Role of Nurses for Cardiac Surgery Patients


Cardiac surgery nurses, also referred to as cardiovascular nurses, work in a hospital and care for patients who undergo cardiac surgery. These professionals work with patients of all ages, although cardiovascular disease and cardiac illnesses typically affect elderly patients.

They are involved with all phases of cardiac surgery by caring for patients before, during and after their surgical procedures.


  • Many hospitals will require a master's degree in nursing with post-graduate studies focused in the cardiovascular clinical nurse specialty area. After receiving a master's degree, nurses in this specialty area must pass state-adminstered exams to be licensed as an advanced practical nurse (APN).

Certifications and Training

  • Registered nurses with an associate's or bachelor's degree can also continue education to become a cardiovascular nurse. This requires continuing education, 2,000 hours of clinical practice, and an exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to become certified.

    Because of the severity of cardiac surgery patients, almost all hospitals require advanced life support (ALS) or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification to work in a cardiac surgery environment.

Pre-Operative Responsibilities

  • Pre-operative care includes evaluating a patient's readiness for surgery by taking a detailed medical history and performing a complete physical examination. This is followed by ordering appropriate tests for assessment and prescribing necessary medications for surgery.

Operative Responsibilities

  • Operative responsibilities include assisting in preparation of the patient by positioning the patient on the operating room table and applying appropriate draping for the surgical procedure. Asssisting the general operation as needed by a surgeon is also required.

Post-Operative Responsibilities

  • Post-operative care includes evaluating the patient's recovery process by checking vital signs, administering intravenous lines, ordering medications and laboratory tests as needed and monitoring the patient to ensure there are no complications after surgery.

    These professionals also identify emergency situations and follow established procedures in response to an emergency. This can include administering advanced life support or medication and contacting attending and on-call medical staff to respond.

    Many hospitals have a cardiac step-down unit where cardiac surgery patients are often transferred after they've passed the critical phase of recovery. Cardiac surgery nurses often continue to work with patients after they have been transferred to the unit to ensure a continuous and successful recovery. All responsibilities are accomplished on a daily basis until a patient is discharged, and includes initiating discharge planning by completing all required forms and prescriptions for review by the patient's surgeon or post-operative physician.

Average Salary

  • In November 2009, lists the average salary range between $72,000 and $102,000 per year for these occupations. Salaries can vary depending on experience and educational training.

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  • Photo Credit Image by, courtesy of Avi Bolshakov
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