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Surgical Nurse: Employment & Career Info

Learn about the job duties of surgical nurses. Find out the education and licensure requirements for these nurses, and discover the salary potential for this career.

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Career Definition for a Surgical Nurse

Surgical nurses, also referred to as medical-surgical nurses, make up one of the largest groups of professional nurses. Though specializations of surgical nurses can be as varied as the settings they work in, surgical nurses generally provide pre-operative, in-surgery, and post-operative patient care. This can include administering medication, performing necessary blood tests, and other pre-surgery preparations. During the surgery, surgical nurses assist doctors and head nurses by preparing the patient, providing proper medical supplies, and monitoring the patient's wellbeing. Surgical nurses also provide post-operative care by cleaning wounds and managing pain or infections, or by educating family members and staff about post-operative care.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in nursing with specialization in ambulatory, vascular or surgical oncology; RN licensure required
Job Duties Administer medication, assist doctors and head nurses, clean wounds
Mean Salary (2015)* $72,980 (all nurses working in general medical and surgical hospitals)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 16% growth (all RNs)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

There are a number of specializations within the area of surgical nursing - such as ambulatory, vascular, or surgical oncology - but surgical nurses in all specializations start by becoming registered nurses (RNs). Registered nurses who meet education and experience requirements may pursue professional credentials in surgical nursing, like the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse designation offered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree is beneficial to move forward in this profession, and RN-to-BSN programs are offered at many colleges and universities.

Licensure Requirements

RNs must obtain a license from the state in which they work. In most states, this requires completing a minimum of an associate's degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs.

Required Skills

Surgical nurses are specialists in the area of surgical care. They must be prepared to work with patients who are diagnosed with life threatening conditions. Surgical nurses admit and discharge patients throughout the day while monitoring the condition of as many as seven patients in a critical care unit. Their response time relies on quick and accurate assessment of symptoms. For this reason, they must be fluent in basic EKG reading and able to respond quickly to trauma. They should also be knowledgeable about post-operative side effects, drug interactions, and pain management.

Career and Economic Outlook

Nurses are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment growth among RNs will be 16% from 2014 to 2024. The average annual salary among nurses working in general medical and surgical hospitals was $72,980 in May 2015, as reported by the BLS.

Alternative Career Options

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Physician Assistant

Like surgical nurses, physician assistants work under the guidance of licensed physicians. Physician assistants (PAs), however, perform more advanced duties compared to nurses. For example, PAs can examine, diagnose, and treat medical patients. PAs can work in specialized areas, such as surgery. A master's degree and state licensure is required for all PAs. To obtain a license, aspiring PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. Continuing education is required to maintain licensure. According to BLS statistics, PAs earned an average annual salary of $99,270 in 2015. The BLS projects that jobs for PAs will increase at a much-faster-than-average pace of 30% from 2014 to 2024.

Licensed Vocational Nurse

Another type of nursing career is that of a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), also called a licensed practical nurse (LPN). LVNs and LPNs provide basic nursing care, such as taking vital signs, monitoring patients, helping patients dress, and changing bandages. To become an LVN or LPN, one must complete a certificate or diploma program and obtain a state license. In every state, LPNs and LVNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination to become licensed. The average annual salary for these nurses was $44,030 in May 2015, according to the BLS. The BLS projects jobs for LPNs and LVNs to increase at a much-faster-than-average rate of 16% from 2014 to 2024.

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