How To Become A Surgical Nurse?

June 27, 2023 | Admin

A surgical nurse is a medical professional that is trained to help in all types of surgical procedures. Surgical nurses are found around the operating table across the globe as part of lifesaving and elective procedures.

What is a Surgical Nurse?

Also known as a “Perioperative Nurse”, a surgical nurse is a highly trained professional who is relied upon by surgeons to assist in all manner of surgeries. It’s the surgical nurses who care for patients throughout the procedure (before, during and even after). 

A surgical nurse works in many different settings, from hospitals to surgery centers and even clinics. They have highly specialized registered nurses.

There have been great advances in medical and surgical procedures over the years. Surgical procedures are safer today and more common. To perform these procedures, a surgeon will require a knowledgeable and skilled team to successfully help him or her get through the surgery.

This is why surgeons choose the best trained and most competent doctors and nurses for the procedures. Surgical doctors and nurses are well compensated for their time and skillsets as well.

Surgical nurses are referred to as the backbone of the surgical team, while surgeons lead the team. A surgical nurse is in the operating room from the beginning to the end of the procedure. Without the help of surgical nurses, surgeons would not be able to perm.

Other than assisting in surgical procedures, most surgical nurses specialize in different areas. Such areas include pediatric surgery, obstetrics, cardiac surgery, among others.

What Does a Surgical Nurse Do?

A surgical nurse is trained and skilled enough to help with all facets of a surgical procedure. A surgical nurse is expected to work with the patient before entering the operating room, which means that surgical nurses also play a major role in preparing the patient for surgery.

Part of their job involves recording and measuring the patient’s vital signs, administering any medication to the patient, starting intravenous lines, helping the anesthesiologist and the nurse anesthetist. Surgical nurses are also responsible for sterilizing and marking incision points for surgery.

When a surgical procedure starts, surgical nurses and the rest of the surgical team will not have time to rest. They have to ensure that they are always alert in case of any change in the patient’s condition. The surgical nurse will monitor the patient’s vitals, and if they start to behave erratically, it is their job to inform the rest of the team.

If there is an emergency, the surgical nurse will be expected to perform any lifesaving maneuver to help save the patient’s life.

Surgical nurses are also responsible for the post-surgical care of the patient. They offer post-surgical care to ensure that the procedure went on smoothly. They are also responsible for transporting the patient to the recovery room to monitor their recovery and administer care.

Surgical nurses are expected to change the patient’s dressing, give medication, and help them follow all the post-operative care instructions that the surgeon has given.

Where Does the Surgical Nurse Work?

The surgical nurse will find employment in hospitals that are equipped with operating rooms and surgical rooms. Hospitals with emergency and centers are also ideal working areas for surgical nurses. Surgical nurses are also in high demand in intensive care units and recovery rooms.

What Skills Must a Surgical Nurse Have?

Because a surgical nurse is an integral part of the surgical team, surgical nurses need to have a unique set of skills that range from excellent communication to exceptional dexterity when it comes to mental and physical movement. It is the surgical nurse that is the link between the surgeon and other members of the team. 

Here are some of the most important skills for a surgical nurse to have:

Exceptional Communication Skills

Surgical nurses are expected to have great communication skills to communicate well with the patients, doctors, and other surgical team members. In most cases, tension will run high in the operating room; this is when the surgical nurses will need to speak calmly and professionally when other members are upset and angry.

Patients going to the operating room are, in most cases, very fearful. Surgical nurses should know how to speak to the patient and help ease the fear. It should take about five minutes to gain the patient’s trust and help them calm down for the surgery.

Part of being a great communicator is being a team player. This skill is crucial because, in the operating room, a surgical nurse will assume different roles depending on the circumstances. 

For example, when the surgical nurse will be the circulator and therefore will be needed to lead, in other instances, they will be the scrub and will be needed to follow another person’s lead.

Conflict Resolution Skills

Surgical nurses are required to help maintain a highly professional and functional operating room. Still, they are also called upon to ensure that the patient feels at ease with the entire team. In many cases, this calls for excellent conflict resolution skills. 

Physical and Mental Capabilities

Surgical nurses have to be strong, both physically and mentally. Being fast on your feet is a must. Surgical nurses are on their feet most, if not all day; other times, they are bending, kneeling, lifting, or reaching out for different medical apparatus. They also require sharp motor skills for opening items that are sealed for sterilization.

The surgical room is a physically challenging area. Surgical nurses will need to position and move the patient for the surgical procedures. They require a lot of energy while prepping the operating room, moving carts, or even wheeling the patient in and out of the operating room.

Mental fortitude is great when you are frustrated and upset by the staff and doctors. It is not uncommon for surgical nurses to be shouted at in a derogatory manner during surgery. You need to have the ability to brush off those insults and perform the tasks as required.

The mental flexibility will help when you need to deal with the different schedule changes and surgery timing changes. You will need to change your mind every time there is something to do, and you will need to be ready to do so.

There are times you will need to be part of the emergency team, meaning that you will not have enough time to always prepare for the different surgical procedures you will be part of.

Organizational Skills

Surgical nurses must be organized. Surgical nurses are tasked with organizing supplies, organizing actions, and charting to ensure the patient’s best surgery outcome. As a surgical nurse, you will be expected to find medication and other items in just a few seconds. Preferably in less than 30 seconds, and to achieve this, you have to be extremely organized.


Surgical nurses must be dedicated to their work. There are days a surgical nurse will be called into work on their days off because of an emergency. Depending on the facility you are working at, you will be needed to cover an extra shift a week.

A surgical nurse needs to be extremely dedicated, especially during the operating room’s first year. Most surgical nurses will not be their best, but that is just part of the learning process. Being dedicated helps you get through the first year, and I look forward to being better at your job.

Time Management

Time management is everything in the operating room. In most cases, you will be paid based on the number of hours you will be in the operating room in most facilities.

When it comes to administering medication in the operation room, time is an important factor. Every second count while in the operating room. Surgical nurses have to be aware of every second in the operating room.

Critical Thinking

Surgical nurses need to have the ability to analyze, judge and respond accordingly to any changing situation. Anything can change at any given time in the operating room. So you will need to be able to think very fast on the best course of action to save your patient’s life.

Critical thinking will come in handy when interviewing a patient on any allergies that they may have. For example, if a patient is allergic to shellfish, this is an allergy to iodine. This will, in turn, help the nurse know not to prep the patient for surgery with an iodine solution.

The nurse will use their critical thinking skills to decide to replace the prepping agent.


Having integrity in the operating room is vital. A surgical nurse needs to ask for help when they need A nurse to admit that something went wrong and admit their mistakes while doing their job.


Being a surgical nurse means that you will have to pay attention to the littlest of details in the operating room. Missing even the smallest detail can lead to the loos of a life.

You have to pay attention to the prepping, positioning, and draping of items in the operation room. For example, if you position a patient in the operating room with palms facing downwards rather than upwards, damage to the ulnar nerve might occur. This is among the many small details that the surgical nurse should pay attention to.

Nurses in the operating room need to be alert at all times. You will need to observe the sterile field all through the surgery. Keeping their eyes on the sterile field means that they will be ready to hand over the supplies needed through the surgery.

Stress Management Skills

It is not uncommon to feel that nothing you are doing can please the doctors as a surgical nurse. There are days when you will be yelled at, and these days will be very stressful. You will need to have great stress management techniques.

Surgical nurses need to remain calm throughout the surgery, even when the surgeons are not in the best of moods.

If you have all the above skills, you will make a great surgical nurse. You can, however, learn many of these skills on the job. However, what is an absolute must are the actual nursing skills that you get taught, tested and certified on before you get your license as a surgical nurse. 

While it’s true that you are always going to be learning something new in your nursing career, you still need to have the basic nursing qualifications under your belt. 

What is the Difference Between a Scrub Nurse and a Surgical Nurse?

Surgical nurses and the scrub nurse are responsible for preparing the operating room and getting it ready for the surgical procedures. While in the operating room, they both focus on the seamless working of the entire surgical team. This might include providing emotional support for the patient before and after the surgery.

There are instances when the surgical nurse’s duties and the scrub nurse might overlap in the operating room. Still, surgical nurses have more responsibility and a great scope of practice.

All surgical nurses are registered nurses with an associate degree, a nursing diploma, or a bachelor’s degree. Surgical nurses must be licensed. Certification is important is considered a requirement before you practice in any health organization.

 A surgical nurse is responsible for managing care and obtaining supplies, and coordinating with the patient’s family during and after the surgical procedure. The scrub nurse is responsible for maintaining the sterile field and passing instruments and supplies to the surgeons upon demand.

A surgical nurse undergoes more education than a scrub nurse. They also have the pleasure of choosing a nursing speciality based on their interests. Surgical nurses are more independent than scrub nurses because they can work without the surgeon’s supervision. The surgical nurse is also better paid than the scrub nurse.

What Are the Schooling and Certifications Requirements for Becoming a Surgical Nurse?

As is the case with other nursing specialties, the first step to becoming a surgical nurse is to complete a four years’ bachelor’s degree program or a two-year associate’s program in nursing. The nursing program must be CCNE or ACEN accredited. 

While taking on either of these programs, you will learn the basic foundation of becoming a practicing nurse. You will learn how to take care and handle patients, prevent further illness to the patients, deliver essential medical treatments, and interact with other healthcare team members such as doctors and surgeons. It is important to note that there are different types of nursing degrees.

As a surgical nurse, your course work will entail:

  • Chemistry
  • Human anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Nutrition
  • Statistics
  • Public health

You will also be required to do clinical rotations as part of your practical lessons.

After completing the nursing course, you will have to pass the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCLEX-RN) to be licensed and ready to practice as a registered nurse.

Obtaining work experience as a nurse is the next step. After you have passed the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exams, you will need to get some experience working in surgery.

There is no specific amount of time that has been officially put out for a nurse to become a surgical nurse, but you will have to spend at least two years in a surgical room before becoming a surgical nurse.

You will be required to have completed 2,000 hours in an acute care setting so that you can understand the stress and challenges that come with working as a registered nurse. Build as much experience as you can in community clinics, ambulatory care units, inpatient care units, surgical centers, and hospitals.

The surgical nursing field is considered one of the largest specialties in the nursing profession, accounting for a sixth of the nursing population. Surgical nurses provide direct care to patients while liaising with their families.

If you follow the above steps to become a certified surgical nurse, you will be part of the most rewarding professions on this planet. You will be ready to give high-quality care to patients throughout the different surgical procedures you will be part of while helping patients recover quickly and safely.

What Are the Different Types of Nursing Degrees for Surgical Nurses?

There different educational tracks nursing students can take to become a nurse. Here are some of the ways:

LPN/LVN Certificate or Diploma

A great way to obtain the Licensed Practical Nurse Certificate (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) diploma is to go to Nursing school. This is the best way many nursing careers begin. The job description after getting these certificates to differ from one state to another.

LPN/LVN students have to pass the NCLEX-PN exam to get their final nursing certification to start working in hospitals, residential care facilities, doctor’s offices, and rehab centers. Once licensed, the nurses can now monitor the health of a surgical patient, report to a registered nurse on duty, and perform other health care duties.

A Certified Nursing Assistant can later take the LVN exam after fulfilling the nursing field’s required experience.

The LPN/LVN is not the same as a bachelor’s degree in the medical field but is seen as a great route to take for people who would like to take a degree later on. Nurses who have an associate degree have many job options than the LPN/LVN certificate holder and are paid better.

CNA Certificate or Diploma

The Certified Nursing Assistant will work under LPNs and Registered Nurses. You do not require a college degree to obtain a CNA certificate. It will only require you to complete a CNA program training in basic nursing and healthcare.

CAN programs are offered in most community colleges and trade schools. They can be done both in-person or online. It is also important to note that students that do not have a high school diploma can also obtain a CAN certificate but will need their GED if they would like to further their studies.

Every state has different CAN credentials and qualifications for the training program. Students need to check what their state’s requirements are.

Associate Degree in Nursing

Most entry-level nurses take advantage of the opportunity available at the LPN and CAN level; however, there are those students that will choose to pursue an associate degree in nursing which takes two years to complete.

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ASN) is considered the first step to getting a bachelor’s degree, allows the nursing students to become Registered Nurse(RN). This improves the job prospects for the students and the educational avenue to take down the line.

There are more opportunities for ASN holders when compared to entry-level nursing students. RN’s who have associate degrees can specialize in neonatal care, emergency room medicine, or any other areas of their nursing interest.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

A Bachelor of Science in Nursing is a four-year course offered to nurse students in different colleges. Written as BSN, this has become the educational standard for Registered Nurses in recent years.

Research shows that up to 80% of RNs in 2020 hold a BSN. Traditionally a Bachelor of Science in Nursing was earned on campus or in-person schooling. However, with the rise of the digital era, students can access the curse online if they cannot attend the in-person classes for their reasons.

BSN programs are available in different universities across the United States, and nursing students can choose what works best for their lifestyle.

There are also programs in place on how Registered Nurses with associated degrees obtain a bachelor’s degree.

A BSN gives the students a chance to have a multi-faceted education in the health care field with great career and educational opportunities. A BSN holder will potentially earn a higher salary as compared to an associate degree holder and get competitive job offers right after they complete college.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Nursing School

There are many options to choose from when looking for a nursing school that will match your needs. Besides getting your application accepted, you have to make sure that you consider several factors before choosing which nursing school to apply to.

Here are some of the most important factors to consider choosing a nursing program:


Before choosing a nursing program, you need to make sure that you pick an environment that you are comfortable in. If you would like to be closer to your family, choose a nursing program closer to home. If you are the kind of person who wants to experience a new environment, choose a nursing program that is miles away from your home. 

Also, consider where you would like to be living while studying: either on campus or on campus. Not forgetting the weather factor. Make sure you choose a nursing program located in a location with weather conditions that you are acclimatized to.

Type of Nursing Degree

If you want to pursue nursing as a career, you have to be aware that there are different types of nursing degrees. Based on your circumstances, you will need to know which nursing level you would like to start with. You could start by becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), a Registered Nurse. It is also important to note that there are different levels of RNs with an associate degree and a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). It is important to understand all the levels to know which nursing level you would like to start with.


Accreditation should be the first thing to check for you to choose a nursing program. While looking for a nursing school, I would suggest you go from schools accredited by the Accreditation Commission of Education or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and education. This will save you a lot of money and trouble.


Before choosing a nursing school, check if they have flexible schedules such as weekend classes, evening classes, or even online classes. This will come in handy if you need to work maybe while still in school or have other commitments that will require your time. Knowing different clinical rotations for the nursing school you choose is also important.

The Cost

The cost of the nursing school you choose will, in some cases, determine the quality of education and experience you will get. While surgical nurses are required to get their education from an accredited institution, this standardization often only applies to the educational content covered within the curriculum as opposed to the experience of learning in that facility

The NCLEX Pass Rate

This is the rate at which the school you choose passes the National Council Licensure Exam. This pass rate gives you a good idea of how well the school prepares its students to become nurses. 

Not only are surgical nurses well educated and trained, but they are also well paid. A surgical nurse typically makes anywhere between $30 to $40 per hour, with the rate depending on the institution and the state in which the nurse practices. With the right qualifications, you could be well on your way to a highly rewarding career as a surgical nurse. 

Find the program that’s right for you

Whether you’re trying to start your career or make a big change, we can help you find the perfect school to help you reach your goals.

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