A surgical nurse, also called a perioperative nurse, is a registered nurse (RN) who is trained to care for patients and assist the surgical team before, during, and after surgery. Pre-op care requires the nurse to prepare the patient both physically and emotionally for surgery.
During surgery, the “scrub” nurse monitors the patient’s vital signs, hands the instruments to the physician with precision and speed, and suctions blood and fluids. A circulating nurse manages the arena of the operating room, setting the “stage” by preparing the operating room for surgery and making sure conditions remain sterile during surgery. The recovery room nurse monitors the patient as the anesthesia wears off and attends to wound care.
How to become a surgical nurse
Surgical nursing is an intense specialty due to the possibility of drama on the operating table. It is important that surgical nurses are highly skilled and levelheaded through long and complicated procedures and that they are able to reassure patients in stressful situations.
There are two undergraduate degrees that can lead to surgical nursing: Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), a two-year program, and Bachelor of Nursing Science (BSN), a four-year program. Surgical nurses are also required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). See the website of National Council of State Boards of Nursing for more information.
Although certification is not necessary, becoming a Certified Nurse in the Operating Room is a way to increase your competitive edge. See the Competency and Credentialing Institute website for specifics on the CNOR exam.
Job prospects for a surgical nurse
Surgical nurses work in a surgical unit in a hospital or in an outpatient or urgent care clinic that offers day surgery. Although there are no statistics for the job outlook for surgical nursing specifically, prospects for nursing in general are excellent according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). Chances of being employed are excellent and hospitals often compete to offer more benefits and flexible hours to attract competent staff.
Salary varies by region and population density. Wages are lower in the South and East. A surgical nurse typically earns more than RNs doing general nursing work.
A surgical nurse with experience can move on to plastic surgery nursing, earning more money in private surgery centers. Further study and training can also lead to becoming a nurse anesthetist, where the median salary is far above other nursing specialties, according to Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences career overview.