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Surgical Nursing Degree Programs

Those who are interested in becoming surgical nurses have a number of options to choose from, including perioperative nursing certificate programs and graduate degrees in medical-surgical nursing. These programs teach students the practical skills needed for surgical nursing careers.

Essential Information

Perioperative nurse training at the certificate level focuses on surgical training and takes up to two years to complete. Master's and doctoral programs may require several years of study. These programs include research in addition to surgical training and prepare graduates to take advanced roles in care delivery, nurse education and/or administration. Doctoral students may need to complete original research and a dissertation. Depending on their training and specialty area, surgical nurses can obtain certification through professional organizations.


Perioperative Nursing Education

Several nursing schools offer certificate programs in perioperative nursing that afford training to RNs that is focused solely on the surgical realm. These programs typically require some prior clinical experience. Over the course of a year or two, students receive extensive practical training in the operating room along with classroom instruction.

Certificate holders typically resume their careers as RNs but with a recognized specialty in surgery-related care. Most perioperative nurses work in hospitals, outpatient treatment centers and doctors' offices and hold specific job titles, such as circulating nurse or scrub nurse.

Master's Degree in Medical-Surgical Nursing

Students can also pursue advanced training in surgical nursing in the broader medical-surgical track of master's degree programs. These programs take from 18 months to three years to complete, depending on part-time or full-time study, prior education and experience. Students are often required to hold a bachelor's degree and RN licensure before enrolling. Curricula blend theory, research and practice.

Graduates typically become clinical nurse specialists, qualifying them to deliver advanced care, consult on complex cases or serve as administrators or educators. Under a 2004 agreement by American Association of Colleges of Nursing affiliates, by 2015, all individuals wanting to study advanced nursing practices, such as clinical nursing, will be required to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

Master's students in medical-surgical nursing take a range of classes pertaining to the health care system as well as their specialized field. Topics of study might include:

  • Statistics
  • Health care economics
  • Pharmacology
  • Family nursing
  • Nursing educator

Doctoral Degree in Medical-Surgical Nursing

A nursing doctorate program can prepare students to assume leadership roles in research, teaching, administration, and advanced clinical practice. There are two basic educational paths with three main degrees: one path focuses on research that leads to a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Nursing Science (DNS), and another focuses on advanced practice that leads to a DNP. Some schools offer specializations, such as a medical-surgical clinical nurse specialty. Regardless of which path you take, prerequisites are similar to a master's degree, with a bachelor's in the field and RN licensure. Depending on the degree sought, doctoral programs in medical-surgical nursing might demand 3-5 years of full-time study.

PhD and DNS students undertake coursework, followed by a dissertation based on original research, while DNP students train more in clinical settings. Specific course topics for doctoral students might include:

  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Grant writing
  • Genetics
  • Public health issues
  • Data management

Popular Career Options

Surgical nurses work in a variety of clinical, academic and administrative settings, depending on experience, education level, and certifications. Specific jobs include:

  • Operating room nurse
  • Registered first nurse assistant
  • Operating room director
  • Surgical services hospital director
  • Nurse manager

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses employed in hospitals earned a median annual salary of $69,510 as of May 2015. As of July 2016, clinical nurse specialists earned a median salary of $97,854, and registered first nurse assistants made $85,667, according to Salary.com. The BLS predicts that employment opportunities for registered nurses could increase by 16% from 2014-2024.

Continuing Education

All states require licensing for registered nurses, but requirements vary by state. The BLS stated that all licensure candidates must complete an approved nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination.

Depending on work experience and level of education, surgical nurses can pursue professional certifications beyond the standard nursing license. Professional certification in medical-surgical nursing is available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Additionally, the Competency and Credentialing Institute issues certifications specific to perioperative nursing. Certifications must be renewed every five years.

Surgical nursing education is offered at the certificate, master's, and doctoral degree levels. In these programs, students learn about practical nursing and surgery techniques as well as administration and care delivery principles.


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