Surgical Nurse Career Facts

Surgical nurses, also known as periooperative nurses, perform some of the most important duties in surgery. Their often complex work includes direct assistance with surgery, patient postoperative care, and other roles throughout the surgical process. The surgical nurse is the person who's responsible for ensuring the proper administration of the logistics of the operation, as well as the practical support provided during surgery.

The Work Environment

Surgical nurses are already highly qualified nurses when they start their careers. They begin their training as surgical nurses by assisting in surgical theaters and progress to the role of surgical nurse after passing the Certified Nurses for the Operating Room (CNOR) examination.

Surgical nurses are primary operatives in the surgical process, including:

  • Setting up the equipment and operating theater: This involves ensuring all materials are provided to the surgeon, and that the facility is properly supplied for the procedure.
  • Familiarization with the patient's medical record: Essential work which includes checking for any conditions which might affect the patient during administration of anesthesia, and conduct of the surgery.
  • Monitoring the patient during and after surgery: This includes monitoring vital signs, pain management, side effects of surgery (sometimes extremely important after major surgery) and direct observation.
  • Liaising with patient's family: Maintaining contact and advising regarding surgical procedures and related matters. The surgical nurse is the person best in a position to make these contacts, having the knowledge base to provide useful and accurate information.
  • Departmental communications: The surgical nurse also acts as a liaison with other medical departments on a needs basis, depending on the requirements of the case.

A surgical nurse must be familiar with the operating procedure, any medical issues related to the patient, the surgical processes, and able to work efficiently to assist the surgeon with any aspect of the procedure as required.

This is a particularly demanding role, requiring special personal and professional skills:

  • Situational awareness
  • Excellent memory
  • Familiarity with all aspects of surgical procedures
  • Excellent communications skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Good patient care skills
  • Strong capacity to deal with detailed issues
  • Complete and thorough understanding of medical systems and equipment and their roles in surgical processes.
  • Strong medical administration skills

Some surgical procedures can take several hours of demanding work. Surgical nurses are involved in all phases of surgery, from start to finish.

Surgical Nurse Salary: The median salary is $72,000.

Hours: Shift hours, with exceptions in the cases of emergencies and some lengthy procedures.

The Career Environment

The projected rate of growth in surgical nursing is 23% for the next decade, double the US national average. Surgical nurses are invariably career people. Career progression is based on both experience and specializations. Surgery itself often involves highly specialized fields. Many nurses gravitate into particular streams of surgery, and develop their expertise in that field. This expertise is invaluable to specialists, who need support from experts who understand the situations involved in their forms of surgery.

Generalist surgical nurses are involved in practically all forms of surgery, which creates a huge repertoire of knowledge and experience. This in turn acts as a valuable career asset. This broad experience is particularly necessary in major hospitals, where procedures can be extremely varied, requiring good all around knowledge.