Surgical nurses work as a part of the healthcare team that provides care to patients during, before and after surgery. There are three primary types of surgical nurses, each of which plays a vital and specific role during the surgical process. One very important role that all surgical nurses play is that of patient advocate, ensuring that the patient receives optimal care and communicating with family regarding the patient's condition.
Surgical nurses are generally Registered Nurses (RNs), although in some cases Licensed Vocational or Licensed Practical Nurses may work pre- or post-operative care. Surgical RNs have advanced training that is specific to their particular role, the majority of which is gained on the job. The vast majority of surgical nurses begin as circulating nurses, moving on to other roles as they gain surgical nursing experience. Working as a Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA) requires additional post-graduate coursework.
The Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook states that job opportunities in the field of nursing are expected to grow at a much higher than average rate throughout the next decade. Surgical nurses are in high demand and can find jobs in virtually any geographic region. Nurses in any field, including surgical nursing, may also find employment through travel nursing agencies that provide staff for nursing vacancies throughout the United States and overseas. The average compensation for nurses (as of 2006) was just under $60,000.
Circulating nurses are referred to as such because they work in a variety of capacities while circulating outside of the sterile field. These RNs provide care to patients before surgery, which may include administering medications placing IVs, performing preparatory procedures such as shaving and taking a thorough patient history. Circulating nurses may also be assigned to assist the surgical team in important tasks such as bringing in additional supplies or transporting samples to pathology. Recovery nurses are circulating nurses who care for patients during the recovery period, monitoring their condition and pain management and providing aftercare instructions to the patient and family.
Scrub nurses are RNs who work within the sterile surgical field. They are required to be "scrubbed in," meaning that they scrub their hands and arms with antibacterial soaps and don full sterile gowns. Scrub nurses assist the surgeon by setting up equipment and handing instruments during surgical procedures, while also monitoring the patient's condition. These nurses typically work as circulating nurses for a period of time before gaining a position as a scrub nurse.
RN First Assistants
RN First Assistants (RNFAs) are RNs with extensive experience and post-graduate training (generally a one-year program) in surgical care and procedures. RNFAs provide direct care during surgeries by performing such tasks as cutting or handling tissue, suturing, clamping or controlling bleeding, or using other surgical instruments. The First Assistant works under the direction of the operating surgeon.
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