How Long Does it Take to Become a Surgical Nurse?

Becoming a licensed surgical nurse takes at least four years if you are not already a registered nurse. The first step is to earn an associate’s degree, which qualifies you to take the NCLEX-RN exam. After passing the exam, you’ll need to gain two years of hands-on experience working as a registered nurse before you can apply for surgical nurse certification.

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If you opt to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) instead of an associate’s degree, the entire process will take around six years to become a certified perioperative nurse.

The certification path for registered nurses who want to specialize in surgical nursing involves acquiring the necessary perioperative experience, which can vary depending on the certification. Those who wish to become a Certified Registered Nurse First Assistant (CRNFA) must hold a bachelor’s degree and meet the experience requirements.

Who is a Surgical Nurse?

A surgical nurse, also known as a perioperative nurse, is a registered nurse who specializes in providing care to patients undergoing surgical procedures. They play a vital role in ensuring the safety and well-being of patients before, during, and after surgery. 

What Do Surgical Nurses Do?

Here are some of the key responsibilities of a surgical nurse:

Pre-operative care

  • Educating, counseling, and reassuring patients before their surgeries
  • Assessing and recording patients’ vital signs and medical histories
  • Preparing the operating room by setting up instruments and equipment
  • Sterilizing and marking incision sites
  • Assisting in setting up intravenous lines and other necessary equipment

Intra-operative care:

  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs during surgery
  • Assisting the surgical team by passing instruments and supplies
  • Maintaining a sterile environment to prevent infections
  • Assisting anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists in monitoring the patient’s anesthesia
  • Helping to position the patient according to the surgical procedure
  • Resuscitating patients if necessary

Post-operative care

  • Transporting patients to recovery rooms or intensive care units
  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs and overall condition after surgery
  • Administering medications and fluids as prescribed
  • Changing dressings and monitoring surgical sites for signs of infection
  • Educating patients and their families about post-operative care and recovery

Surgical nurses work closely with surgeons, anesthetists, and other healthcare professionals to ensure that patients receive the highest quality care throughout their surgical journey. Their expertise and attention to detail prevent complications and promote optimal patient outcomes.

Steps to Becoming a Surgical Nurse

Becoming a surgical nurse involves a combination of education, experience, and specialized training. Here’s a detailed guide on how to pursue a career in surgical nursing:

Earn a Nursing Degree

The first step to becoming a surgical nurse is to obtain a nursing degree from an accredited college or university. You can choose an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). While some hospitals hire ADN nurses, most prefer candidates with a BSN, as it better prepares you for the complexities of surgical nursing.

Obtain RN Licensure

After completing your nursing degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This nationwide exam is a requirement for practicing as a registered nurse in the United States.

Gain Relevant Experience

Most hospitals and surgical centers require nurses to have at least one year of relevant experience before transitioning into a perioperative role. Gain experience in medical-surgical nursing, critical care, or emergency nursing to build a strong foundation for your surgical nursing career.

Pursue Specialized Training

To prepare for a surgical nursing role, consider attending a specialized training program like the “Periop101: A Core Curriculum” offered by the Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN). This program covers essential topics like anesthesia, surgical draping, and patient and equipment safety.

Obtain Certification

After gaining experience in perioperative nursing, you can demonstrate your expertise and enhance your career prospects by obtaining certification. The Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) offers three perioperative nursing certifications:

CNOR (Certified Perioperative Nurse): This certification is designed for surgical nurses with at least two years of perioperative experience and validates their skills and knowledge.

CFPN (Certified Foundational Perioperative Nurse): This credential is intended for surgical nurses with less than two years of experience and provides a foundation for ongoing professional development.

CNAMB (Certified Ambulatory Surgery Nurse): This certification recognizes perioperative nurses’ specialized knowledge and competencies working in ambulatory surgery settings.

Additionally, nurses interested in post-operative care and patient education may pursue the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) certification offered by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. To be eligible, candidates must have an active RN license, two years of med-surg experience, and at least 2,000 hours of practice in the past three years.

By following these steps and continuously seeking opportunities for growth and learning, you can build a rewarding career as a skilled and knowledgeable surgical nurse.

How Much do Surgical Nurses Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for registered nurses, including surgical nurses, was $77,600 in May 2021. However, surgical nurses with advanced certifications and experience can earn higher salaries, ranging from $80,000 to over $100,000 annually, depending on location, employer, and specialization.

Can you become a Surgical Nurse online?

While you can complete some nursing degree programs online, becoming a surgical nurse requires hands-on clinical experience that cannot be fully replicated online. However, some universities offer hybrid programs that combine online coursework with in-person clinical rotations. After becoming a registered nurse, you can pursue additional online courses or certifications to specialize in surgical nursing.

What is the difference between a Surgical Nurse and a Scrub Nurse? 

A surgical nurse is a broad term that encompasses all nurses who work in the perioperative setting, including pre-operative, intra-operative, and post-operative care. A scrub nurse, also known as an operating room nurse or perioperative nurse, is a specific type of surgical nurse who works directly with the surgical team during an operation. Scrub nurses are responsible for maintaining a sterile environment, preparing and handling surgical instruments, and assisting the surgeon during the procedure.

Do your Surgical Nurse exam qualifications expire?

Most surgical nurse certifications, such as the CNOR (Certified Perioperative Nurse) or CRNFA (Certified Registered Nurse First Assistant), require periodic renewal to ensure that nurses maintain their knowledge and skills. Renewal requirements often involve completing a certain number of continuing education hours and/or retaking the certification exam. The specific renewal period and requirements vary depending on the certifying organization.

Is Surgical Nursing Difficult?

Surgical nursing can be challenging, as it requires a high level of technical skill, attention to detail, and the ability to work well under pressure. Surgical nurses must have a strong understanding of anatomy, physiology, and surgical procedures, as well as the ability to anticipate the needs of the surgical team and respond quickly to emergencies. They also need excellent communication and interpersonal skills to effectively collaborate with other healthcare professionals and provide compassionate patient care. While the demands of surgical nursing can be significant, many nurses find the work highly rewarding and fulfilling.

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