What is a Medical-Surgical Nurse?

Cassie L. Damewood

A medical-surgical nurse is a registered nurse who has successfully completed auxiliary training and education in surgical procedures. He traditionally assists surgeons and other nurses in hospital operating rooms. His work environment may be a small, private medical facility or a large, full-service hospital.

A medical-surgical nurse has completed auxiliary training and education in surgical procedures.
A medical-surgical nurse has completed auxiliary training and education in surgical procedures.

In addition to assisting in a wide range of surgeries and procedures, a medical-surgical nurse customarily performs preoperative functions as well. He may record the patient’s medical background and review the patient’s medical test results with the surgeon prior to the commencement of the procedure. If special physical preparations or medications are required, the medical-surgical nurse may be assigned to perform these duties. Checking a patient’s vital signs is traditionally part of this nurse’s job.

A medical-surgical nurse performs duties that include preoperative functions.
A medical-surgical nurse performs duties that include preoperative functions.

Once in the operating room, a medical-surgical nurse’s responsibilities may vary. He may continue to monitor the patient’s vital statistics, label specimens gathered during the operative procedure, dress and pressurize wounds and organs or pass the surgeon requested instruments and tools. These jobs may be performed by one nurse or shared by a team of nurses and doctors.

When the surgery is completed, the job of a medical-surgical nurse normally continues in the patient’s ward or room as the recovery begins. He typically checks vitals signs before and after the patient regains consciousness. When the patient is alert, the nurse commonly comforts them and provides them with therapeutic medications. He normally changes dressings and notifies the attending physician of any abnormalities noted in the initial healing process.

To be a successful medical-surgical nurse requires outstanding surgical assistance skills as well as the ability to make instant decisions in highly-charged atmospheres where lives may hang in the balance. Keeping the operating room well organized helps make procedures go smoothly and avoids breaks in medical communications. The ability to clearly converse with patients and families is also important in this position.

This position frequently requires long hours and multiple, back-to-back shifts. Excellent stamina and good overall health are important to meet the physical and mental demands of the job. Ongoing education is required to keep well informed on new surgical procedures.

To become a medical-surgical nurse, a person must first be a registered nurse. A registered nurse usually has a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Many regions and vicinities also require a registered nurse to have a license in addition to the college degree. A medical-surgical nurse often requires additional training and certification.

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Discussion Comments


I have a lot of respect for nurses, but I think that being a surgical nurse must be really stressful. I know that some surgical nurses get up to eight patients at a time and many of those patients need about ten different medications at a time.

That is really a lot of responsibility especially when the patients are recovering from surgery and are very vulnerable. I know that patients sometimes die which is not the fault of the surgical nurse, but I think that this part of the job would be too difficult for me.

I know that people in the medical profession all have their own ways of handling these things but I don’t know how they do it, but I am just glad that they do.

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