What Does A Surgical Nurse Do

Is A Surgical Nursing Career Right For You?

Nursing Careers

There are many different career paths to choose from when pursuing a career in nursing. One of the most exciting fields is surgical nursing. Surgical nurses work closely with doctors in hospitals, surgery centers, and clinics to assist in surgeries. Surgical nursing is an active and challenging field that presents many personal and professional growth opportunities.  

The day in the life of a surgical nurse can look different depending on the type of medical facility where you work. However, the primary ​responsibility of a surgical nurse is to provide patient care, assist the operating room staff, and document observations and procedures. 

What Is A Surgical Nurse?

A surgical nurse not only assists with surgery, but they may also be assigned to patients in preoperative, postoperative, and intensive care units. Here are common ways a surgical nurse assists with patient care before, during, and after surgery:  

  1. Provide emotional support to patients  
  2. Conduct a preoperative assessment 
  3. Complete a surgical checklist 
  4. Sterilize surgical instruments and help set up equipment for surgery 
  5. Assist the surgeon during surgery  
  6. Prevent a surgical site infection, injuries, and inadequate thermoregulation 
  7. Assist with wound closing like applying stitches or bandages  
  8. Follow up about patient progress in the recovery room 
  9. Work with the pre-op and PACU to ensure continuity of care for the surgical patient 

How To Become A Surgical Nurse

Becoming a surgical nurse takes a lot of time, dedication, and passion. The orientation alone for a novice nurse in the operating room (OR) is 26 weeks. This field will often require you to work well under pressure, work quickly but efficiently, and have thick skin. OR nurses work in one of the most high-stress settings in the nursing field. This is also a physically demanding job. You may be standing in uncomfortable positions during surgery for hours on end with little opportunity to rest. 

The demands withstanding, if you’re the right fit, being a surgical nurse can be a gratifying career path both professionally and emotionally.  Surgical nurses don’t necessarily have to work in a hospital. You can work as a surgical nurse anywhere surgical procedures are performed. And not all surgeries are emergency procedures for life threatening conditions. Many surgeries are elective meant to improve the quality of life for patients.   

The most common working environments for surgical nurses are: 

  1. Hospitals (surgical care units, operating rooms, recovery rooms) 
  2. Day-surgery centers 
  3. Ambulatory surgery centers 
  4. Physicians’ offices 
  5. Urgent care centers 
  6. Outpatient clinics 

What do surgical nurses do

Surgical nurses are RN’s and must have a bachelor’s degree or BSN. The preferred education for a surgical nurse is a BSN. Additionally, if a hospital has the ANCC Magnet Designation, a BSN is required for any new hires. Making the leap from an RN to a surgical nurse requires additional education, certification, and training.  

Surgical nursing is not only a rewarding field, but also a field in high demand. Part of the growing demand for surgical nurses can be credited to the number of surgical procedures done in the United States. Every surgery requires an RN to be part of the surgical team. As a surgical nurse, you are designated as the patient advocate. The RN to patient ratio in the operating room is 1:1. 

If you thrive under a fast-paced environment, work well as part of a team, and want to work with one patient at a time, surgical nursing may be for you. The first step in this exciting career is earning your BSN degree. If you are interested in nursing school, please reach out to one of our advisors at: (855)706-8382, or you can fill out a form and request more information.


Authored by Trisha A. Butler, MBA, BA, BSN, RN, CNOR, COI   

Core Nursing Faculty | BSN Curriculum Committee Chair | Tranquility & Wellness Committee Chair 

Arizona College of Nursing  

Information in this blog post is accurate as of March 30, 2022.