Surgical Nurse


Surgical nursing involves caring for patients that require surgical intervention.  These nurses may work in actual operating rooms or on surgical units caring for patients before and after procedures.  This field of nursing came to fruition during the early twentieth century, but was not very clearly defined until the 1960s when school began teaching it as a specialty.  In today’s world, this type of nurse works with a diverse population of patients, including those of all ages, health statuses and surgical needs.

Depending on the hospital and the acuity of the unit, this type of nurse can be caring for over a handful of patients in a single shift.



Surgical Nurse Salary

Surgical nurses earn an average median salary of $62,971 per year.  The lowest ten percent earn an average salary of $46,002 per year and the highest ten percent earn an average of $87,292 per year.

Your salary is highly dependent on a variety of factors.  The hospital you work for matters greatly because the bigger hospitals in the country tend to pay more simply because they see more patients due to their name being nationally recognized.  Smaller hospitals in suburbs and rural areas tend to pay less due to not being as well known.  Other factors include your level of experience, your education level and which types of surgeries you are involved with.  For example, some surgical nurses work in general surgery and assist with many different surgical procedures every day, but other nurses may work alongside a specialty surgeon, such as a cardiothoracic surgeon or a neurosurgeon.  Those working with specialty doctors usually have the ability to earn more.


Surgical Nurse Job Description

Surgical nurses work as a team with many different healthcare providers, such as imaging technicians, surgical technicians, surgeons and anesthesiologists.  Common duties include:

  • Patient monitoring
  • Handing equipment to the surgeon
  • Keeping the operating room safe and moving along
  • Assisting the doctor with the procedures
  • Understanding the patient’s history
  • Performing pre-operative and post-operative care
  • Pain management after surgery
  • Ensuring sterile technique

You can work in a variety of settings.  Common environments for a surgical nurse include cardiac catheterization labs, hospitals, surgical centers, ambulatory surgical centers, emergency rooms or urgent care centers.

Nurses in this specialty have a wide variety of options, as there are many sub-specialties within the surgical field.  For example, you may choose to generalize and do a wide variety of surgeries, or you may choose something obstetrics where you assist in Cesarean sections or orthopedic surgery.  Many emergency rooms will have both scrub nurses and circulating nurses.  A scrub nurse mainly assists the surgeon and the circulating nurse keeps the operating room moving efficiently.


Surgical Nurse Education

Surgical nurses must be prepared for the demands of surgical patients.  In general, those wishing to work in this specialty need to at least have the following:

  • A current, active registered nursing license
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours of medical-surgical nursing practice in the last three years
  • At least two years of registered nursing experience

Surgical nurses will possess at least an associate degree, but many hospitals require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  All schools will differ a bit in what they require for your bachelor’s degree.  However, the core courses are generally the same and you will also have clinical requirements.  How many hours of clinicals you need to complete as a student nurse will depend on the state that you are going to school in.  Common courses include:

  • Health assessment
  • Medical surgical nursing
  • Basic skills of nursing practice (usually requires an associated lab)
  • Pediatric nursing
  • Obstetrical nursing
  • Community health nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Acute care nursing
  • Nutrition


Surgical Nurse Certification and Licensing

Surgical nurses must successfully complete their National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses to start in surgical nursing.  This registered nursing license is the bare minimum.  In fact, many facilities will require further certification, such as the Certified Nurses in the Operating Room certification.  To be able to sit for this examination you must possess the following:

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing
  • 2,400 hours of operating room experience as a registered nurse
  • An active registered nursing license

The examination consists of 200 questions and you will have 45 minutes to complete it.  Once you pass this examination, you will need to renew it every five years to maintain active status.  To renew your CNOR, you must compete 125 contact hours, 75 of which must be related to perioperative care.  You must also complete 300 points in the following activities:

  • Continuing education
  • Academic study
  • Presentations
  • Being a committee or board member
  • Mentoring or precepting
  • Publishing
  • Teaching

In the last five years, you must have worked at least 500 hours in perioperative nursing.  When you recertify, you will pay a fee of $370 for a standard recertification.  If you choose to do this early, the fee is $295.


Surgical Nurse Job Outlook

Surgical nursing is one of the fastest growing nursing specialties.  It is going to see one of the highest growth rates between 2010 and 2020, with an expected increase in employment opportunities of 26 percent.  To compare, the expected growth rate for registered nurses during this same time period is 22 percent.

This growth is largely attributed to surgical nurses being cost effective and because of major advancements in surgical technology.  As hospitals seek to save more money with the large increase of patients who will be insured in 2014, they will turn more to nurses for care of surgical patients.  This will include all aspects of surgical care from checking patients in for surgery and pre-operative care, to duties in the operating room and post-surgical care on medical-surgical units.


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