There are a variety of ways to be involved in surgery programs, the fields of which include nurse anesthesia, surgery, preoperative nursing, and surgical technology. Medical school graduates embark upon surgical residencies to become surgeons. Registered nurses can pursue master's degree programs in nurse anesthesia and certificate programs in perioperative nursing. Surgical technologist associate's degree programs provide an entry-level career option for people who want to assist in operating room procedures. The different programs require different backgrounds and paths of study, and result in graduates with different skills and varied salaries.
Residencies require would-be surgeons to have completed a bachelor's degree and then medical school as well as passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination. Master's programs in nurse anesthesia usually require a bachelor's degree in nursing, a current RN license and at least a year of clinical experience. Certificates in perioperative nursing require a bachelor's or a master's in nursing as well being a licensed medical professional. Associate's programs require a GED or high school diploma, some additionally require certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AED (automated external defibrillator) use.
Residencies in Surgery
Residencies take five years to complete. A residency program in surgery trains medical students to perform operations that help patients overcome diseases, deformities and injuries. Residencies may be completed at academic hospitals and private community hospitals, explains the American College of Surgeons, a professional society for surgeons. Academic programs are more research-intensive than private programs, supplementing hands-on practice with an ongoing series of lectures, seminars and conferences.
Residency for many surgical specialties begins with one general year, during which residents gain technical knowledge of surgical practices and procedures. They develop skills in interpersonal communication, trust building and diagnostics. Specialty programs are commonly available in neurology, obstetrics, ophthalmology, orthopedics and urology. Most specialties require at least four years of total residency training; a general surgery residency must last five years, according to the American College of Surgeons (www.facs.org).
Coursework in a surgery residency program is often tailored to the specific strengths and weaknesses of particular students. Students are assigned to multiple surgical disciplines on a rotating schedule. As the residency progresses, the surgical resident takes a greater hands-on role in the operations. Once a future surgeon begins specialty residency training, he or she may rotate among sub-specialties. These are some common branches of surgery:
- Oncology (cancer)
- Vascular, gastrointestinal and trauma
- Orthopedic, thoracic and endocrine
- Intensive care
Master's Degree in Nurse Anesthesia
A master's degree program in nurse anesthesia trains nurses to keep patients pain-free during surgery by providing anesthesia or other medications. Through coursework, simulations and participation in real operations, students learn the duties they must perform on a surgical team. These include explaining medical procedures to patients, preparing and administering anesthesia and monitoring the condition of patients under anesthesia. A program can be completed in two years, but some schools will allow up to seven years. Although it may duplicate some of the material taught in other nursing courses, a master's degree program in nurse anesthesia specifically ties the subject matter of its courses to anesthesia.
- Clinical anesthesia
- Acute care
Certificate in Perioperative Nursing
Certificate programs in perioperative nursing prepare registered nurses to work in operating rooms. Students learn operating room and surgical support practices, and they sharpen their skills in management, organization and patient care. Programs are typically a mix of classroom study, lab work and clinical practice. Certificate programs in perioperative nursing are short, typically consisting of 11-16 credit hours that can be completed in a year or less.
- Perioperative practices
- Clinical practice
- Health assessment
- Nurse assisting
- Nursing internship
Associate's Degree in Surgical Technology
An associate's degree in surgical technology trains students to perform support duties as part of a surgical team. Before the operation, this includes preparing supplies, surgical implements and operating room equipment, as well as preparing patients for surgery. During the operation, surgical technologists monitor vital signs and provide sterile implements; another necessary task is cleaning up after surgery. Programs are built around classroom work and lab work. Students gain technical knowledge and skills in organization and multitasking. General education courses unrelated to surgical technology will be a component of an associate's degree program in surgical technology. In most cases, this is less than half the curriculum.
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical terminology
- Medical technology
- Pre-operative procedures
- Surgical procedures
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Surgeons and physicians should see 14% job growth for the decade 2014-2024, projected the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). This predicted increase may be due to the medical needs of an aging population. Surgeons who emerge from the top residency programs likely have the best chances at finding positions. According to the BLS, surgeons made average annual wages that were over $247,520 in 2015.
The BLS predicts that jobs for registered nurses overall will grow 16% over the years 2014-2024, driven by increased demand for surgeries and other medical services from aging baby boomers. As recession combines with the nursing shortage, opportunities for nurses with a master's degree in nurse anesthesia or a certificate in perioperative nursing should be available in hospitals, dental offices, surgical clinics and private practices. According to the BLS, nurse anesthetists made a median annual wage of $157,140 in 2015.
In spite of the recession, the BLS has projected 15% job growth for surgical technologists over the years 2012-2022. Growth will likely be driven by the medical needs of an aging population, notably the baby boom generation, and by technological advances that enable surgical technicians to assist with more operations. In 2015, the median annual wage of surgical technologists was $44,330, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Most surgical specialties have opportunities for additional training through fellowship programs. These are extremely competitive. They usually give preference to surgeons who completed their residency in an academic setting, the American College of Surgeons advises.
Aspiring surgical professionals have several options for degree programs, with the best choice often dependent on one's career goals. Programs can be sought at the associate, certificate, and master's levels, with residency programs also an option. Surgical fields are expected to experience healthy growth in the next ten years.