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How to Become an Orthopedic Nurse

By Oluwadamilola Osisanya


Embarking on a career as an orthopedic nurse presents a unique set of challenges, from mastering specialized medical knowledge to navigating the complexities of patient care in this field. This guide will delve into how to become an orthopedic nurse, detailing the necessary steps and qualifications.

Career Summary

Orthopedic Nurse Salary

Orthopedic Nurse Salary

The orthopedic nurse salary can vary widely based on a variety of factors. According to Glassdoor, here are the mean orthopedic nurse salary figures:

  • Entry-Level: US$ 85,000
  • Median: US$ 113,000
  • Senior: US$ 151,000

Compared to the general average salary across the United States, which was reported to be $61,900, even entry-level orthopedic nurses receive a higher salary.

What does an Orthopedic Nurse do?

Orthopedic nurses specialize in caring for patients with musculoskeletal conditions, including fractures, joint replacements, arthritis, and more

They can assess and monitor patients, provide pain management, assist with surgeries, educate patients and families about orthopedic conditions and treatments, and play a vital role in rehabilitation to help patients regain mobility and independence.

Orthopedic Nurse Career Progression

  • Orthopedic Staff Nurse: In this role, you will work directly with patients, assisting in their care, administering medications, and monitoring their recovery from musculoskeletal procedures.
  • Orthopedic Clinical Nurse: With your advanced education and expertise, you will often focus on specialized areas within orthopedics, such as joint replacements or spine surgeries. You will also provide advanced patient care and education and contribute to improving clinical outcomes.
  • Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner: With advanced training, you can diagnose, treat, and manage orthopedic conditions. You may work alongside orthopedic surgeons, order diagnostic tests, and develop treatment plans.
  • Orthopedic Charge Nurse: You will oversee nursing staff on a unit or department, ensuring efficient patient care, staff scheduling, and protocol adherence.
  • Orthopedic Nurse Manager: You will be responsible for an entire orthopedic department or unit. You will handle administrative tasks, budgeting, and staff management and ensure patient care meets quality standards.
Orthopedic Nurse Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as an Orthopedic Nurse

  • Witnessing rewarding patient recoveries and increased mobility.
  • Collaborative teamwork with orthopedic surgeons and therapists.
  • Exposure to a diverse range of orthopedic cases.
  • Empowering patients through education about their conditions.
  • Abundant opportunities for career advancement and growth.

Worst Aspects of Working as an Orthopedic Nurse

  • Physically demanding work with heavy lifting and long hours.
  • Exposure to emotionally challenging situations, such as severe injuries.
  • Frequent exposure to patient pain and discomfort.
  • High-stress environments, especially in emergency orthopedic cases.
  • Potential for musculoskeletal injuries and strain due to patient handling.

Useful Skills to have as an Orthopedic Nurse

  • Strong Communication Skills
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Abilities
  • Physical Stamina
  • Empathy and Patience
  • Attention to Detail

Popular Orthopedic Nurse Specialties

  • Orthopedic Surgical Nurse
  • Orthopedic Trauma Nurse
  • Pediatric Orthopedic Nurse
  • Orthopedic Rehabilitation Nurse
  • Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
  • Orthopedic Clinical Nurse Specialist

How to become an Orthopedic Nurse

Orthopedic Nurse 4 Steps to Career

Becoming an exceptional orthopedic nurse requires a synergistic blend of education and practical experience, as these dual pillars provide the knowledge and hands-on skills needed to excel in this specialized healthcare field.


Education plays a pivotal role in shaping the foundation of a promising career in orthopedic nursing. Comprehensive training and academic knowledge equip nurses with an essential understanding of musculoskeletal conditions and empower them to deliver high-quality care.

Do I need a degree to become an Orthopedic Nurse?

Yes, you do need a degree to become an Orthopedic Nurse. The educational path to 

becoming an Orthopedic Nurse typically involves the following steps:

Obtain a Nursing Degree:
  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): This two-year program provides the foundational education and training needed for a career in nursing. It covers basic nursing skills and prepares you for the NCLEX-RN exam, essential for obtaining a nursing license.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A four-year degree, a BSN offers a more comprehensive education in nursing. It includes advanced topics such as patient care technology, research, leadership, and community health. A BSN is highly beneficial for career advancement and is preferred by many employers.

This educational pathway is an integral part of how to become an orthopedic nurse.

Why is it important to get a degree in Nursing?

  • Specialized Orthopedic Knowledge: While a nursing degree provides fundamental knowledge applicable to all nursing fields, it’s particularly crucial for orthopedic nursing. This specialization requires a deep understanding of musculoskeletal conditions, treatments, and rehabilitation techniques. A nursing program will offer courses and clinical experiences focusing on these areas, equipping aspiring orthopedic nurses with the specific knowledge they need.
  • Licensure and Specialization: Becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) is the first step toward specializing in orthopedic nursing. Passing the NCLEX-RN is a requirement, achievable only after completing an accredited nursing program. Post-licensure, nurses can pursue orthopedic nursing certifications, such as the Orthopedic Nurse Certified (ONC) credential, which often requires a certain level of education and clinical experience in the orthopedic field.
  • Enhanced Patient Care Skills: Orthopedic patients often face mobility issues and long-term rehabilitation challenges. A nursing degree equips nurses with the skills to provide specialized care, including pain management, postoperative care, and patient education about lifestyle adjustments. These competencies are crucial in improving patient outcomes in orthopedic settings.
  • Career Development and Leadership: For those aiming for advanced roles in orthopedic nursing, such as nurse management or advanced practice roles, a higher degree like a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master’s degree can be invaluable. These degrees often include leadership, research, and advanced clinical practice courses essential for higher-level positions in orthopedic nursing.

How long does it take to get a degree in Nursing?

The timeline for obtaining a nursing degree can vary based on the chosen program and the individual’s career goals in orthopedic nursing.

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): This 2-year program is a foundational step, enabling graduates to start working as Registered Nurses (RNs). This degree can be a starting point in orthopedic nursing, allowing you to gain experience in orthopedic units or related fields.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): A 4-year program, the BSN is a more comprehensive pathway, highly beneficial for orthopedic nursing professionals. The additional coursework in a BSN program often includes more in-depth studies relevant to musculoskeletal health, directly applicable to orthopedic nursing. RN-to-BSN options are available for those with an ADN, usually taking 1-2 years to complete.
  • Accelerated BSN Programs: These 11-18-month programs are a swift route into nursing for career changers with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. They can be especially beneficial for those wishing to transition quickly into a specialized field like orthopedic nursing.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): Taking 1.5 to 2 years beyond a BSN, an MSN is crucial for those looking to advance to higher roles within orthopedic nursing, such as nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist in orthopedics. The MSN curriculum often includes specialized courses that focus on advanced patient care, leadership, and, in some cases, specific orthopedic nursing education.

Each program’s duration can vary slightly based on the institution’s curriculum and the student’s full-time or part-time enrollment status. Moreover, after completing the initial degree, orthopedic nurses often pursue further certification specific to orthopedics, which adds to their expertise and may require additional time.

How much does it cost to study Nursing at university?

The cost of studying Nursing at a university varies depending on the program and institution.

For a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), the average cost ranges from $37,600 at a public university to over $150,400 at a private institution.

The estimated tuition and fees for an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) can be between $10,000 and $40,000 per year. However, some ADN programs may cost more, especially those at private or prestigious schools​​.

These figures highlight the need for careful financial planning and exploration of financial aid, scholarships, and other funding sources for prospective nursing students.

Can I become an Orthopedic Nurse through online education?

Yes, you can become an orthopedic nurse through online education, at least partially. The path typically involves completing a nursing degree, passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and gaining experience in orthopedic nursing. 

While the initial nursing degree (ADN or BSN) can often be pursued online, especially for theoretical components, nursing education also requires clinical experience, which must be done in person.

After obtaining a nursing license, you may pursue orthopedic nursing certification, which might involve online courses or training. However, practical experience in orthopedic nursing, often a prerequisite for certification, must be obtained in a healthcare setting.

Thus, while online education can contribute significantly to your journey toward becoming an orthopedic nurse, it must complement hands-on clinical experience.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become an Orthopedic Nurse?

To further understand what does an orthopedic nurse do, here are some web resources to learn skills to become an Orthopedic Nurse:

  • Orthopaedic Nursing Roundtable Course: Offered by the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON), this interactive course is designed for nurses and health professionals to build on their foundation in orthopedic care. It covers pain management, advances in joint replacement, orthopedic complications, standard and complex trauma, and diagnostic testing and includes comprehensive case studies.
  • Orthopaedic Nurse Navigator Online Course: Also provided by NAON, this comprehensive online course is developed for navigators at every stage and working in hospital and ambulatory settings. It covers strategies relevant to the Orthopaedic Nurse Navigator role that improve outcomes for orthopedic patient populations. This course benefits novice navigators and those looking to advance their skills​​.
  • Orthopedic Nursing (ONC) Continuing Education Courses at These courses cover bone and tissue conditions and disorders, which are fundamental in orthopedic nursing​​.
  • Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB) Exam Prep Products: ONCB offers various exam preparation products, including online courses tailored for those seeking certification in orthopedic nursing. These prep products can be a valuable resource for enhancing your knowledge and skills in this specialty area​​.

These resources provide a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical insights essential for a career in orthopedic nursing. They can particularly benefit nurses seeking to specialize or enhance their expertise.

Practical Experience

Practical experience is the cornerstone of a successful career as an orthopedic nurse, as it provides invaluable hands-on skills and insights into the complexities of musculoskeletal care.

What are internship opportunities for an Orthopedic Nurse?

Orthopedic nursing, specializing in musculoskeletal issues and surgeries, offers a range of internship opportunities. These internships are critical for acquiring the practical skills and knowledge necessary in this specialized area of nursing.

  • Hospital-Based Orthopedic Internships: Many hospitals have orthopedic departments where internships or residency programs are available. These programs typically focus on post-surgical care, rehabilitation, and managing chronic musculoskeletal conditions. Interns gain experience in both surgical and non-surgical orthopedic nursing care.
  • Rehabilitation Center Internships: Internships in rehabilitation centers are particularly valuable for orthopedic nurses. These centers focus on helping patients recover from orthopedic surgeries and injuries, offering unique insights into long-term patient care and physiotherapy integration.
  • Sports Medicine Internships: For those interested in sports-related injuries and treatments, internships in sports medicine facilities provide a focused experience in sports orthopedics. This can include working with athletes, understanding sports injuries, and learning preventative measures.
  • Pediatric Orthopedic Internships: Pediatric hospitals or departments often offer internships focusing on orthopedic issues in children, such as congenital disorders, growth-related problems, and injuries. These internships emphasize the unique aspects of caring for a younger patient demographic.
  • Orthopedic Research Internships: Academic institutions and research hospitals sometimes offer internships in orthopedic research. These positions are ideal for those interested in the scientific and investigative aspects of orthopedic nursing, contributing to advancements in treatments and patient care techniques.

What Skills will I learn as an Orthopedic Nurse?

As an orthopedic nurse, you will acquire diverse skills essential for providing specialized care to patients with musculoskeletal issues. 

These skills involve clinical expertise and encompass a range of soft skills and technical knowledge.

Here are some of the critical skills you’ll learn:

  • Musculoskeletal Knowledge: Understanding of bone and joint anatomy, as well as common conditions like fractures, arthritis, osteoporosis, and congenital deformities.
  • Postoperative Care Skills: Proficiency in caring for patients after orthopedic surgeries, including wound care, pain management, and complication monitoring.
  • Rehabilitation Techniques: Knowledge of physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques to assist patients in regaining mobility and strength after injuries or surgeries.
  • Patient Education: Ability to educate patients and their families about managing their conditions, postoperative care, rehabilitation exercises, and long-term health maintenance.
  • Pain Management: Expertise in assessing and managing acute and chronic pain using various interventions, both pharmacological and non-pharmacological.
  • Mobility Support and Safety: Skills aiding patient mobility, using assistive devices, and ensuring safety to prevent falls and other injuries.
  • Orthopedic Equipment Knowledge: Familiarity with casts, splints, braces, and other orthopedic devices, including their application and maintenance.
  • Emotional Support and Empathy: Providing emotional and psychological support to patients with chronic pain, mobility issues, or long recovery periods.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Working effectively with a team of healthcare professionals, including surgeons, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, to provide comprehensive care.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Ability to assess patient conditions, identify complications, and make informed decisions about patient care.

What is the Work-Life Balance of an Orthopedic Nurse?

The work-life balance of an orthopedic nurse can vary based on the work setting and individual circumstances. Typically, orthopedic nurses work in hospital settings, outpatient clinics, or rehabilitation centers, with the possibility of shift work, including nights, weekends, and holidays, especially in hospitals. 

The nature of the role, often involving caring for postoperative patients and those with chronic conditions, can be physically and emotionally demanding, requiring stamina and resilience. However, many find the role rewarding due to its significant impact on patient recovery and quality of life

Advancements in the field and adopting flexible scheduling in some workplaces can offer more control over work hours, achieving a better work-life balance. Additionally, opportunities for part-time work or positions with more regular hours, like in clinics or educational settings, can further contribute to a balanced professional and personal life.

What’s the Career Outlook for an Orthopedic Nurse?

The career outlook for orthopedic nurses is quite positive. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment for registered nurses, including those specializing in orthopedic nursing, will grow by 6% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations​​. 

Additionally, there are expected to be about 193,100 job openings for registered nurses each year over the decade. This growth is partly attributed to the need to replace workers who retire or transition to different occupations​​. This projection suggests a healthy demand for orthopedic nurses in the coming years.

Orthopedic Nurse Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for an Orthopedic Nurse?

The expertise of Orthopedic nurses is essential in various healthcare settings, each requiring a unique blend of skills and knowledge specific to orthopedic care.

  • Orthopedic Ward Nurse: Often, the primary role of these nurses is to work in hospital wards dedicated to orthopedic care. They assist in postoperative care for patients undergoing orthopedic surgeries, such as hip or knee replacements, and manage pain and mobility issues.
  • Sports Medicine Clinics: Specializing in sports injuries, these nurses work alongside physiotherapists and sports doctors. They care for injuries such as ligament tears, fractures, and dislocations, often seen in athletes and active individuals.
  • Rehabilitation Centers Nurse: In these centers, orthopedic nurses are crucial in helping patients recover mobility and strength after surgeries or injuries. They work closely with physiotherapists and occupational therapists in patient rehabilitation plans.
  • Pediatric Orthopedic Nurse: Focused on the musculoskeletal issues in children, these nurses deal with conditions like scoliosis, growth-related problems, or congenital disabilities affecting bones and muscles.
  • Orthopedic Surgery Nurse: Involved directly in surgical procedures; they assist orthopedic surgeons in operations, managing surgical instruments and ensuring sterile techniques in operating rooms.
  • Outpatient Care Nurse: These nurses work in outpatient settings, helping manage long-term conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis, providing education, and helping with pain management strategies.

What Type of Companies Hire an Orthopedic Nurse?

Below are the types of companies and organizations that typically hire orthopedic nurses:

  • Orthopedic Hospitals and Medical Centers: These specialized institutions are the primary employers of orthopedic nurses. They work in departments focusing on orthopedic surgery, rheumatology, and rehabilitation.
  • General Hospitals and Surgical Units: Within general hospitals, orthopedic nurses often work in surgical units, helping with pre-operative and post-operative care for patients undergoing orthopedic procedures.
  • Outpatient Clinics and Private Practices: Clinics specializing in sports medicine, joint care, or osteoporosis often require the expertise of orthopedic nurses for patient management and care coordination.
  • Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy Centers: These centers employ orthopedic nurses to assist with patient recovery, focusing on restoring movement and strength after orthopedic surgeries or injuries.
  • Sports Teams and Athletic Facilities: Professional sports teams and athletic facilities may hire orthopedic nurses to manage and treat sports-related injuries and provide preventive care to athletes.
  • Educational Institutions: Nursing schools and universities may seek orthopedic nurses to teach musculoskeletal health and nursing care courses.
  • Research Institutions and Non-profits: Organizations researching bone health, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal conditions may employ orthopedic nurses for their expertise in clinical studies and public health initiatives.
  • Home Health Care Services: With a growing trend towards in-home care, orthopedic nurses are also needed in home health settings, especially for elderly patients or those recovering from orthopedic surgeries.

Should I Become an Orthopedic Nurse?

Deciding whether to pursue a career as an orthopedic nurse is a significant choice that requires careful consideration of the key points discussed throughout this article. It’s not just about the necessary steps to become an orthopedic nurse; it’s also about understanding what this role entails and how it aligns with your interests, skills, and long-term career goals.

Orthopedic nursing is a specialized field that demands medical knowledge, technical skills, and a compassionate approach to patient care. If you find fulfillment in helping patients recover from musculoskeletal injuries and surgeries and are interested in the complexities of bone and joint health, this specialty could be incredibly rewarding.

Reflect on the educational pathways, certification requirements, and the varied work environments we’ve outlined. Consider how these align with your current qualifications and the time and resources you’re prepared to invest in your professional development. Orthopedic nursing offers a dynamic work environment, opportunities for continuous learning, and the satisfaction of making a tangible difference in patients’ lives.

However, it’s also important to be realistic about the challenges. The role can be physically and emotionally demanding, requiring resilience and adaptability. Consider your ability to handle high-pressure situations, your aptitude for teamwork, and your desire to engage in ongoing education.

Ultimately, the decision to become an orthopedic nurse should be based on a thorough understanding of the profession, a sincere passion for the field, and a clear vision of your career trajectory. It’s a commitment to a job, a lifestyle of helping others, continuous learning, and professional growth. If these aspects resonate with you, a career in orthopedic nursing could be a fulfilling and wise choice for your future.

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Oluwadamilola Osisanya

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