Published on June 18, 2021

Surgical Nursing -- Is It For You?

Kristine Little is a surgical services educator and surgical nurse at Johnston Health. Since surgical nursing is a lesser-known health care career, we asked Kristine some questions about what a career in surgical nursing entails at Johnston Health.

What kind of education and training is required to become a surgical nurse?

A nursing degree equivalent to an Associate's, Bachelor's, or higher degree is required. Additionally, since the operating room (OR) is a very specialized area of care, we provide advanced training to enhance knowledge of the specialty area for all new (or new to the OR) nurses.

What does a typical day as a surgical nurse look like?

Surgical nurses may participate in a variety of procedures like generalvascularorthopedicurologyear/nose/throat and more. Most of the care the surgical nurse provides is in the OR; however, the nurse also interacts with the patient and family in pre-operative and post-operative phases of care as the patient transitions to and from the OR. While in the OR, the surgical nurse works with the OR team to facilitate and provide optimal patient care. Additionally, some nurses are trained to scrub in, meaning they can work within the sterile field assisting the surgeon.

What kinds of people can you expect to work with as a surgical nurse? 

Surgical nurses and technicians are an invaluable part of the surgical team and are surgeons' closest partners. Through time spent in the operating room, surgical nurses and their surgeon partners can develop a close working relationship.

What are some of the benefits of a career in surgical nursing? 

Surgical nurses typically work eight-hour shifts, as opposed to the 12-hour shifts of many other nurses and hospital staff. However, surgical nurses do have to be on call one or two nights per week and one weekend every four weeks.

What are some challenges to being a surgical nurse?

Surgical nursing requires a wide range of knowledge of the various aspects of nursing, surgical procedures, approaches, and a commitment to ongoing education.

How do you know if a career in surgical nursing is a good fit?

If you are detail-oriented, a multi-tasker, flexible, a team player and a fast-paced critical thinker, then surgery is the place for you.

How can you advance in your career as a surgical nurse?

Surgical careers offer much in the way of lifelong learning and career advancement. With continuous medical advances, there is ample opportunity in the surgical arena to be an expert in various areas of interest. Most surgical departments have various roles that nurses can fulfill, like nurse circulator, nurse scrub, charge nurse, clinical coordinator/supervisor, clinical nurse educator, manager and more. There are also many options for education and skills advancement, like through Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR) certification, other specialty certifications, or Registered Nurse First Assist (RNFA).

What do you think is the most rewarding part about being a surgical nurse? 

Being a surgical nurse or technician allows you to be part of a surgical team that shares a common goal: the wellness of a patient. Working together at one another’s side allows for a sense of comradery as the team maintains a high level of trust, integrity, and compassion.

Watch and learn more about surgical nursing.

For more information about nursing jobs, visit our careers page

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