How to Become a Plastic Surgery Nurse in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a plastic surgery nurse. Learn about job duties, education requirements, and licensure 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 Plastic Surgery Nurse?

Plastic surgery nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who provide pre-op and post-op care and education for cosmetic or reconstruction surgery patients. Prior to a surgery they work with patients and surgeons to outline treatment plans and post-surgery recovery and care plans. They may conduct physical examinations and record a patient's medical history. During surgery, they assist the surgeon by prepping equipment and monitoring patients' vitals.

After an operation is complete, the plastic surgery nurse keeps an eye on the patient to monitor for complications. They may be required to change patient bandages and administer medications. When the patient wakes, the nurse often provides emotional comfort and advice on how to ensure a speedy recovery. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a plastic surgery nurse.

Degree Required Diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing
Key Responsibilities Monitor patient status and vital signs; assist surgeon during procedures; administer medication; maintain patient records
Licensure and/or Certification All states require RNs to be licensed; Certified Plastic Surgical Nurse (CPSN) credential is available from the American Society of Plastic Surgical Nurses (ASPSN)
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2016) $65,387 (for all surgical nurses)**

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

What Does a Plastic Surgery Nurse Do?

Plastic surgery nurses work with surgeons to care for patients who are having elective minor cosmetic procedures or major reconstructive surgeries. As a nurse, you'll attend to patients prior to their procedures, which could include taking medical history, calming patients and answering any questions they may have. You'll assist surgeons in the operating room and monitor patients in post-op. These surgeries are often done because of psychological needs, therefore you should anticipate working with emotional patients and delicate situations.

Step 1: Finish High School

Nurses need to have at least an associate degree to sit for the licensing examination. In order to take an associate degree program, you must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. In high school, courses in biology, chemistry, math and health prepare you for this career.

Step 2: Train to Become a Nurse

Several levels of education lead to a nursing career. An Associate of Science in Nursing (ADN) usually takes two to complete, and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) takes four years. Some colleges provide programs that lead from an ADN to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. You'll find that a BSN is the preferred credential for becoming a plastic surgery nurse, but registered nurses (RN) with ADNs may also find opportunities in this field.

With any route you decide to take, you'll want to select a program that teaches you core nursing principles. Courses should cover medical terminology, anatomy, patient care, pharmacology, nursing skills and assessment techniques. You'll also need to complete a clinical for experience with real patients and a medical setting.

Step 3: Become Licensed

When you graduate from any nursing program, you must pass the national NCLEX-RN licensing exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (www.ncsbn.org). This exam will license you as a registered nurse. If you meet the requirements, you can sit for the NCLEX-PN exam for licensed practical nurses.

Step 4: Get Experience in a Plastic Surgery Environment

To work as a plastic surgery nurse, you'll need to devote time and experience with a plastic surgery department. You may need to work in another field before focusing on this specialty. You may also focus your specialization to pediatric plastic surgery nursing, if you want to work with children. You must get on-the-job training in order to move on for certification.

Step 5: Pass the Certification Exam

The American Society of Plastic Surgical Nurses (ASPSN) administers the Certified Plastic Surgical Nurse (CPSN) exam through the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB). To be eligible to sit for the exam, you must be an RN and have at least two years of experience in a plastic surgery department. About one-third of the multiple-choice exam deals with plastic surgery in the head and neck, while the other two-thirds is divided between questions on extremities, breast, abdominal and genitalia areas (www.aspsn.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Registered nurses may work in other medical areas outside of plastic surgery, such as addiction, neonatology (newborn infants), or critical care (grave, complex illnesses). With more advanced education, individuals can become physicians' assistants, who also provide input regarding treatment plans and post surgery care.

If the goal is helping during operations, a relevant career is an operating room technician. These professionals help make sure surgical equipment and rooms are ready for surgery. They may hand equipment to surgeons during surgery and are responsible for cleaning up all equipment and the surgery room after a surgery.

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