JAANUU » What Is a Surgical Nurse and How Can You Become One?

What Is a Surgical Nurse and How Can You Become One?

Female surgical nurses walking and smiling in white room
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Not put off by the sight of blood? Skilled at educating others? Have a calming personality? If this sounds like you, you may be cut out for a career in surgical nursing. Being a surgical nurse is a perfect example of a “high responsibility, high reward” career, as you’ll be helping patients prepare for, safely undergo and recover from potentially life-saving surgeries.

What does a surgical nurse do?

As you might imagine, surgical nurses must be experts in their field, which means studying hard and gaining plenty of clinical experience before they start practicing. Also known as an OR nurse or perioperative nurse, surgery nurses form an essential part of the surgical team, caring for patients’ safety and caring for them through every step of the surgery, from pre-op to post-op. They’ll even be at the patient’s side during surgery in the intra-op phase.

Depending on the stage in the process, a surgical nurse’s role may change. Plus, there are different types of OR nurses, which can influence the nature of the surgical nurse’s responsibilities. Here are the basics: 

  • Pre-op: In the preoperative phase, a surgeon nurse assesses the patient before their operation. The nurse evaluates the physical and psychological state of the patient.  
  • Intra-op: During surgery, OR nurses maintain the privacy and safety of the patient. They ensure that the incision remains sterile and monitor the patient’s condition and vital signs. 
  • Post-op: After the operation, surgical RNs help patients make a full recovery. They monitor patient progress by assessing the patient’s vital signs and circulation, keeping an eye on IVs and ensuring the individual’s safety.

What are the main duties of a surgical nurse?

The exact duties of a surgical nurse may vary based on the type of nursing they perform. Here are some of the main designations within surgical nursing: 

Male surgical nurse wearing blue scrubs and a black stethoscope on his neck
  • Scrub nurse: These nurses work in the operating room and assist during surgery by handing medical instruments to the surgeon. 
  • Circulating nurses: These nurses ensure all medical instruments are in order and are in charge of administrative processes like getting forms signed and reviewing patient assessments. 
  • Post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) nurses: These healthcare professionals ensure that patients are stable as they come off anesthesia after surgery. 
  • RN first assistants (RNFAs): These advanced nursing professionals help the surgeon control bleeding. RNFAs also help suture and bandage patients. 
  • Medical-surgical nurses: These nurses work with patients through the recovery stage of the surgical process. Their work entails monitoring patients closely to ensure that their wounds don’t reopen or become infected. They also perform patient care by administering medications and fluids. 

No matter what category of nursing an individual practices, these are some core tasks most surgical nurses perform:  

  • Assisting the anesthesiologist
  • Monitoring and recording the patient’s progress throughout the surgical procedures
  • Educating patients and their family members on procedures and how to care for their operation sites
  • Helping patients find appropriate pain-management techniques and resources.

How to become a surgical nurse

The first part of this career is getting the proper nursing education. Here are the first steps to a rewarding career in surgical nursing. 

Get your degree

To become a registered nurse (RN), you’ll need to earn either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited program. If you plan to specialize later, we recommend pursuing a bachelor’s degree as it is a more widely accepted base credential for advanced nursing programs. Either way, be sure to take advantage of our student discount while you earn that degree!

Get licensed 

To practice as an RN, you’ll first have to pass the NCLEX-RN. After you pass, you can apply for licensure from your state. No matter how you plan to specialize, this is an essential step. 

Get hands-on experience

Future employers will look for hands-on clinical experience in perioperative nursing; some will even require a certain number of hours in a surgical environment and experience with both regular and advanced cardiac life support. 

Get certified

Once you’ve gained hands-on clinical experience in surgical nursing, you can become an even stronger job candidate by earning a relevant certification. There are three to consider provided by the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI): the Certified Perioperative Nurse certification (CNOR), the Certified Foundational Perioperative Nurse certification (CFPN) and the Certified Ambulatory Surgery Nurse certification (CNAMB).

Where do surgical nurses work? 

female surgical nurse wearing white scrub cap and blue scrub top

Don’t underestimate the importance of finding the right workplace for you. This is a crucial part of your career and will affect your work. As a surgical nurse, you could choose from the following settings: 

  • Hospitals (in the OR, recovery units and medical-surgical care units) 
  • Clinics
  • Ambulatory surgery centers
  • Day surgery centers

Surgical nurse average salary

As rewarding as a profession may be, it still needs to pay the bills. So, what do surgical nurses make? How likely are you to find a job? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for an operating room nurse in the United States is approximately $78,000 annually. 

As for job possibilities, there are clear skies ahead. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9% jump in all registered nursing positions by 2030. So, as a future surgical nurse, that includes you! 

As a surgical nurse, yours will be a vital role that’s as challenging as rewarding, and we know you’re cut out for it! Come to us for all the support you need, and count on us to provide you with premium performance gear that will work as hard as you do for your patients. 

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