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Orthopedic Nurse Career GuideExplore the specialized role of an Orthopedic (or Orthopaedic) Nurse, including their key responsibilities, necessary training, and their impact on patient care in musculoskeletal health. Orthopedic Nurses are experts in managing and aiding recovery from conditions like fractures, arthritis, and joint replacements. This role is perfect for those who excel in patient care and are passionate about helping individuals overcome orthopedic challenges, offering a fulfilling and impactful career path.

Getting Started: Orthopedic Nurse FAQ

What is an Orthopedic Nurse?

Orthopedic nurses are registered nurses (RNs) specializing in the musculoskeletal conditions. Orthopedic nurses care for patients with broken bones, recovering from orthopedic surgeries, and patients with long-term orthopedic conditions.

What does an Orthopedic Nurse do?

Orthopedic nurses’ responsibilities vary depending on their practice setting, but in general, include patient assessment, care coordination, and patient education and advocacy. Orthopedic nurses play a vital role in the care and recovery of individuals with musculoskeletal conditions, contributing to improved patient well-being and quality of life. Some more specific duties might include an inpatient orthopedic nurse who focuses on immediate post-operative care such as IV pain management and wound dressing changes, while an outpatient orthopedic nurse may spend more time helping patients with assistive devices and braces, for example.

In terms of daily roles and responsibilities, here are some examples of what an Orthopedic Nurse does:
  • Assistance: You’ll assist doctors with surgery and help patients regain their mobility and strength during recovery.
  • Education: You’ll teach patients and families about musculoskeletal disease and how to recuperate at home from surgery or injury.
  • Pain management: You’ll teach patients and families about musculoskeletal disease and how to recuperate at home from surgery or injury.
  • Treatment: You’ll treat injuries with wound dressing or casting.

What is the demand for Orthopedic Nurses?

The demand for orthopedic nurses is expected to remain high, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimating almost 200K nursing positions to be open annually over the next decade. This, along with an aging population, will lead to an increased need for healthcare services related to orthopedic issues, such as joint replacements and other orthopedic surgeries.

How much does an Orthopedic Nurse make?

The average salary range for an Orthopedic Nurse can vary depending on the level of experience, qualifications, as well as areas of specialty. For example, according to 2023 data from, an RN with orthopedic skills can expect to make an average annual salary of $71,000. This increases to $82,000 for OR nurses with orthopedic skills and $100,000 for Orthopedic Nurse Practitioners.

Increasing an Orthopedic Nurse salary can be achieved through various strategies, including advanced education, certifications, years of experience, specialization, geographic location, travel nursing, taking on additional responsibilities, and seeking opportunities for overtime or per diem work.

How do you become an Orthopedic Nurse?

Orthopedic Nurses are registered nurses (RN) who have graduated from an accredited nursing program (ADN or BSN) and who have passed the NCLEX exam. On the way to becoming an orthopedic nurse, you must complete on-the-job training through unit-based orientation programs. Those who wish to validate their knowledge and skills can become certified orthopedic nurses (ONC) after gaining at least two years of RN experience and at least 1,000 hours of experience caring for patients with orthopedic conditions.

Click here to see more about the the steps to becoming an Orthopedic Nurse.

Where do Orthopedic Nurses work?

Orthopedic nurses work in diverse settings that cater to specific aspects of musculoskeletal health. Hospitals, clinics, rehabilitation and long-term care facilities are all common settings where orthopedic nurses work. Orthopedic nurses can choose to sub-specialize in many areas of orthopedics such as pediatrics, sports medicine, joint replacement, and spinal surgery. The sub-specialty will frequently determine what settings the orthopedic nurse may work. For example, general orthopedics will offer a wider choice of settings, while sub-specialties tend to be limited to large urban hospitals and academic medical centers.

What are some of the sub-specialties for an Orthopedic Nurse?

Orthopedic nursing is a field with many opportunities to sub-specialize. Some of these sub-specialties are pediatrics, sports medicine, orthopedic surgery, rehabilitation, clinical nurse specialists and nurse practitioners.
  • Pediatrics: Specializing in the care of children with orthopedic issues, these nurses work in pediatric orthopedic units, treating conditions such as scoliosis and reconstruction of congenital musculoskeletal anomalies.
  • Sports medicine: Specializing in the care of athletes, from the weekend warriors to professionals, these nurses treat sports-related injuries, understanding the unique needs of athletes.
  • Orthopedic surgery: These nurses work closely with orthopedic surgeons in the operating room, assisting during surgeries such as joint replacements, spinal procedures, or other orthopedic interventions.
  • Rehabilitation: These nurses work in rehabilitation centers, helping patients recover from orthopedic surgeries or injuries through physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other rehabilitation interventions.
  • Clinical nurse specialists: These nurses are involved in educating patients, families, and other healthcare professionals about orthopedic conditions, treatments, and preventive measures.
  • Nurse practitioners: Nurse practitioners with a specialization in orthopedics may provide advanced practice care, including conducting assessments, diagnosing conditions, prescribing medications, and developing treatment plans.
3 Attributes of a Career in Orthopedic Nursing
  • Patient-Facing
    Work hands-on, directly with patients.
  • Structured
    Follow a routine that allows you to anticipate and prepare for every situation.
  • Varied
    Take on different tasks, patients, and situations every day.
  • What Are the Steps to Becoming an Orthopedic Nurse?

    Here are the key stages of achieving your career as an Orthopedic Nurse:

  • Pass the NCLEX-RN
    After completing your nursing education, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed registered nurse. This is a requirement in all states. The NCLEX measures the foundational knowledge and skills needed for safe nursing practice for entry-level nurses.
  • Work as a Registered Nurse
    Gain 1,000 hours’ experience in orthopedics.
  • Pass your Orthopedic Nurse Certification exam through the Orthopedic Nurse certification board
  • You're ready to work as an Orthopedic Nurse!
Paying for Nursing School
There are many kinds of financial assistance available, including nursing grants and scholarships, to help you on your path to a nursing career.
Nurse in scrubs typing on a keyboard
Getting Hired as an Orthopedic Nurse
Visit our Getting Hired page for tips on your resume, preparing for your interview, and more.
Female nurse in scrubs smiling and looking at a tablet with three other medical personnel looking at clipboard behind her
Join an Organization
Become a member of an Orthopedic Nurse organization to find career opportunities, learn from your colleagues, and support the profession.

National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON)


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