How to Become an Orthopedic Nurse in 2023


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    Warm greetings to everyone and welcome to this guide on how to become an Orthopedic Nurse!

    In this new guide, we will detail and explain what you need to do if you are aspiring to dive into this exciting healthcare career path.

    By the time you’re done reading through, you will have perfectly understood the steps you need to take and where to visit for each step.

    Here are some of the points we will cover in this guide:

    The educational requirements and other necessary steps
    Available nursing programs for aspiring Orthopedic Nurse
    Orthopedic Nurse certifications

    Without wasting any more time, let’s start!

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      Steps required to Become an Orthopedic Nurse

      Orthopedic Nurses are highly professional and smart, and the career is worthwhile.

      However, it doesn’t come easy, you will go through extensive training and education.

      According to experienced Orthopedic Nurses, the minimum degree you need to become one is a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

      With that advanced learning degree that may be a little stressful, you are guaranteed work as one of the highest-paid nurses in the United States.

      So, without further ado, let’s outline the steps you must take to become an Orthopedic Nurse.

      Steps required to Become an Orthopedic Nurse

      Step 1: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree

      A BSN degree is your starting point in your journey.

      This degree qualifies you for the remaining part of your career.

      If you do not have any prior nursing knowledge, education, or clinical training, enrolling in a BSN program will furnish you with these necessary ingredients.

      In most universities of advanced nursing learning institutions, a BSN program will generally take 3 to 4 years to complete.

      Only make sure that the degree program is from an accredited institution.

      If you are an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) certificate holder, your journey just got a little easier.

      You can enroll in an Associate Degree in Nursing bridge program.

      For ADN holders, this bridge program can be completed in 18 to 20 months.

      These types of programs are flexible, hybrid, and cheaper.

      There are also few accelerated nursing degree programs for Licensed Vocational Nurses or Licensed Practical Nurses who are ADN certificate holders.

      They can decide to skip the first three semesters of the BSN program.

      Step 2: Take the Registered Nursing Licensure exam (NCLEX-RN)

      Have you just bagged your Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing? Congratulations!

      Next, you should earn your nursing license. How will you go about it?

      You must sit for and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses or the NCLEX-RN.

      This certification exam qualifies you as a Licensed Registered Nurse and with it, you can start working as a Nurse in any U.S state.

      This is a big step because with it you can embark on gaining some clinical experience in addition to any clinical education and training you may have received during your nursing degree program.

      The exams usually follow a multiple-choice approach and may not be more than 250 questions.

      This will satisfy the second requirement and it will pave the way for you to continue your journey of becoming an Orthopedic Nurse.

      You can check the NCLEX-RN website for more on the exam reviews, practice questions, and the study guide.

      On passing this licensure examination, do not delay in proceeding with the next step.

      Step 3: Enroll in your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program 

      Did you remember that in the introductory comments we mentioned that the minimum degree to become an Orthopedic Nurse an applicant must have is an MSN?

      Yes, the next step is to start your Master’s program in nursing.

      This postgraduate degree must be obtained from an accredited institution and program.

      According to the Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB), this is a requirement for anyone aspiring to earn the Orthopedic Nursing Certification (ONP-C).

      Generally, most Master’s programs will take between 18 to 24 months.

      However, if you are patient enough to complete this program, you are now very close to becoming an Orthopedic Nurse.

      And as an Orthopedic Nurse, you can increase your chances of securing a job, getting recognized among competitors, and increasing your financial remuneration for the rest of your nursing career.

      Step 4: Gain as much clinical work experience as you can 

      All aspiring Orthopedic Nurses must meet yet another requirement even though they have satisfied most requirements.

      This requirement is to gain a significant amount of clinical experience.

      This experience can be gotten in nursing roles after your nursing degree program.

      Clinical experiences from nursing programs too may count.

      For the Orthopedic Nursing Certification (ONC), each applicant must have had at least 2,000 work hours of practice as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) before they can take the certification exam.

      Step 5: Get Certified by the Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB)

      This is the final step before you can be recognized as an Orthopedic Nurse.

      You must apply to write the ONP-C certification exam provided by the ONCB.

      There is another exam, the ONC-P certification exam, which is designed to test the competency of each applicant.

      Both exams evaluate a Nurse’s clinical skills and abilities.

      The exam is usually made up of 150 questions divided into 135 scored questions and 15 unscored questions.

      According to the ONCB website, below is the official breakdown of the assessment in order of questions:


      • Degenerative Disorders (53 questions)
      • Orthopedic Trauma (24 questions)
      • Sports Injuries (19 questions)
      • Inflammatory Disorders (11 questions)
      • Metabolic Bone Disorders including broken bones (11 questions)
      • Congenital/Pediatric (8 questions)
      • Musculoskeletal Tumors (4 questions)
      • Neuromuscular (5 questions)


      • Clinician/Practitioner (85-95 questions)
      • Educator (13-23 questions)
      • Manager (3-9 questions)
      • Consultant (11-19 questions)
      • Researcher (3-9 questions)

      So, in summary, all five steps can be grouped into 4 categories:

      1.    Education: Enroll in either a BSN or MSN nursing degree program.

      If you have obtained the BSN, don’t forget that you are not yet at the finish line in terms of education requirements.

      You must complete your MSN.

      And if you decide to start a Ph.D. in Nursing, well, lucky you.

      With the right education, degree, and certification, you are more likely to land your dream job without too much delay.

      2.    Examination: This is the state licensure exam for Registered Nurses.

      Steps required to Become an Orthopedic Nurse - Assignments

      It is recommended that you apply for the exam when you are two months away from graduating from your advanced nursing degree program.

      Thus, the NCLEX exam comprises 150 to 250 multiple choice questions, and each candidate has about 5 hours to complete them.

      If you did not pass the exam on your first try, relax! You can reapply to write the exam again after 45 days.

       Here are some of the focuses of the NCLEX-RN coursework: Psychosocial integrity, safe and effective care environment, physiological integrity, and health promotion and maintenance

      3.    Experience: This is the hands-on clinical training each aspiring Orthopedic Nurse received during training.

      It also includes any full-time or part-time nursing job they choose to temporarily do after graduation.

      Working with several patients and fellow Nurses puts you in a very important position when hiring managers are considering job applications.

      4.    Certification: This step involves getting the required certification so that you can get recognized as a professional Orthopedic Nurse.

      Credentialed Orthopedic Nurses standouts when job openings for Orthopedic Nurses are advertised.

      It also proves to the employers that you have all the skills listed on your resume.

      Nursing Programs for Aspiring Orthopedic Nurses

      Have you now made up your mind that you will socialize in this nursing unit?

      Are you confused as to which nursing programs are available to aspiring Orthopedic Nurses?

      Do you have some years of experience working at a hospital’s emergency unit or caring for patients with injuries?

      Well, let’s share with you some of our top recommendations for institutions where you could study Orthopedics.

      You could enroll in Orthopedic Nurse programs in colleges or universities.

      These institutions offer post-graduate certificate programs, Ortho Nurse fellowship programs, and residency programs.

      Take note that each of these programs may vary in terms of the amount of time it will take to complete them.

      For instance, certificate programs are often the shortest to complete, followed by fellowships and residencies.

      Let’s look at just two Orthopedic Nursing programs that you can enroll in.

      Number 1 

      Program: The Advanced Practice Provider Orthopedic Fellowship

      Institution: Ohio State University College of Medicine

      Duration: It is a 12-month postgraduate program

      Purpose: This program is meant for those who are entirely new to orthopedic medicine or those with an enter-level knowledge.

      Benefits: Access to more Orthopedic Residents, Physicians, and Nurse Practitioners.

      Availability of paid vacation, malpractice insurance coverage, BCLS certification, Ohio State University College of Medicine APP health and dental insurance, and a salary of $50,000.

      Number 2

      Program: The Advanced Practice Provider Orthopedic Fellowship

      Institution: The Medical College of Wisconsin

      Duration: It is a 12-month postgraduate program

      Purpose: Meant for both entry-level Orthopedic Nurses and also encompasses advanced learning practices

      Benefits: Access to more than 35 Orthopedic Residents, Physicians, and Nurse Practitioners.

      Learning from 40 certified Orthopedic Physicians.

      Paid vacation, malpractice insurance coverage, BCLS certification, $1,000 for CME, Medical College of Wisconsin APP health and dental insurance, and a salary of $60,000.

      The Cost

      The tuition of Orthopedic Nurse programs may differ from one school to another depending on the type of program.

      For instance, post-graduate certification programs cost between $5,000 and $10,000 in the United States.

      Most Orthopedic Nurse residency and fellowship programs are tuition-free.

      However, should you choose a paid program or a tuition-free program?

      While this is a personal decision, remember that with paid programs, you have access to more training, education, and clinical experience.

      Paid programs have more stressful learning schedules and will be completed faster than free programs.

      One advantage of residency and fellowship programs is that applicants usually get paid, apart from other perks like paid vacation and insurance coverage.

      The Curriculum

      The curriculum’s goal is to build on all Orthopedic nursing skills and abilities that have been acquired in the nursing school.

      Depending on the program, students must complete the coursework and clinical rotations.

      For certificate programs, a minimum of 8 credit hours of coursework and clinical are required.

      For fellowships and residencies, didactic instruction comprises clinical rotations in different orthopedic settings.

      This helps the students gain a broad range of orthopedic experience.

      For a Master’s degree students, they can add the orthopedic nursing program to their academic plan.

      With the MSN certification (or higher certification), they can apply for the certificate program of their choice.

      Generally, the orthopedic nursing program curriculum requires the completion of eight credit hours.

      Orthopedic nursing skills

      Here is the breakdown:

      • Advanced Practice Nursing: Musculoskeletal Specialty I (3 credit hours)
      • Advanced Practice Nursing: Musculoskeletal Specialty II (2 credit hours)
      • Advanced Practice Nursing: Musculoskeletal Specialty Synthesis requires 168 clinical hours (3 credit hours)

      As stated at the outset, the minimum requirement set out by most institutions for orthopedic nursing programs is the MSN degree.

      But some programs allow current MSN students who have a few months to complete their program to take the coursework.

      To learn more about this, contact the admission advisor in the institution of your choice.

      The Best Orthopedic Nursing Programs (List)

      In addition to the two programs recommended above, individuals who are interested in becoming Orthopedic Nurses can enroll in any of the following programs

      The link on each institution takes you directly to the school’s website and to the page that provides more information about the program of your choice.

      Here they are:

      1. Duke University School of Nursing – Durham, NC

       Program Type: Certificate

       2. UMass Lowell – Lowell, MA

       Program Type: Post-Master’s Certificate

      3. Ohio State University College of Medicine – Columbus, OH

      Program Type: Advanced Practice Provider (APP) Orthopedic Fellowship

       4. Medical College of Wisconsin – Wauwatosa, WI

      Program Type: NP and PA Orthopaedic Fellowship

      5. University of New Mexico – Albuquerque, NM

      Program Type: Advanced Practice Provider Fellowship

      6. University of Saint Joseph – West Hartford, CT

       Program Type: Certificate in Musculoskeletal Health/Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

      7. University of Rochester Medical Center – Rochester, NY

      Program Type: Fellowship

      8. Carilion Clinic – Roanoke, VA

      Program Type: Orthopaedic Surgery NP & PA Fellowship

      Orthopedic Nurse Certification

      There are three certifications that the Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB) offers.

      They are:

      • The Orthopaedic Nurse Certified (ONC) credential
      • The Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner Certified (ONP-C)
      • The Orthopaedic Clinical Nurse Specialist Certified (OCNS-C)

      For the ONC, applicants must have a valid Registered Nurse License, two years of clinical experience, and a minimum of 1,000 RN work hours in orthopedics.  

      Satisfying these criteria makes such an applicant eligible to write the certification exam.

      The ONC requires recertification after every 5 years.

      To apply for recertification, an applicant must have 100 contact hours of continued education and at least 1,000 hours of work experience.

      For the ONP-C, only current Nurse Practitioners can apply.

      The OCNS-C is meant for Clinical Nurse Specialists only.

      For the two certifications, applicants must have either a master’s or a higher nursing degree.

      Also, the applicant must hold the ONC certificate, they must produce a minimum of 1,500 hours of nursing experience in orthopedics, and they must also be currently working as Orthopedic Nurses.

      Let’s briefly talk about the certification exams.

      The entire exams consist of 150 questions.

      About a third of the questions will test an applicant’s knowledge of degenerative disorders.

      The remaining part of the questions will cover the following topics:

      • Neuromuscular
      • Metabolic bone disorders
      • Musculoskeletal tumors
      • Orthopedic trauma
      • Pediatric/congenital
      • Sports injuries
      • Inflammatory disorders

      All Orthopedic Nurses must be members of the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON).

      This association publishes its official journal, the Orthopaedic Nurses for the use of Orthopedic Nurses all around the country.

      The writers are also experienced Orthopedic Nurses.

      Orthopedic Nurses working with kids are advised to take up membership with the Pediatric Orthopaedic Practitioners Society (POPS) or the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America (POSNA).

      And there is an international body known as the International Alliance of Orthopaedic Nursing Associations.

      It is a global association featuring Orthopedic Nurses from all around the world.


      Becoming an Orthopedic Nurse requires dedication just like with every other nursing specialty.

      If you would like to pursue this career, you also need endurance.

      You need endurance because the years of study and the work experience you need might take a while before they become concrete.

      Make sure you satisfy the education requirements, which are the same everywhere in the United States.

      Conduct your research on Orthopedic Nursing programs in accredited institutions.

      Compare the tuition, schedules, and years of study.

      There is no other time to begin your journey other than now.

      We hope that this guide has given you all the important information you need on how to become an Orthopedic Nurse.




      National Association of Orthopedic Nurses

      Nurse Beth

      Nurse Beth, Registered nurse (RN). Has more than 10 years of experience helping people get started in their nursing careers. She is an expert and helping people pass their CNA, NCLEX RN, NCLEX PN, HESI A2, and TEAS exams.

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