Surgical Nurse Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a surgical nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about education, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

A surgical nurse is responsible for a variety of functions, from assisting surgeons in the operating room to overseeing patient care before, during and after an operation. Surgical nurses are licensed registered nurses who hold diplomas, associate's degrees or bachelor's degrees in nursing. Some programs allow nursing students to specialize in surgical nursing, and specialty certification is available as well.

Required Education Diploma program, associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing
Licensing Must pass registered nursing license exam; surgical nursing certification is available
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)* 19% for registered nurses
Median Salary (2013)* $66,220 for all registered nurses

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Education Requirements for a Surgical Nurse

Prospective surgical nurses, also known as perioperative or operating room nurses, may opt for 2-year associate's degree programs in nursing that offer specialties in surgical nursing. Others enroll in diploma programs, which are normally conducted in a hospital and last 2-3 years. An aspiring surgical nurse who seeks a more thorough education might pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a 4-year degree program that includes two years of supervised clinical practice in a hospital or another healthcare facility. After graduating from a state-approved nursing program, students must pass the NCLEX-RN examination, a national licensing test for registered nurses.

Career Options

A surgical nurse is a registered nurse who cares for patients during the times surrounding a surgical procedure or operation. Surgical nurses work in the surgery departments of hospitals and ambulatory care facilities in one of three normal job descriptions.

Scrub Nurse

A scrub nurse is a surgical nurse who works directly with a surgeon during an operation, readying and handing instruments to surgeons and helping to monitor the patient's condition. Scrub nurses work inside the sterile field of the operating room, which means they must wear sterile surgical scrubs and must wash their hands and arms with special disinfectants.

Circulator Nurse

A circulator nurse is tasked with observing and managing an operation from a broad perspective in order to create a secure and relaxing experience for the surgical patient. This is the nurse who brings the patient to the operating area. Circulating nurses are responsible for monitoring the patient's condition during an operation to ensure the best possible results.

RN First Assistant

A registered nurse first assistant must undergo more training and education than other surgical nurses in order to aid doctors during surgery by regulating bleeding, cutting and handling human tissues, suturing wounds and using medical instruments on patients for various tasks. RN first assistants are normally the most highly trained members of the nursing staff inside an operating room.

Advancement Opportunities

Perioperative nurses may opt to advance through further training and education to become a nurse anesthetist or a patient educator. Some surgical nurses decide to become operating room directors, managing the budgeting, staffing, scheduling and other business aspects of facilities' operating rooms. Many perioperative nurses continue their education with bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees.

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