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Becoming a perioperative nurse, commonly referred to as a surgical nurse, is a great option for those who have an interest in the medical field and seek meaningful work. Surgical nursing, although challenging, proves rewarding. These nurses are highly trained professionals that assist in a variety of medical settings and can be assigned a range of responsibilities. Doctors and surgical teams rely on the dedication of these nurses to assist in all aspects of surgery, including preoperative and postoperative responsibilities.

What Does a Surgical Nurse Do?

Surgical nurses have a wide range of responsibilities. They are often referred to as the backbone of surgical teams, present through all aspects of the surgery. Some surgical nurses may be called in at a moment’s notice, however, the typical shifts of a surgical nurse range from 8-12 hours. Like any occupation, the length of the shift depends on the location, specialization, and years of experience of the nurse. Responsibilities are multi-faceted, and can be categorized into 3 main divisions:

Preoperative Assistance: Nurses are responsible for educating patients about all details of the operation, as well as providing instructions for postoperative self-care. Right before surgery, they often are assigned duties such as taking the patient’s vital signs, and prepping the patient in any way necessary for the upcoming procedure.

Surgical Assistance: Nurses are often responsible for the careful monitoring of the patient’s vital signs, as well as running the surgical equipment throughout the procedure. If the patient’s vital signs were to behave irregularly for some reason, it would be the role of the nurse to alert all members of the surgical team.

Postoperative Assistance: Nurses typically monitor the patient after the operation to ensure that everything runs smoothly with the recovery. Often surgical nurses are given post-operative care instructions by the surgeon, which may include tasks such as the administration of medication to the patient.

What Is the Work Setting of a Surgical Nurse?

Surgical nurses can work in a range of settings: from general care hospitals and inpatient healthcare facilities to ambulatory surgery centers that perform procedures such as surgical imaging, or cosmetic surgery. Surgical nurses may participate in elective surgeries, meaning that they are pre-scheduled and not urgent in nature, or may choose to work in critical care and assist with life saving procedures. Most surgical nurses specialize in a single area, such as cardiac or pediatric surgery.

What Skillset Does a Surgical Nurse Need?

Surgical nurses should excel in the life sciences, including the fundamentals of chemistry, biology, and anatomy. Aspiring surgical nurses should also possess certain personality traits. Because nurses will often deal with patients in discomfort or pain, empathy and the ability to communicate well are both essential qualities. Surgical nurses should also be able to think critically and have keen observance. Often nurses will need to monitor patients and any change in symptoms or behavior may be a sign that the patient needs medical attention.

How to Become a Surgical Nurse

  1. Become an RN: Before becoming a surgical nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN), which requires the completion of either an associate or, more preferably to most employers, a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. This degree includes coursework in subjects such as pharmacology, medical terminology, patient assessment, as well as prerequisites in math and life sciences. Students obtaining this degree will be trained in clinical and a range of health care settings. Upon completion of this degree, you must obtain a license by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Each state has different licensing requirements - details can be found through each state’s nursing board.
  1. Post RN Education: Because a surgical nurse is a more advanced level of nursing, you will also need to complete additional education and training. This position typically requires a minimum of a master’s degree. Admission into Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs requires a valid RN license as well as past nursing experience. The curriculum designed for these programs is designed specially for advanced practice.
  1. Hands on Experience: Upon completion of a master’s program, aspiring surgical nurses must gain first-hand experience before they can jump right into surgery. Options include internships, residencies, or fellowships in a surgical ward. Such residencies and fellowships typically entail a demanding schedule with long hours. However, this step of the process is essential in gaining the experience necessary to work in a surgical setting.
  1. CMSRNE: The last step of the process is passing the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Examination. This exam ties in all of the coursework and experience that nurses have acquired, and is administered by the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB).

Becoming a surgical nurse is a process that takes time, and cannot be achieved overnight. The advanced degree that this occupation requires means that nurses must go through years of schooling and training before going into the operating room. However, the rewarding nature of medical surgical nursing for many offsets the long process to get there.

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