How Can I Become a Surgical Nurse?

Research what it takes to become a surgical nurse. Learn about education requirements, job duties, licensure and certification requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Surgical Nurse?

A surgical nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in the surgical field. They help prepare patients for surgical procedures. They also assist the surgeon during surgery by monitoring the patient's vital signs, handing the surgeon tools or performing other tasks. A surgical nurse will prepare a care plan for the patient that will be used after their surgery. During the post-operative stage they monitor the patient to make sure they are recovering as expected, make sure the care plan is followed and alert the physician if they have any concerns about the patient's condition. Surgical nurses often have a bachelor's degree or comparable nursing credentials, and they may be required to complete a training program offered by their employer.

Degree Required Diploma, associate's or bachelor's degree
Training Required Nursing
Key Skills Attention to detail; physical stamina; organization skills; critical thinking
Licensure and Certification Licensure as RN is required; board certification in surgical nursing is available
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 16% for all registered nurses
Median Salary (2016)** $65,387

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com

How Does a Surgical Nurse Help People?

As a surgical nurse, you work under the supervision of a surgeon in an operating room (OR), endoscopy unit, same-day surgery facility or post-anesthesia care unit. You might specialize in a particular treatment area or disease, such as transplant surgery or surgeries associated with heart disease, or you might gain a broader work experience.

During surgery, you could serve as a scrub nurse or circulating nurse. The former passes surgical instruments and supplies to the surgeon, whereas the latter manages the patient's overall care and the comfort and safety of the OR. Some of the specific tasks and procedures you could perform or assist with include chest-tube and central-line placement, ostomy care and education, complex dressing changes and wound irrigation. You also help plan and implement treatment, examine patients, review lab data, schedule patients' arrival times for surgery and educate patients about surgery.

What Degree Do I Need for This Field?

Before you can pursue this specialty, you have to become a registered nurse. Several educational paths are available for aspiring RNs, including approved associate and bachelor's degree programs. Hospital-administered diploma programs, though less common, are also an option. All three paths can help qualify you for an entry-level position as a registered nurse, but a Bachelor of Science in Nursing may award you the best employment and advancement opportunities. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another field, you could qualify for an accelerated BSN program.

You aren't likely to find an undergraduate degree program specific to this specialty, but many general nursing programs include some coursework in medical-surgical nursing. Once you become a licensed RN, you might prepare for this specialty on the job, which is where nursing specialties are often determined. Some Master of Science in Nursing programs offer medical-surgical specialties that can help you prepare for this field as well. With your master's degree, you may become an advanced practice nurse.

Do I Need a License?

Each state requires nurses to be licensed, regardless of specialty. Once you successfully complete an approved nursing program, you need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination to get your license. All states require you to pass this exam, but other eligibility requirements vary by state. You can determine state-specific requirements for licensure by checking with your state's board of nursing.

How Do I Become Certified?

While certification is typically voluntary for this field, it may be required or preferred by some employers. Two options, accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification, are available in surgical nursing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers a medical-surgical nursing specialty that leads to a Registered Nurse-Board Certified credential, whereas the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) offers the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse credential.

Both certifications last five years and have similar eligibility requirements, although the ANCC requires candidates to complete 30 contact hours, whereas the MSNCB exam has no contact hour requirement (www.msncb.org). Some schools and medical centers offer certification review courses. Designed to help you prepare for the certification exam, such courses are generally specific to only one of the two credentialing bodies.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are similarities between the work that surgical nurses do and the duties of EMTs and paramedics, and licensed practical nurses. Earning a postsecondary non-degree award, such as a certificate, is required for those careers. EMTs and paramedics provide medical treatment to people in emergency situations. They may give medications, apply bandages or perform CPR while transporting a patient to the hospital. Licensed practical nurses monitor patients, follow the care plan for the patient, and notify supervising nurses or doctors of any concerns they have with a patient's progress.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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