Surgical Nurse: Career and Salary Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in surgical nursing. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Surgical Nurse?

When a patient needs surgery, much of their care will be provided by a surgical nurse. Surgical nurses are licensed registered nurses either at the RN level or with additional advanced training as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). They specialize in providing care to patients before, during and after surgery. Surgical nurses prepare patients for surgery, monitor their vitals and assist the surgeons during the surgery, and develop a post-operative care plan. Once the surgery is complete, they will monitor the patient's vital signs and progress and alert the doctor of any concerns or complications. Find out more about entering this job field in the table below:

Registered Nurse (RN)Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
Degree Required Associate's degree or bachelor's degree Master's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing Clinical Nurse Specialist
Key Responsibilities Assist surgeon during procedures; perform scrub and circulating nurse functions; administer medication; monitor patient status and record surgical information in patient records Assess nursing staff practices and patient outcomes; plan and implement goals for nursing staff; ensure competency of nursing staff; perform nursing duties
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure as RN is required; certification in medical-surgical nursing is available Licensure as RN is required; board certification is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%* for all registered nurses* 16%* for all registered nurses*
Median Salary $65,387 for all surgical nurses (2016)** $67,490 for all RNs, including CNSs (2015)*

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

How Do I Become a Surgical Nurse?

Surgical nurses are licensed registered nurses (RNs) who specialize in providing preoperative, operative and postoperative care. To become a surgical nurse, you must first earn your associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing. You'll learn basic and advanced nursing skills and practice these skills during a clinical practicum at a healthcare facility. After you complete your education, you'll be eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which is offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. After you meet all your state's requirements, you'll be eligible for RN licensure.

Some surgical nurses choose to expand their knowledge base and marketability by earning a Master of Science in Nursing with an emphasis in medical-surgical nursing. Master's degree programs generally take 2-3 years to complete, and some programs could prepare you to work as a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) in medical-surgical nursing. Like undergraduate nursing degree programs, master's degree programs in nursing consist of a classroom component and a clinical practicum.

What Certifications Do I Need?

Although you don't need to be certified in medical-surgical nursing to work as a surgical nurse, your chances of getting the position you want in a highly competitive job environment may improve if you earn a certification. Your options include the Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC) credential, offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) credential, offered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB).

Eligibility requirements for both credentials include RN licensure, two years of RN experience in a medical-surgical setting and 2,000 hours of practice in a medical-surgical setting (www.msncb.org). Additionally, to qualify for the RN-BC credential, you'll need 30 hours of continuing education courses within the last three years (www.nursecredentialing.org).

What Will My Job Duties Be?

You'll work closely with patients, their families and a team of healthcare professionals in a surgical setting. You'll be responsible for verifying a patient's medical history, answering questions related to surgical procedures, assisting with medical instruments during surgery and monitoring vital signs. Some of your other duties may include maintaining instrument counts, preparing the operating room, providing continuity of care, assisting in administrative and supervisory duties, and maintaining communication between the surgical staff.

What Salary Might I Earn?

In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that jobs for RNs were expected to increase 16% between 2014 and 2024; this is in comparison to the 7% average increase expected for all occupations in the U.S. (www.bls.gov). RNs work in a variety of settings and earn a wide range of salaries. Overall, RNs earned a median salary of $67,490 in 2015, while RNs who were employed by general medical and surgical hospitals earned a mean salary of $72,980, as reported by the BLS.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Dental hygienists, EMTs and nurse anesthetists all have duties that are comparable to the work of a surgical nurse. Dental hygienists clean and examine teeth and check patients for signs of gum disease or other dental problems. This is similar to the work of a surgical nurse because they may perform these tasks after dental surgery and need to alert the dentist to concerns about the patient's progress. They need an associate's degree in their discipline.

EMTs need postsecondary training, and they may provide lifesaving medical care to patients with illnesses or injuries. They need to be able to assess a patient, monitor their vital signs and perform medical procedures such as CPR in order to stabilize a patient. This is similar to the work of a surgical nurse because they may have to perform lifesaving procedures if a patient has complications during or after a surgery.

The nursing career field has numerous other options, including other master's-level opportunities. Other advanced practice nursing roles similar to CNS include nurse midwife, nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioner. Those with an interest in surgery may be particularly interested in becoming nurse anesthetists, who administer anesthesia to surgical patients, as well as providing other types of pain management care. All of these advanced practice roles require a master's degree and a nursing license.

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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