Quick Facts :
Surgical Nurse


Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses, May 2017

info-icon Bachelor's
info-icon $73,550 Annual Wage
info-icon 15% Job Growth
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What Is a Surgical Nurse?

With amazing advances in the world of medicine, surgical procedures are much safer and more common today than ever before. Nevertheless, they still require a knowledgeable and skilled team to pull off a successful surgery, as one slip or mistake during these procedures can mean the difference between life and death. This is why surgical teams only choose the most well-trained and competent doctors and nurses, whom are compensated very well for their expertise and time.

While a career as a surgical nurse may be rather lucrative, it’s still not for the faint of heart. It often requires long hours, stressful situations, and exposure to some of life’s more unpleasant sights. Despite this, many people each year pursue surgical nursing careers, not just for the salary, but for the personal rewards it brings.

If surgeons are considered leaders of a surgical team, surgical nurses can be thought of as the backbones of these teams. They are there from the very beginning of the procedure to the very end. In fact, without surgical nurses, it would be almost impossible for surgeons to do their jobs well. These specialty nurses assist with all sorts of tasks before, during, and after surgical procedures.

Besides assisting with just general surgical procedures, most surgical nurses choose to specialize in one area. This can be an area such as obstetrics, pediatric surgery, or cardiac surgery, among others.

What Does a Surgical Nurse Do?

As mentioned above, surgical nurses typically assist with all aspects of a surgical procedure.

Before surgery, a surgical nurse may be required to work closely with the patient. This may involve explaining the procedure, giving pre-procedure instructions, and reassuring the patient. A surgical nurse will also usually have a hand in prepping a patient for surgery. This might involve measuring and recording the patient’s vital signs, starting intravenous lines, administering any medications, assisting the anesthesiologist and nurse anesthetist, and sterilizing and marking the incision sites.

Once a surgical procedure has begun, surgical nurses – along with the rest of the surgical team – will rarely have time for a moment’s rest. They must be vigilant and on their toes at all times. Surgical nurses are often charged with tasks such as monitoring patients’ vital signs, passing instruments to the surgeons, and running surgical equipment during the course of a procedure. If a patient’s vital signs start to behave erratically, it is the duty of the surgical nurse to alert the other members of the team. In the event of an emergency, surgical nurses might also be required to perform life saving maneuvers.

Surgical nurses are also often charged with making sure that the immediate post-surgical care goes as smoothly as possible. They will often help transport the patients to recovery rooms or intensive care units, where they will then monitor them and care for them. A surgical nurse might be required to change a patient’s dressings, administer medications, and follow any post-operative care instructions given by the surgeon.

Where Do Surgical Nurses Work?

Surgical nurses can most often find employment in hospitals with surgical wards and operating rooms, as well as trauma and emergency care centers. Besides working in these areas, you will also often be able to find employment in recovery rooms and intensive care units.

How Do I Become a Surgical Nurse?

Before you can become a surgical nurse, you will usually need to become a registered nurse. This involves earning your nursing degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Experience working in an intensive care unit or recovery room is also recommended, but it may not be essential.

You will also be required to obtain additional education – usually a minimum of a master’s degree – as well as complete an internship, residency, or fellowship in a surgical ward. You must then pass the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Examination (CMSRNE), which is administered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN).

Additional Resources for Surgical Nurses