What Does a Surgical RN Do?

Registered Nurses (RNs) often progress into various specialties as their careers unfold. Many choose to become surgical RNs. Learn the basics of surgical nursing in this article.
What Does a Surgical RN Do?

As a Registered Nurse (RN), you can pursue a wide range of specialties in the field. By earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, you can take your pick from many career paths. Surgical nursing, or medical-surgical nursing, is one option to consider. Surgical RNs are in high demand and enjoy fast-paced, challenging, and very rewarding work environments. While you are still an entry-level RN, you can explore the possibility of this role by gaining as much experience in the operating room as possible. Until then, learn more about what surgical RNs do to make an informed decision about your career.

Surgical RN Job Description

As a surgical RN, you will handle a variety of duties both before and after operations and surgeries. Preoperative duties may include providing pre-operative instructions to the patient and their family, ensuring that the proper blood tests have been performed, taking care of the patient's ID bracelet, checking their chart, and ensuring that they have the right medications.

Postoperative duties handled by surgical RNs include monitoring the patient for bleeding, shock, infection, and other issues; taking care of surgical wounds; assisting in pain management; and providing aftercare instructions.

Surgical RNs do not deal exclusively with patients. They also set up and sterilize surgical tools, prepare operating rooms, clean and prepare incision sites, and help clean up operating rooms once surgeries are complete.

Educational Requirements for Surgical RNs

To become a surgical RN, you must earn your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and pass the NCLEX-RN licensure exam. Although there are no degree programs for surgical nursing per se, you can earn certifications that involve aspects of surgical nursing, such as sterilization and emergency procedures. The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board awards certifications for RNs who want to transition into medical-surgical nursing. To earn yours, you must have a current RN license and two or more years of medical-surgical experience. You must also have worked in a medical-surgical setting for at least 2,000 hours in the last three years.

Types of Surgical RNs

Surgical Registered Nurses fall into three main categories:

  • Scrub Nurse: Scrub nurses are surgical RNs who directly assist surgeons during surgeries by passing them tools and handling other requests.
  • RN First Assistant: RN First Assistants care for patients during surgeries. Their duties include suturing incisions, monitoring patients' vital signs, and delivering emergency care as needed.
  • Circulating Nurse: Circulating nurses juggle a variety of duties. They oversee the care of surgical patients and help to keep operating rooms clean, sterile, and safe.

Work Environments for Surgical RNs

While the majority of surgical RNs work in hospitals, many also work in clinics, surgery centers, and private doctor's offices.

Surgical RN Salaries

Depending on their specific role, surgical RNs earn an average of $52,500 to $169,000 per year. As with any nursing position, pay is often based partially on educational credentials and partially on experience. Obtaining continuing education as a medical-surgical Registered Nurse may help increase your earning potential.

Is Surgical Nursing Right for You?

Most surgical RNs pursue this career path after gaining experience in operating rooms as entry-level or general RNs. However, some express interest in this role well before earning their RN licenses. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the best way to determine if you have what it takes to be a surgical RN is by gaining as much experience in medical-surgical settings as possible.

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