A surgical nurse is a specialized registered nurse who takes care of patients before, during, and after medical operations. Also, surgical nurses assist surgeons during medical operations. Some medical procedures can range from open-heart surgery to brain surgery to even plastic surgery. Ready for the challenge of surgical nursing? Discover how to become one today!

How to Become a Surgical Nurse Guide

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Quick Summary

The surgical nurse care for patients that come from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. They consider patient safety to be their utmost and top priority. Plus surgical nurses can work and long-term care facilities, surgical and urgent centers, clinics, inpatient care units, and more.

Surgical nurses have alternative job titles such as Circulating Nurses, Post-op Nurses, Pre-op Nurses, Recovery Room Nurses, Floor Nurses, Perioperative Nurses, Intra-op nurses, and Scrub Nurses.

How much do surgical nurses make?  The Median annual salary is $67,490*

Recommended level of education for this career: Bachelor of Science (BSN)

License Needed: Registered Nursing License

Optional Certification: Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Credential (CMSRN)

How much do surgical nurses make?  The Median annual salary is $82,672*


What do Surgical Nurses do?

A surgical nurse works hard to ensure patients and families that before they or their loved one is wheeled into surgery, they will be in the best hands possible. Surgical nurses work as patient advocates for patients in the operating room and ensure patient needs are being met.

They additionally provide ongoing assistance to the physician or surgeon during surgery. Alternative job titles for surgical nurses may include scrub nurses, medical, surgical nurses, post-op nurses and are in first assistants.

Typical job duties of a Surgical Nurse:

  • Documents patient’s plan of care with the expected patient outcome
  • Administer patient medications as well as monitor their IVs
  • Restock surgery supplies as needed
  • Complete patient admission and discharges
  • Monitor the needs of the patients with the ability to respond promptly
  • Help to educate the patients and families
  • Provide routine treatment as well as after surgical care

The responsibilities of a surgical nurse begin long before a patient is wheeled into an operating room and continue long after the operation has been completed. Surgical nurses must be highly observant of both the patient needs and the surgeon’s needs throughout an operation.

The three primary responsibilities of a surgical nurse include:

Preoperative (Before the surgery) – before patients enter into surgery the surgical nurse sits down, assesses the patient, and takes the time to answer any of the patients/families’ questions. The surgical nurse helps to ease the patient’s anxieties and worries by explaining to them what to expect during and after the surgery.

When the surgical nurse is conducting his/hers assessment, they may often go over the patients’ medical record looking for any known allergies, what medications the patient has taken the day of the surgery, verify the patient’s name and date of birth, and so forth.

All of this information in the patient’s assessment is used to make a patient care plan. In addition to surgical nurses making a patient care plan, they must also help to prepare the patient mentally, physically, and emotionally for their surgery.

In some cases, the patient may not be ready for the operation due to high blood pressure, or the patient did not follow the recommended directions that can postpone surgery. In return, the surgical nurse will have to contact the physician to see if the patient is physically healthy or prepared to go through with the surgery. In some cases, the surgery may be postponed called off altogether.

To add to that the surgical nurse has a large responsibility to keep the family of the patient up to date and in the loop of what is going on throughout the patient’s surgery. Often the family members will have questions that include what are the usual outcomes of the surgery? How long does the surgery take, and what are the predicted results supposed to be? The surgical nurse needs to be able to give detailed information as to the patient’s well-being throughout the surgery.

Surgical nurses are also responsible for preparing the operating room for future operations; that includes selecting and making sure the instruments are sterilized, they’re set up in the medical machinery is functioning correctly.

Intra-Operative (During the surgery) – you can think of the surgical nurse as being a voice for the patient while the patient is under sedation and end up able to care for themself. Additionally, surgical nurses also assist surgeons as needed to opt for operation.

A surgical nurse has a big job because the surgical nurse has to anticipate what the needs of the surgical team and the surgeon will be and they must know how to react to any changes the patient may have during the surgery.

All surgeries have a certain amount of risk, so in return, the operation must be performed as quickly and safely as possible. Because of the risk, those surgeries pose surgical nurses will need to be familiar with the different types of procedures as well as the instruments that are used to perform them.

Often the operating room can be a high-stress environment, and the surgical nurse has to be able to stay calm and in control of his or her emotions. Further, the surgical nurse will need to be prepared to assist and understand the surgeon’s instructions while paying great attention to detail.

Post-Operative (After the surgery) – Once the operation is over the surgical nurse will move the patient to a recovery room to further evaluate and continue to monitor the patient. During this time the surgical nurse will observe how the patient is responding to the surgery, if the patient is in any pain, and the surgical nurse will also find if the patient is recovering as expected. Surgical nurses will gather and report this information to the patient’s physician and surgeon.

Additionally, the surgical nurses get in contact with the patient’s family to explain to them the results of the surgery.

Now after the patient had been discharged either the patient will get sent to a surgery discharge area and start preparing to go home, or the patient may still need more healing in the surgical nurse will continue to monitor the progress and provide any medications that have been prescribed by the physician.


Can surgical nurses have nursing specialties?

Yes, surgical nurses can have nursing specialties. Below is a surgical nursing specialty you could choose to specialize in!

Surgical nurses are registered nurses who care for surgical patients. This additionally includes nurses who work in surgical units. The floor nurse will get patients prepared for surgery and send the patients to the operating holding unit. They do this when operating room nurses are ready for the patient to come in.

Perioperative nurses also include day surgery pre-op nurses. These nurses will check patients in and prepare them on the day of their surgery. These nurses can pick up if any problems may affect the operation. Perioperative nurses or pre-op nurses will notify the surgeon.

Postanesthesia care nurses. The nurses are the ones that take over from an operating room. These are the nurses who once an operation is completed, will conduct assessments with the patients to make sure their vital signs are good their breathing is good their bleeding is controlled, and see how much pain the patient may be in. Post-op nurses are also known as recovery room nurses.

Intra-op nurses additionally include scrub nurses and circulating nurses. These nurses will ensure the supplies and medical tools selected in organized and ready to be used during surgery. The circulating nurse is what is known as a non-sterile member of the surgical staff.

The circulating nurse will be and act as a liaison between the surgical team and the rest of the hospital when the surgery is in progress. Additionally circulating nurses have also been known as operating room nurses.

RN first assistants are registered nurses that are a new career within surgical nursing. Are in first assistance work hand-in-hand with surgeons inside the operating room additionally seeing pre-op in post-op patients.

Characteristics and skills needed to be a successful surgical nurse

  • Be willing to put your patients first
  • Have the ability to be flexible as sometimes you may have odd hours
  • Be prepared to work overtime as sometimes the surgery may go on for hours
  • Capacity to follow instructions completely
  • Have the ability to be physically and mentally be able to withstand emergencies


Is becoming a surgical nurse right for me?

Deciding on surgical nursing is right for you will depend on several factors. Some of these factors include being able to be flexible surgical nursing is a very demanding specialty. This is due in part to the pressure that comes with holding a patient’s life in your hands.

Unfortunately, within the operating room life and death situations can happen at any time and as a surgical nurse, you will find yourself in the middle of the situation. If you are not good at handling emergencies nor cannot stand the sight of blood then this may not be the best career for you.

Surgical nursing demands a particular type of person to be able to react quickly to emergencies and be able to assess the situation and respond to the situation at a moment’s notice.

This specialty is not a one-person job by could be viewed as a team effort, and every member of the team holds a high response-ability and plays a vital part in helping the patient goes to surgery. Some of the main complaints that nurses have within this profession are the odd hours this specialty demands. They sometimes report never knowing when they will have to stop what they are doing and go into a high-stress situation; you have to be willing to put your life on hold.

Many registered nurses decide to pursue this career because they have a great fascination with the workings of the human body. Additionally, they find modern medical procedures intriguing in the way that they can prolong life.

This specialty is for people that want to make a difference and are willing to give a portion of their life to do so.


What education will I need to become a surgical nurse?

To become a surgical nurse, you will first have to become a registered nurse. To become a registered nurse, you will either need to have completed a four-year bachelor of science in nursing degree, a two-year associate degree in nursing, or a three-year diploma from a nursing hospital program.

It’s best when selecting your school choice to make sure that the school is accredited.

Within your nursing classes, you will take classes that focus on human growth, development, nursing theory, humanities, sciences, and much more. Additionally, within your nursing school program, you will have to complete what is known as clinical rotations to give you hands-on experience with working with patients.

Once you complete your nursing degree or hospital diploma you will then be qualified to take the NCLEX-RN examination to earn your registered nursing license.

After you obtain your nursing license, you will need on-the-job registered nursing experience in an operating room. This will give you these necessary skills and development as well as the technique you will need to become a surgical nurse.

Also, the on-the-job registered nursing experience will be necessary. Should you decide to pursue optional surgical nursing professional certifications.


What certification is available for surgical nurses?

There are several benefits to becoming certified. Becoming certified is optional however choosing to become certified can open more career doors for you. Additionally becoming certified shows and displays your professional credentials for your patients and team members.

The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) offers the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Credential (CMSRN).

This credential is for registered nurses that have practiced as registered nurses for at least two years. Along with 2000 practice hours within the last three years within the clinical, management, or education practice. The certification is good for five years.

To recertify your certification, you will need to complete at least 1000 practice hours within five years. This will need to be in clinical, management, or education practice.


Career Outlook

The Career Outlook for surgical nurses and nurses, in general, is excellent with no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Surgical nurses will continue to be in high demand. As our population gets older so does the demand for surgeries. This creates a significant demand for surgical nurses to help meet the ambulatory care needs of patients.

Read also – How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Guide