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What is Orthopaedic Nursing?

Orthopaedic Nursing has its roots in Victorian England. The specialty’s matriarch, Dame Agnes Hunt, was crippled from septic arthritis of her hip. She devoted her entire nursing career to improving the lives of crippled children and those injured by the ravages of war. In our more recent past, orthopaedic nurses have practiced in hospital settings in either dedicated orthopaedic units or in the operating room. Within the past few years, many orthopaedic units have evolved into mixed units caring for a diverse patient population. With this shift, you will now find orthopaedic nurses in an endless array of practice settings. These settings encompass the entire continuum of care − from birth until death, from acute care in an intensive care unit to outpatient rehab and home care. It is important that nurses caring for these patients with musculoskeletal injuries and conditions have the appropriate knowledge and skills specific to the orthopaedic specialty.

View an ONJ article on the Evolution of Orthopaedic Nursing at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

The role of the orthopaedic nurse is to advance musculoskeletal healthcare by promoting excellence in orthopaedic research, education and nursing practice. You will find orthopaedic nurses in a variety of organizations and in a variety of roles, such as: 

  • Staff nurses
  • Head nurses 
  • Clinical nurse specialists 
  • Supervisors/coordinators 
  • Nurse managers 
  • Directors 
  • Nursing instructors/educators 
  • Administrators 
  • RN first assistants 
  • Case managers 
  • Nurse practitioners
  • Office managers
  • Researchers

Orthopaedic nurses have a wide variety of settings from which to choose. You may find the orthopaedic nurse in the hospital, in a physician outpatient practice, in a nursing home, in industry, in academia or in home health. Their areas of practice include:

  • Emergency departments
  • Operating rooms
  • Adult orthopaedic units
  • Pediatric orthopaedic units
  • Adult medical/surgical units
  • Pediatric medical/surgical units
  • Trauma units
  • Gerontology units
  • Rehabilitation units
  • Oncology units
  • Home health agencies
  • Universities/colleges of nursing



Orthopaedic nurses are professional nurses who have successfully passed their Boards for RN or LPN/LVN. Many orthopaedic nurses go on to complete graduate degrees, including master’s and doctorate degrees. The Orthopaedic Nursing Certification Board (ONCB) has a certification exam that many nurses take. This credential, Orthopaedic Nurse Certified (ONC), indicates proficiency within the specialty and is the only credential that documents expertise in the practice of orthopaedic nursing. In addition, there are now two advanced practice nursing certifications offered: Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner (ONP-C) and Orthopaedic Clinical Nurse Specialist (OCNS-C).

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