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What does a Nurse do?

A nurse helps people take care of their health. Virginia Henderson, a famous nurse researcher, once said that “the unique function of the nurse is to assist the individual, sick or well, in the performance of those activities contributing to health or its recovery (or peaceful death) that he would perform unaided if he had the necessary strength, will or knowledge.”

While doctors focus on curing disease, nurses deal with patients’ responses to disease and illness. A doctor, for instance, will order tests and medicine to treat a patient with asthma. A nurse will make sure the patient understands how to take the medication and how to pace his daily activities to avoid asthma flare-ups.

Where nurses work

Nurses work in hospitals, nursing homes, medical clinics, schools, government agencies, factories, prisons, churches and out in the community. While most nurses work for a healthcare agency or institution, some nurses are independent consultants or entrepreneurs.


Nurses can choose to specialize by disease or area of interest. Common nursing specialties include maternal-child nursing (the care of pregnant/birthing women and their babies), oncology nursing (the care of cancer patients) and geriatrics (the care of the elderly).

Becoming a nurse

There are many paths to a nursing career. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) typically attend one year of college, either at a vocational/technical school or community college. After graduation, they must pass the National Council Licensure Exam, NCLEX-PN, which is administered by state boards of nursing.

Registered nurses (RNs) typically attend two to four years of college. Associate degree programs in nursing (ADN) are offered by vo-tech schools or community colleges and feature lots of hands-on clinical and classroom work. An ADN program is a two-year program.

Bachelor degree programs, which lead to a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), are four-year programs offered by colleges and universities. BSN programs include a foundation in the liberal arts and courses in management, conflict resolution, nursing theory and research. Both ADN and BSN grads must pass a licensing exam, the NCLEX-RN, to obtain their nursing license and begin work as a nurse.

Nurses in demand

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for nurses is expected to grow by about 20 percent. Because healthcare is shifting out of hospitals and into the community, most new nursing positions will be in physicians’ offices, home care and nursing care facilities.

Nursing offers infinite opportunities for advancement. Nurses with an entry-level degree can work as staff nurses, nurse managers and patient educators. Advanced degrees open the door to additional opportunities, including nurse educator, nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, nurse anesthesiologist and certified nurse midwife.

What does a Surgical Nurse do?

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.

surgical nurse

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.