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What is Surgical Nursing?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Surgical nursing or perioperative nursing is a nursing career which focuses on care for surgical patients. Surgical nurses may work in pre or post-operative care units as well as operating rooms, and they are a critical part of the surgical care team. Most people who go into a hospital for surgery will interact with a surgical nurse at some point. The career outlook in surgical nursing is very good, especially for nurses who have specialized in specific surgical fields such as cardiothoracic surgery, and compensation for people who choose to pursue careers in surgical nursing tends to be quite excellent.

In the realm of pre-operative care, a surgical nurse monitors a patient who is about to undergo surgery, confirming that he or she is in good health for the procedure. The nurse may also help prepare the patient by placing intravenous lines, cleaning the surgical site, and so forth, and many surgical nurses also discuss surgeries with their patients so that the patients know what to expect. The surgical nurse works with the anesthesiologist and surgeon to clear the patient for surgery, and to ensure that everyone on the surgical team has the information they need for a successful surgery.

During surgery, surgical nurses assist the surgeon with surgical procedures, and meet the needs of the operating room team. A special type of surgical nurse known as a circulating nurse monitors patient safety, checking members of the surgical team to make sure that they are sterile and monitoring the use of surgical instruments, sponges, and other materials, ensuring that nothing gets left inside the patient. Nurses who participate in operating room work are very skilled, and while they may not actually perform the surgery, they are critical to patient care in the surgical theater.

Surgical nursing also involves post-operative care. After a patient is wheeled out of surgery, a surgical nurse monitors his or her recovery, checking on dressings, drains, and devices implanted during surgery. The surgical nurse ensures that the patient is eating and drinking properly, and frequently checks vital signs while monitoring for infections and other complications.

Work in the surgical nursing field can be very demanding. Most surgical nurses are assigned a very small number of patients, typically fewer than six, to ensure that they can focus on patient needs. For complex surgeries and at-risk patients, there may be a 1:1 nurse to patient ratio, and sometimes multiple surgical nurses are involved in patient care. A surgical nurse must be able to work as part of a team while acting as an advocate for the patient and his or her family.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Apr 14, 2012

One of my best friends has worked as a nurse for 20 years. She doesn't have any kids of her own, so she puts a lot of herself into her job and her patients.

She worked in the operating room for a few years and acquired the surgical nursing skills she needed for the job, but found that she really missed ongoing patient contact.

For her, she liked working every day with her patients, and found that to be the most rewarding part of her job.

One big benefit of becoming a nurse is no matter where you live, it isn't hard to find a job. Because she doesn't have any family responsibilities, she is looking at becoming a traveling nurse.

This way she could combine her love of nursing with her love of travel and visiting different places.

By sunshined — On Apr 14, 2012

My daughter is interested in a career in nursing and has been researching all the different options.

Can you become a surgical nurse right after you finish your education and training? Or do you have to have a few years experience working as a nurse before you can begin working in a position like this?

She seems to be most interested in working in the cardiac unit. I would think that cardiac surgical nursing could be quite stressful, but would probably be very challenging as well.

There are a lot of options when it comes to pursuing a career in nursing. I certainly don't think you would ever have to worry about job security.

By honeybees — On Apr 13, 2012

My niece works in pediatric surgical nursing at a major hospital. She knew since she was a little girl that she wanted to be a nurse.

When she was going through her schooling and training is when she decided she wanted to work with kids. She finds this challenging and rewarding.

As with all nursing positions, there are also joys and heartbreaks. She enjoys working in the operating room, but one of the highlights of her job is working with kids when they come out of surgery.

You certainly want someone who loves kids, and is compassionate, yet firm, when it comes to their care after surgery.

By John57 — On Apr 12, 2012

I know a lady who went into surgical nursing because she didn't want to have to day-to-day patient contact that the nurses who work on the floor have.

The surgical nursing salary is also quite high and this was a draw for her as well. I think there are people who are definitely more suited for constant patient care than others.

Her job is very challenging and she feels like she takes the best care of her patients by being a competent surgical nurse.

If she worked on the floor of a specific department all day long, I don't think she would enjoy her job nearly as much.

There are many different types of nursing jobs you can pursue, and I am glad there are skilled ones for each area.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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