How to become a theatre nurse image

Did you know that more than 10 million operations a year are performed in the 3,000+ operating theatres across England? That’s an average of just over 1,200 procedures per theatre. Theatre nurses are involved in most (if not all) of those procedures, and are also involved in supporting patients before and after their operations.

Like the sound of theatre nursing? In this article, we’re going to explain what a theatre nurse does, how much they earn, and how to become one.

What is a theatre nurse?

Theatre nurses make up part of a large team of operating theatre professionals that also includes anaesthetists, operating department practitioners, surgeons, and more.

Their goal is to provide patients with a high standard of perioperative care (that is, the care received by patients before, during, and after an operation). Some theatre nurses specialise in one of the four phases of perioperative care:

  • Preoperative (otherwise known as pre-assessment)
  • Anaesthetics
  • Surgical
  • Recovery

Meanwhile, other theatre nurses — such as those who work in day surgery — will rotate across all four phases, giving them contact with patients from the start to the end of their procedures.

With a national shortage of healthcare staff, theatre nurses are currently in huge demand. Abigail Holt, Business Manager for Michael Page Healthcare, said:

“In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the healthcare system in the UK is facing a large backlog of patients and surgeries. Theatre nurses have never been so important - but employers are finding it harder and harder to recruit suitable candidates. At the same time, many nurses are now choosing to work with agencies, which often offer a more flexible work-life balance and higher rates.”

What are some typical theatre nurse duties?

The responsibilities of a theatre nurse will vary depending on whether they are specialising in one of the perioperative phases, or working across all four. However, some typical tasks include:

  • Making sure patients are fully aware of the risks and benefits of the procedure
  • Ensuring the patient is in suitable health to undergo surgery
  • Preparing specialist devices, drugs, and equipment
  • Providing the necessary instruments and materials to surgeons, as required
  • Functioning as a conduit between the theatre team and other hospital staff
  • Monitoring the patient’s health after their procedure
  • Supporting and caring for the patient from their arrival on the post anaesthetic care unit
  • Assessing whether the patient is healthy enough to be discharged to a ward


How much do theatre nurses get paid?

Starting salaries for theatre nurses begin at around £25,000 pa - £28,000 pa. However, it is possible to progress up the banding scale fast, with many nurses quickly reaching bands six and seven. At these levels, salaries would range from £32,000 pa to £45,000 pa.

What qualifications do I need to be a theatre nurse?

To become a theatre nurse, you first need to become a registered adult, child, learning disability, or mental health nurse.

Beyond this, you don’t need any specific training or qualifications before applying, although it may help you stand out during the interview process if you have some understanding of perioperative care — either through training, further education, or independent learning.

However, once you start working as a theatre nurse, you’ll be given a variety of specialist training to give you the necessary skills to thrive in the role.

How to become a theatre nurse: 2 possible paths

As we’ve already noted, you can’t work as a theatre nurse unless you’re already a registered nurse. Assuming you haven’t already qualified as a nurse, there are two ways to do so:

Completing a nursing degree

Most registered nurses complete a three-year nursing degree in one (or, in the case of dual degrees, two) of the four areas approved by the Nursing & Midwifery Council:

  • Adult nursing
  • Children's nursing
  • Learning disability nursing
  • Mental health nursing

Entry requirements for undergraduate nursing degrees vary by university, but you’ll typically need at least five GCSEs at grades 4/C or above — possibly including English and a science subject — plus two A levels (or equivalent).

If you already have a degree, you might be able to enrol in the second year of a nursing degree, provided you studied a related field such as:

Enrolling in an apprenticeship

Don’t want to go to university to become a registered nurse? You can also enrol on a nursing degree apprenticeship, which combines academic study with on-the-job learning at a hospital or some other type of medical facility.

Applying for a nursing degree apprenticeship requires at least four GCSEs at grades 9 – 4, along with some A levels (the specific number will vary from hospital to hospital).

It typically takes four years to complete a nursing degree apprenticeship, but if you already have experience in a related field of study, it might be possible to shorten your apprenticeship to two years. Check out the NHS Course Finder to see if your previous experience will be accepted by most hospitals.

What's next?

Once you’ve become a registered nurse, it’s time to start applying for theatre nurse jobs. Submit your CV to Michael Page and we’ll notify you as soon as a suitable position becomes available.

While you’re waiting to find the perfect role, why not give yourself the best possible chance of impressing hiring managers? Don’t miss our wealth of job interview tips, which cover everything from guiding your interview preparation to helping you answer some of the most common interview questions.

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