||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with Australia and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (November 2010)|
A surgical nurse is a nurse who specializes in perioperative care, meaning care provided to surgical patients before, during, and after surgery. There are a number of different kinds of surgical nurse, and surgical nursing as a career can be very demanding. Compensation in this field varies, depending on where a nurse works. Some surgical nurses make salaries which are comparable to those of doctors, while others struggle to get by on much less.
In pre-operative care, a surgical nurse helps to prepare a patient for surgery, both physically and emotionally. Surgical nurses may explain the procedure to the patient, and ease fears about the upcoming surgery and recovery. They also check the patient's vitals, administer medications, and help to sterilize and mark the surgical site.
During surgery, a surgical nurse assists the surgeon, passing instruments, keeping an eye on the patient's vital signs, and performing other tasks associated with the surgery, such as providing suction at the surgical site to remove blood and fluids. Some surgical nurses work as circulating nurses, patrolling the operating room to make sure that everyone stays sterile, and counting instruments, drapes, and other equipment to ensure that everything is where it is supposed to be. Nurses who are skilled at operating room work tend to receive excellent compensation, especially if particular surgeons become attached to them.
Post-operative care is also a critical part of the work of a surgical nurse. Nurses can work in acute recovery, keeping an eye on patients who are at serious risk of complications, and on more standard recovery floors in the hospital. They are usually responsible for changing dressings, monitoring vital signs, looking for signs of complications, and administering medications. The care of an attentive surgical nurse ensures that a patient's recovery goes as smoothly as possible.
People who want to become surgical nurses attend nursing school and specialize in surgical nursing. They are often required to pass examinations administered by the government or by nursing certification boards before being allowed to work as nurses, and they may also be expected to attend periodic continuing education classes so that they keep up with developments in the nursing field.
Surgical patients (those who have undergone a minor or major surgical procedure) are nursed on different wards to medical patients in the UK and Australia. Nursing practice on surgical wards differs from that of medical wards.
Surgical nurses may practice in different types of surgery:
- General surgery (e.g. appendectomy, gallbladder removal)
- Vascular surgery (e.g. varicose vein surgery, aortic aneurysm repair)
- Colo-rectal surgery (e.g. stoma formation)
- Surgical Oncology (e.g. breast surgery, tumour resections)
- Orthopaedic surgery (e.g. knee or hip replacements, fracture repair)
- Urological surgery (e.g. prostate surgery)
- Day surgery (or ambulatory surgery, where a patient is discharged within 24 hours)
Surgical nurses are responsible for approximately six patients, depending on the nature of the surgical ward. Intensive Care and High-Dependency units usually have one to two nurses per patient.
The Duties of a Surgical Nurse
Preparation of patients for their procedure involves ensuring pre-medication is administered, the patient/guardian has given written consent, the required blood-tests have been done, identification labels and identification bracelets are correct, all allergies have been recorded in the patient's notes and that the patient has been fasted appropriately.
Post-operatively the patient must be closely observed for signs of shock, arrest. The surgical nurse also ensures the wound created by the surgery is intact, and must be knowledgeable in wound care and the care of surgical drains. Surgical Nurses are responsible for the management of pain and post-operative nausea and vomiting, which are common post-operative side effects. The surgical nurse is also responsible for the discharge of the patient and giving the patient information on support systems and measures necessary to their recovery.
Surgical Nursing Credentials
To become a surgical nurse,CCTC one must have undertaken appropriate training, and be registered with the state nursing board (Nursing and Midwifery Council, UK; An Bord Altranais, Rep. of Ireland). In Australia, both Registered Nurses and Enrolled Nurses work in surgical wards.  According to a 2011 study, general surgery nurse median annual income was $69,810.
- Surgical Nursing 12th ed. (1997) Torrance & Serginson (Bailliere Tindall)
- "Bureau of Labor Statistics". Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Registered Nurses. Retrieved 1 November 2013.