How Long Does it Take to Become a Surgical Nurse?

The minimum educational requirement to become a surgical nurse is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which typically takes two years to complete. Alternatively, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) usually requires four years of study. For those aspiring to become nurse practitioners, obtaining a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree generally takes six years.
Note: To be eligible for certification, you must have at least two years of nursing experience and at least 2,000 hours of work experience, specifically as a surgical nurse.
Who Is a Surgical Nurse?
A surgical nurse, also known as a perioperative nurse, is a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in caring for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. Surgical nurses work closely with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals to ensure patients receive the highest quality care throughout their surgical journey.
What Do Surgical Nurses Do?
Surgical nurses have many responsibilities, depending on their specific role and the healthcare facility. Some of the key duties of a surgical nurse include:

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Preparing patients for surgery by assessing their health status, reviewing their medical history, and educating them about the procedure
Assisting surgeons and other healthcare professionals during surgical procedures by maintaining a sterile environment, monitoring the patient’s vital signs, and providing necessary instruments and supplies
Caring for patients after surgery by monitoring their recovery, managing pain, and preventing complications
Communicating with patients and their families to provide emotional support and answer any questions they may have about the surgical process

Steps to Becoming a Surgical Nurse
Now that you understand what surgical nurses do better,  let’s explore the steps you need to take to become one.
Understand the specialized role of a surgical nurse
Before deciding to pursue a career as a surgical nurse, it’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of what the role entails. Surgical nurses, also known as perioperative nurses, work in a unique and demanding environment, caring for patients before, during, and after surgical procedures. They collaborate closely with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals to ensure patient outcomes.
To gain insight into the role, research the specific responsibilities of surgical nurses, such as preparing patients for surgery, assisting during procedures, and providing post-operative care. It’s also essential to understand the work environment, which may involve long hours, standing for extended periods, and dealing with high-stress situations. Shadowing a surgical nurse or speaking with professionals in the field can provide valuable first-hand knowledge of the role and help you determine if it aligns with your interests and career goals.
Enroll in a nursing degree program
To become a surgical nurse, you must first become a registered nurse (RN). This requires an accredited nursing program, either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN typically takes two to three years, while a BSN usually takes four years.
When choosing a nursing program, consider factors such as accreditation, curriculum, clinical experience opportunities, and NCLEX-RN pass rates. Some programs may also offer specialized courses or electives related to surgical nursing, which can provide a strong foundation for your future career.
Become an RN
After completing your nursing degree, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a licensed RN. This comprehensive exam tests your knowledge and skills in various areas of nursing, such as patient care, safety, infection control, and pharmacology.
Preparing for the NCLEX-RN requires dedication and thorough study. Many nursing programs offer NCLEX-RN preparation resources, such as practice exams and review courses. Numerous study guides, online resources, and review books are available to help you prepare for the exam.
Gain experience and get certified (optional)
Once you’ve become a licensed RN, you can start gaining experience in surgical nursing by working in a hospital or surgical center. Many employers prefer to hire surgical nurses with at least one to two years of experience working as an RN in a surgical setting, such as an operating room or post-anesthesia care unit (PACU).
During this time, focus on developing your skills and knowledge in perioperative nursing. Seek opportunities to work with experienced surgical nurses, attend training sessions or workshops, and participate in quality improvement initiatives related to surgical care.
While not always required, obtaining certification as a surgical nurse can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the field. The Competency and Credentialing Institute (CCI) offers the Certified Perioperative Nurse (CNOR) certification, the most widely recognized certification for surgical nurses. To be eligible for the CNOR, you must have a current RN license, at least two years of experience as an RN, and at least 2,400 hours of experience in perioperative nursing within the past three years.
Start your career as a surgical nurse
You can begin your career as a surgical nurse with the necessary education, licensure, experience, and optional certification. Look for job opportunities in hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, or other healthcare facilities that perform surgical procedures. Consider factors such as the type of surgeries performed, the patient population served, and the opportunity for professional growth and development when evaluating potential employers.
Surgical Nurse Skills
To excel as a surgical nurse, you’ll need a diverse set of skills that encompass both technical expertise and interpersonal abilities. Some of the essential skills for surgical nurses include:

Clinical knowledge: A strong foundation in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and surgical procedures is crucial for safe and effective patient care.
Attention to detail: Surgical nurses must be meticulous, ensuring that all instruments, supplies, and equipment are properly prepared and accounted for during surgical procedures.
Technical proficiency: Proficiency in operating and troubleshooting surgical equipment and performing tasks such as wound care and medication administration is essential.
Sterile technique: Maintaining a sterile field and adhering to aseptic practices is critical for preventing surgical site infections and ensuring optimal patient outcomes.
Critical thinking and problem-solving: Surgical nurses must be able to think quickly and make sound decisions in high-pressure situations, adapting to unexpected changes in a patient’s condition or the surgical plan.
Communication: Effective communication with patients, families, surgeons, and other healthcare team members is vital for ensuring smooth operations and fostering a collaborative work environment.
Emotional intelligence: Surgical nurses must be empathetic and supportive, helping patients and their families cope with the stress and anxiety associated with surgical procedures.
Physical stamina: Standing for long periods, lifting and positioning patients, and wearing personal protective equipment require physical strength and endurance.
Organizational skills: Strong organizational abilities are required to manage multiple tasks, prioritize patient needs, and ensure that all necessary documentation is completed accurately and efficiently.
Commitment to learning: As surgical techniques and technologies evolve, surgical nurses must be dedicated to ongoing education and professional development to maintain their expertise and provide the highest quality of care.

Developing and refining these skills through education, hands-on experience, and continuous learning will help you succeed as a surgical nurse and positively impact your patients’ lives.
How Much Do Surgical Nurses Make?
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t offer salary data specifically for surgical nurses, it does provide information for registered nurses in general. The BLS reports that registered nurses earn a mean annual wage of $94,480, which equates to $45.42 per hour.*
It’s important to note that average salaries often don’t represent entry-level positions. Factors such as your educational background, years of experience, employer, and geographic location can significantly influence your earnings as a surgical nurse. To better understand the potential salary range for nurses with a bachelor’s degree, consider exploring the RN salary data by state.
Can you become a Surgical Nurse online?
While you can’t become a surgical nurse entirely online, many nursing programs offer online coursework combined with in-person clinical experiences. This hybrid approach allows you to complete some of your studies remotely while still gaining hands-on experience in a healthcare setting.
What is the difference between a Surgical Nurse and a Scrub Nurse? 
A scrub nurse, also known as an operating room nurse, is a type of surgical nurse who works directly with the surgeon during a procedure. Scrub nurses are responsible for maintaining a sterile environment, passing instruments to the surgeon, and monitoring the patient’s status. While all scrub nurses are surgical nurses, not all surgical nurses are scrub nurses, as some may work in pre- or post-operative care.
Do your Surgical Nurse exam qualifications expire?
If you choose to obtain certification as a surgical nurse, such as the CNOR certification, it must be renewed periodically. The CNOR certification is valid for five years, after which you’ll need to meet certain requirements, such as completing continuing education credits or retaking the exam, to maintain your certification.
Is Surgical Nursing Difficult?
Surgical nursing can be a challenging and demanding physical and emotional career. Surgical nurses often work long hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays, and may be required to stand for extended periods during surgical procedures. They also need to be able to handle high-stress situations, such as emergency surgeries or complications during a procedure.
However, surgical nursing can be an incredibly rewarding career for those who are passionate about making a difference in patients’ lives and thrive in a fast-paced, dynamic environment. Surgical nurses have the opportunity to work closely with patients during some of the most vulnerable and critical moments of their lives, providing them with the care and support they need to achieve the best possible outcomes.

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