hours.

Orthopedic Nurse Certification and Licensing

In the United States, orthopedic nurses must hold at least a registered nursing license.  Many also choose to earn their Orthopedic Nurse Certification (ONC) credentials.  This credential can advance your practice and increase you job prospects.  To sit for the ONC examination you must possess the following:

  • Unrestricted, active registered nursing license
  • Two years of experience practicing as a registered nurse
  • In the last three years, you must have completed at least 1,000 hours in orthopedic nursing
  • Pay all applicable examination fees

Your ONC credentials will be valid for a period of five years.  Before your credentials expire, you must renew them.  The renewal process requires the following:

  • Starting the process at least eight weeks in advance of expiration
  • Pay all applicable fees
  • In the last five years, you must have at least 1,000 hours practicing orthopedic nursing
  • 70 hours of orthopedic nursing contact hours and 30 hours of general nursing contact hours

If you have not completed the necessary continuing education hours to recertify, you may choose to take the certification examination again and pay the appropriate fees.

There are many benefits associated with obtaining your ONC credentials and these include:

  • Proof that you are committed to lifelong learning
  • You are a highly trained nurse
  • You increase your job prospects and income potential
  • Hospitals seeking Magnet status may require this type of certification

Orthopedic Nurse Job Outlook

The career outlook is strong for nurses who choose to specialize in orthopedics.  In fact, career opportunities in this field are expected to grow by 26 percent between 2010 and 2020.  This is estimated to be an additional 71,900 new jobs.

A major factor in the increase in jobs in this specialty is that the US population is aging.  The aging population are often at risk for orthopedic injuries, such as bone fractures.  They also require joint replacements more than any other population in the country.  Both of these are leading to an increased need for nurses with skills in the orthopedics arena.


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