How to Become an Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner

Some may say orthopaedic nurse practitioners are everyday heroes. In physicians’ offices, clinics, and hospitals alike, they care for patients suffering from a range of musculoskeletal conditions affecting bones, joints, tendons, ligaments, muscles, and nerves.

Daily duties of an orthopaedic nurse practitioner may include conducting physical exams, taking detailed patient histories, prescribing tests and treatments, and then analyzing the results. By working closely with physicians and nursing staff, orthopaedic nurse practitioners coordinate patients’ care from the time of injury to discharge. 

Orthopaedic nursing can be a highly rewarding career path for people who genuinely care about both helping others toward physical recovery—and seeing their hard work pay off meaningfully. 

According to the National Association of Orthopaedic Nurses (NAON), “The role of the orthopaedic nurse is to advance musculoskeletal healthcare by promoting excellence in orthopaedic research, education and nursing practice.” From prescribing pain medications for broken bones to analyzing hip replacement x-rays, orthopaedic nurse practitioners serve a diverse set of patients with diverse issues—empowering them on the path to recovery. 

Note that “orthopaedic” and “orthopedic” are often used interchangeably but both relay the same meaning.

Common Steps to Become an Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner

There are several common steps to earning an orthopaedic nurse practitioner (ONP) certification. Prior education, certification, and clinical practice are among the requirements for being accepted into a nurse practitioner program. Here’s the step-by-step path you can take to become an orthopaedic nurse practitioner:

1. Become a registered nurse. 

In order to apply to a nurse practitioner program, you must have earned a license as a registered nurse in a U.S. state or territory. Passing the NCLEX-RN examination is required for certification as a registered nurse.

2. Apply to a nurse practitioner program. 

The program you choose should be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). These programs must be master’s, postgraduate or doctoral programs.

3. Apply for state recognized licensure as a nurse practitioner.

It’s important for aspiring NPs to have a clear understanding of state laws that impact the way they practice. 

4. Obtain 2,000 hours of practice as an APRN. 

The ONP-C examination for certification as an orthopedic nurse practitioner requires at least 2,000 hours of practice. Some of your hours earned in your nurse practitioner program may count.

5. Apply to take the ONP-C exam to earn your orthopaedic nurse practitioner certification.

This exam is administered by the Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB) and tests knowledge of a variety of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries and the roles required of ONPs. Final transcripts and proof of education are required. 

6. Maintain your certification. 

Your orthopaedic nurse practitioner certification must be renewed every five years. In addition to renewing certification through the board, renewal through the state is also required and may require additional fulfillment of continuing education contact hours.

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Should I Become an Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner? 

Your personal attributes may help you to determine whether a job as an orthopaedic nurse practitioner is the best fit for you. Maybe communicating effectively is your strong suit. Or, you’re known for your attention to detail. 

When considering a career as an orthopaedic nurse practitioner, think about the soft skills that might help you to get through tough days at work or enable you to gain the trust of your patients. Here are some questions you can ask yourself as you explore this career path:

Do I enjoy regularly interacting with others? Strong interpersonal skills are critical to various healthcare occupations, including that of an orthopaedic nurse practitioner. Each day, you’ll be caring for patients across the lifespan, who are at different stages of the recovery process. During your face-to-face time, you’ll provide them with guidance on their journey to musculoskeletal strength.

Do I have a strong sense of compassion? As an orthopaedic nurse practitioner, you may be caring for patients who have endured traumatic events and extreme pain, such as surgery, chronic illness, or a high-impact motor vehicle accident. Empathy is essential at every point of the recovery process.

Am I a patient person? The path from injury to discharge may be a long and winding one. As an orthopaedic nurse practitioner, patience can help you celebrate patients’ progress—no matter how small—while helping them power through setbacks and frustration.

Orthopaedic Nurse Certification 

Founded in 1986, The Orthopaedic Nurses Certification Board (ONCB) promotes the highest standards of orthopaedic nursing practice through the development, implementation and coordination of certification for orthopaedic nurses.

By taking the ONP-C exam, aspiring orthopaedic nurse practitioners can take strides toward achieving professional development and excellence in their field. According to the ONCB, gaining your certification is a way to prove both a commitment to lifelong learning and a high level of knowledge, all while increasing your confidence as an orthopaedic nurse practitioner.

Here’s some more information about the ONP-C certification:

Orthopaedic Nursing Certification Board (ONCB) – Oncology Nurse Practitioner – Certified (ONP-C)

  • Eligibility Requirements: Those seeking certification must hold a valid RN license, a master’s level degree from an advanced nursing practice (APRN) program and have a minimum of 2,000 hours of APRN work experience in the last three years.
  • Fees:
    • $345 for NAON/AANP/NOVA members
    • $460 for non-members
  • Renewal Process: Certification is valid for five years. ONP-Cs must present 1,000 hours of practice as a nurse practitioner during the last five years before renewal, and 100 contact hours of education (65 in clinical orthopaedics and up to 35 in general nursing).

Orthopaedic Nurse Resources

There are immense benefits to staying current in the healthcare field, such as advancing in the workplace or learning how to provide the best care possible to your patients.

One way to stay current is to engage in continued learning and make use of professional development resources offered through professional organizations across the country. To that end, here are a few resources that may help you enhance your career and guide you through the path to orthopaedic nursing.

Additional Nursing Degree Programs

Nursing Licensure


What is an orthopaedic nurse practitioner? What do they do? Where do they work? How much money do they make? Here are the answers to four common questions related to pursuing a career as an orthopaedic nurse practitioner.

What is an Orthopaedic Nurse?

Orthopaedic nurse practitioners care for patients with musculoskeletal problems including broken bones, arthritis, osteoporosis, joint replacements, and other injuries and diseases. On a day-to-day basis, they are responsible for conducting physical exams, taking patient histories and a variety of other tasks related to musculoskeletal strength and health. They often collaborate with physicians and nursing staff to provide individualized care for patients 

As the population ages, the BLS expects demand for nurse practitioners will continue to grow. These professionals will be responsible for addressing complex conditions associated with aging. That may include musculoskeletal rehabilitation, and more. 

What Does an Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner Do?

Orthopaedic nurse practitioners have a wide array of responsibilities, not limited examining patients, assessing symptoms, and prescribing tests, treatments, and pain medications. 

Also included in the orthopaedic nurse practitioner scope of practice:

  • Taking X-rays
  • Setting fractures
  • Treating wounds
  • Changing bandages
  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs
  • Preparing patients for orthopaedic surgery
  • Assisting orthopaedic surgeons during procedures
  • Providing postoperative care for patients
  • Offering education about at-home rehabilitation 
  • Helping patients gain strength and improve mobility

Together, these actions can help patients take significant strides toward musculoskeletal rehabilitation, while potentially providing orthopaedic nurse practitioners with a meaningful sense of purpose and career satisfaction.

Where Does an Orthopaedic Nurse Practitioner Work?

Orthopaedic nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings including physicians’ offices, clinics, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, long-term care facilities, outpatient surgical practices, sports medicine practices, and hospitals—coordinating patients’ care from the time of injury to discharge.

Though many orthopaedic nurse practitioners are generalists, there is also the option of specializing in a number of areas, including: 

  • Congenital musculoskeletal disorders
  • Foot and ankle surgery
  • Joint reconstruction
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Neuromuscular disorders
  • Orthopaedic oncology
  • Spine surgery
  • Sports medicine

Sometimes, these areas can determine one’s work environment. For instance, an orthopaedic nurse practitioner who has specialized in sports medicine may choose to work in a sports medicine practice over a physician’s office. 

Together with physicians, physical therapists, and other nurses and healthcare professionals, orthopaedic nurse practitioners can help patients rehabilitate from injuries, recover from surgery, and take steps to managing pain and regaining normal musculoskeletal function.

How Much Does an Orthopaedic Nurse Make? 

While the BLS does provide salary information specific to orthopaedic nurse practitioners, it does report on nurse practitioner salary averages. The median annual salary for nurse practitioners in 2019 was $109,820. Keep in mind that nursing salary will differ depending on location, employer, years of experience and more. 

Information on this page was last retrieved in June 2020.