Surgical Nurse: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for surgical nurses. Get the facts about education, licensure and certification requirements to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Surgical Nurse?

Surgical nurses provide nursing care to patients before, during and after surgery. They work closely with the operating surgeon to make the surgical procedure go as smoothly as possible. This includes preparing the patient for surgery, assisting the surgeon by providing tools and following instructions, and providing care post-surgery. The following chart gives you an overview of the requirements for entering this career field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Training Required 2,000 hours Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA) internship or practicum
Education Field of Study Nursing
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as a registered nurse is required in all states; Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA) certification and Certified Nurses in the Operating Room (CNOR) certification may be required by employers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% for all registered nurses*
Median Salary (2015) $86,502**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Job Duties Might I Have as a Surgical Nurse?

There are a variety of nursing roles involved during surgical procedures. Prior to surgery, a surgical or perioperative nurse familiarizes himself or herself with the patient's medical history and prepares the operating room with supplies, equipment and instruments. During a surgical procedure, you could monitor a patient's vital signs and deliver direct surgical care by assisting the surgeon with the procedure. Following surgery, you might monitor the condition of the patient coming out of anesthesia and help the patient manage pain and any other side effects of surgery. You might also serve as the communication liaison to the patient's family, other departments and members of the operating team.

What Is My Employment Outlook?

Job opportunities for all registered nurses (RNs), including surgical nurses, were expected to grow by 16% from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). This rate is much faster than the average career growth for all occupations during that time period. Salary.com reported that the middle half of surgical nurse first assistants earned between $78,220 and $96,299 in December 2016.

What Education Do I Need?

According to the Association of Operating Room Nurses (AORN), you'll need at least a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree in nursing to work as a surgical nurse (www.aorn.org). After you get your diploma or degree, you'll need to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), offered by the National Council for State Boards of Nursing. Most surgical nurses begin their careers as general practice nurses before developing the specialized skills needed to succeed in the operating room.

You'll need a bachelor's degree, RN license and 2,400 hours of professional experience in an operating room setting to take the CNOR examination, offered by the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI). Although CNOR is typically known as an acronym for Certified Nurses in the Operating Room, it is defined by CCI as a professional certification for RNs who care for patients before, during and after the surgical process. You might also consider becoming a Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA), which is another certification offered by CCI. You'll need a bachelor's degree, evidence of completion of an accredited RNFA program, CNOR certification and 2,000 hours of an RNFA internship or practicum.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several careers that may interest individuals who are considering surgical nursing. There are a number of other types of nursing that are possible choices, like pediatric nursing or geriatric nursing, for which the educational requirements would be about the same. For those who work well under pressure, they may want to think about jobs as paramedics or EMTs. With additional education and training, individuals could also pursue jobs in sonography, dental hygiene, and physician assisting.

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