Surgical Nurse Education Requirements and Career Information

Oct 22, 2019

Learn about how to become a surgical nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about surgical nurse schooling, job duties, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

A surgical nurse is a registered nurse who specializes in surgical care. These nurses assist doctors throughout a surgery, performing set-up of instrumentation, helping with surgical procedures, and providing pre-op and post-op care. Career options for surgical nurses include scrub nurse, circulator nurse, and RN first assistant.

Essential Information

A surgical nurse is responsible for a variety of functions, from assisting surgeons in the operating room to overseeing patient care before, during and after an operation. Surgical nurses are licensed registered nurses who hold diplomas, associate's degrees, or bachelor's degrees in nursing. Some programs allow nursing students to specialize in surgical nursing, and specialty certification is available as well.

Required Education Diploma program, associate's, or bachelor's degree in nursing
Licensing Must pass registered nursing license exam; surgical nursing certification is available
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 12% for all registered nurses
Median Salary (2018)* $71,730 for all registered nurses

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

How to Become a Surgical Nurse

Prospective surgical nurses, also known as perioperative or operating room nurses, have several options for training programs in surgical nursing. Some may opt to complete a 2-year associate's degree program in nursing that offers a specialty in surgical nursing. Others enroll in diploma programs, which are normally conducted in a hospital and last 2-3 years. An aspiring surgical nurse who seeks a more in-depth education might pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a 4-year degree program that includes two years of supervised clinical practice in a hospital or another healthcare facility. After graduating from a state-approved nursing program, students must pass the NCLEX-RN examination, a national licensing test for registered nurses.

Career Options

A surgical nurse is a registered nurse who cares for patients during the times surrounding a surgical procedure or operation. Surgical nurses work in the surgery departments of hospitals and ambulatory care facilities in one of three typical job descriptions:

Scrub Nurse

A scrub nurse is a surgical nurse who works directly with a surgeon during an operation, readying and handing instruments to surgeons and helping to monitor the patient's condition. Scrub nurses work inside the sterile field of the operating room, which means they must wear sterile surgical scrubs and must wash their hands and arms with special disinfectants.

Circulator Nurse

A circulator nurse is tasked with observing and managing an operation from a broad perspective in order to create a secure and relaxing experience for the surgical patient. This is the nurse who brings the patient to the operating area. Circulating nurses are responsible for monitoring the patient's condition during an operation to ensure the best possible results.

RN First Assistant

A registered nurse first assistant must undergo more training and education than other surgical nurses in order to aid doctors during surgery by regulating bleeding, cutting and handling human tissues, suturing wounds and using medical instruments on patients for various tasks. RN first assistants are normally the most highly trained members of the nursing staff inside an operating room. Surgical first assistant programs are designed for individuals already certified and experienced in the field of registered nursing.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgical Nurse?

Depending on the educational path one chooses, it typically takes between 2 and 4 years of preparation to become a surgical nurse. Once in the field, a nurse can earn higher pay and greater responsibilities with experience. There are also options for advancement, described below, which require additional education.

Advancement Opportunities

Perioperative nurses may opt to advance through further training and education to become a nurse anesthetist or a patient educator. Some surgical nurses decide to become operating room directors, managing the budgeting, staffing, scheduling and other business aspects of facilities' operating rooms. Many perioperative nurses continue their education with bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

Surgical nurses complete an accredited registered nursing associate's or bachelor's degree program, usually with a specialty in surgical nursing, and then must pass a licensing exam in order to be certified. According to the BLS, the growth projection for registered nurses is 12%, much faster than the overall average growth for all occupations.

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