Role of the Surgical Nurse


Surgical nurses work in hospitals or outpatient surgical centers, where they specialize in providing perioperative care, which includes assisting the patient throughout the period before, during and after surgery. Although they provide medical care, surgical nurses must also take on the important task of serving as a patient's advocate throughout the surgical process.

Types of Surgical Nurses

  • Surgical nurses fall under three main categories: scrub nurses, circulating nurses and RN first assistants, each of which play a distinct role in surgical care. Scrub nurses pass instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons during surgery while RN first assistants directly assist the operating surgeon by performing basic surgical tasks. Circulating nurses work outside of the sterile field, caring for patients prior to surgery and/or during recovery.

Educational Requirements

  • Surgical nurses are registered nurses (RNs) with advanced training in perioperative care techniques. Registered nursing programs may be either 2 or 4 years in length and are offered by vocational and nursing schools and universities. RNs must also pass a professional board examination as a condition of licensure. Scrub nurses and circulating nurses may receive on-the-job training. But first assistants must meet their state's specific licensing requirements to perform surgical procedures. These requirements typically include a specified amount of experience in scrub nursing, completion of a specific training course for first assistants and an internship in the same.


  • The duties of surgical nurses are varied. In the time leading up to surgery, he provides care to the patient by administering medications, monitoring vital signs and performing any necessary preoperative procedures, such as shaving or prepping. The nurse will begin an IV line to allow for the quick introduction of medications as necessary and will provide education and support throughout the process. During surgery, scrub nurses prepare and hand sterilized instruments and equipment to the operating surgeon. First assistants, in contrast, perform surgical procedures such as suturing, using various methods to control bleeding, and removing or handling tissue. Circulating nurses provide care in both the pre- and postoperative periods. During recovery, they are responsible for monitoring the patient's condition and providing instructions for aftercare.

Job Outlook

  • Career opportunities in the field of nursing are expected to continue to increase at a much faster than average rate throughout the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Due to current shortages in the availability of qualified candidates, hospitals are much more willing to take on newly graduated nurses and provide training on the job. Surgical nurses, and particularly first assistants, can also find abundant job opportunities within the area of travel nursing. Salaries for surgical nurses vary according to the level of training and experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the average starting salary for nurses is just over $40,000.


  • A surgical nurse's work is physically demanding, requiring her to be on her feet for long periods of time and to move patients or heavy equipment. Dependent upon the protocol of the specific medical facility, she may also work long hours, rotating shifts and/or have on-call duty. A surgical nurse must be able to communicate effectively, both verbally and in written form, as she is responsible for documenting all of the care that hse provides to a patient as a part of the medical record.

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