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A surgical nurse is an umbrella term for registered nurses who specialize in perioperative care. Surgical nurses are responsible for patient care before, during and after surgery. Since there are several patient touch points, there are many nursing specialties to pursue. Uniquely, a surgical nurse can work in different departments. The surgical sub-specialties a registered nurse (RN) can learn are: pediatrics, neurology, general surgery, urology, cardiology, oncology and much more.

Teamwork and communication are key pillars to the operating room. A surgical nurse is the bridge between the patient and doctor, responsible for delivering information to both parties and relevant departments. They join surgeons and anesthesiologists as a complete unit who save patients’ lives with a successful operation. Surgical nursing presents an abundance of career pathways to explore for registered nurse jobs, but what are the specific roles and responsibilities?

Eisenhower Career Registered Nursing Job Page

What are the roles of a Surgical Nurse?

Surgery is classified into three phases: pre-operative phase, intraoperative phrase and postoperative phase. Each phase requires specific types of care and activities when a patient undergoes surgery.

Pre-Op Nurse

The moment a patient decides to undergo surgery, the nurse helps manage information delivery regarding the procedure, benefits and risk. Known as a circulating nurse, they simultaneously care for the patient’s physical body and prepare their mental state as well. Typically, the patient and family members will express their concerns to learn more about the risks of the operation. As the first point of contact, the surgical nurse relays their concerns to the surgeon and figures out the best course of action to minimize their anxiety. This role requires excellent communication skills, compassion and patience in order to establish trust between the patient and surgical team.

Intra-Op Nurse

There are several nurse roles during the operating phase. Scrub nurses sterilize the operating room and hand instruments before surgery time. Proper disposal of biohazards require high attention to detail. Reducing cross-contamination is one of the biggest obstacles when preparing the room. RN first assistants (RNFAs) work with the surgeon to control bleeding, suture, bandage and dress wounds, monitor vitals and other critical tasks during surgery. Since this role presents many unique skills, certification in these areas are usually required by employers.

Post-Op Nurse

After surgery ends, the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) nurse immediately cares for the patient to stabilize their condition post-operation. Once the patient is transferred to the ICU, a PACU nurse shares their observations with the medical-surgical nurse who takes over as the primary care provider. They’ll closely monitor the patient’s vitals and run several tests periodically to ensure recovery. During this time, the RN will work with the team to develop a care plan and communicate with the patient on their treatment.


What are the Requirements to be a Surgical Nurse?

Surgical Nurses require the same degree and certifications as any other registered nursing job. They must have a Bachelor degree in nursing and a state license. Additionally, certifications for BLS/CPR and ACLR are necessary since they work with critical care patients. Depending on the department and surgical phase, specific surgical norse roles require speciality credentials and certifications.

The two common certifications offered by the Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) are the CNOR and CRNFA for RNFAs. The CNOR ensures that the RNs have 2,400 hours of experience in perioperative care related to clinical practice, nursing education, administration and research. 1,200 hours must be dedicated to operating room experience. Once RNs receive the CNOR, they can apply for their CRNFA to become a first assistant in the operating room. Obtaining this certification requires 2,000 hours of pre-op, intra-op and post-op experience. Since surgical nurses are heavily involved in critical care situations, the complete list of requirements are:

  • ADN or BSN in Nursing
  • Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • Active state license as a registered nurse
  • Current BLS/CPR and ACLS certification
  • CNOR for perioperative care
  • Specialty nursing fields: CRNFA or CMSRN

Desirable qualities of a surgical nurse are:

  • Friendly and compassionate to nurture the patient-healthcare provider relationship based on mutual trust.
  • Attention to patient’s vitals in order to predict when a patient goes into critical care.
  • Hygienic to prepare the operating room and instruments in order to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Detail-oriented when taking notes and vitals with the ability to deliver an assessment on patient’s health status to other team members.
  • Patient when discussing care plans to patients and family members.
  • High emotional intelligence to create a positive patient care experience that includes simplifying medical terminology and concepts to the patient.

What are the Surgical Nurse Job Responsibilities?

So, what are the specific responsibilities that make this nursing specialty different? A surgical nurse typically:

  • Performs and documents ongoing assessments including observation, physical examination, laboratory/test results, and patient response to procedural intervention.
  • Participates in the identification and clarification of patient needs, as evidenced by participation in multidisciplinary care planning, to achieve optimal patient outcomes.
  • Reviews and revises plan of care according to change in patient’s status.
  • Implements plan of care according to identified physical, psychosocial, and spiritual needs.
  • Utilizes effective verbal and written communication skills through the presentation of pertinent information.
  • Incorporates patient teaching/discharge planning to promote optimal patient outcomes.
  • Coordinates and documents appropriate discharge planning and referrals to ensure continuity of care after discharge.
  • Embraces change and continuously identifies opportunities for improvement by demonstrating a commitment to utilizing evidence based practice.

Why Should I be a Surgical Nurse?

Among the various registered nurse jobs to explore, surgical nurses encounter different types of patients every day. This presents the opportunity to work with patients of different conditions and deepen their knowledge in the field. This ensures total preparedness for any situation as surgical nurses further their career. Another appealing aspect is the team bonding experience when nurse teams work together to provide the best form of care during all surgical phases. You’ll be able to strengthen work relationships and improve communication as information gets carried to different teams. Overall, a surgical nurse is another rewarding registered nursing position to pursue with several career paths to choose from.

Where are the Registered Nursing Jobs Near Me?

Eisenhower Health is located in Coachella Valley where registered nurses can enjoy every moment caring for patients under the California sunshine. Our world-class medical center nurtures professionals at every stage of their nursing career. We’re passionate in delivering outstanding patient care, which starts with creating a positive work experience for our nursing staff. Apply for our available registered nursing jobs, specifically in the Emergency Room, Intensive Care Unit and Surgery Room.

Originally posted on 30/5/2021

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