Surgical nursing

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For more details on operating room/perioperative nursing, see Perioperative nursing.
Image sourced from the medGadget. This is an example of post operative care.[1]

A surgical nurse, also referred to as a theatre nurse, specializes in preoperative care which means they provide care to patients before, during and after surgery. Once you have completed your training to become and Registered Nurse or Enrolled Nurse, you then must complete extra training to become a theatre nurse. There are different speciality areas that theatre nurses can focus in, it just depends on which area they are interested in.

There are many different phasing during surgery where the theatre nurse is needed to support and assist the patient, surgeons, surgical technician, nurse anaesthetists and nurse practitioners. Pre-operative, the nurse must insure she helps to prepare the patient and operating room for the surgery. During the surgery, they must assist the anaesthetist and surgeons when they are needed. The last phase is post-operative, the nurse must make sure they provide suitable care and treatments for the patients.

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.[citation needed]

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:

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.


Theatre nurses are part of the perioperative surgical team, they work alongside surgeons, surgical technician, nurse anaesthetists and nurse practitioners. There are four stages of surgeries which the theatre nurse must assist in;

Preparative Phase[edit]

Preparative phase, which includes discussing to the patients about all the benefits of the procedure but also the dangers that could occur. By giving this information to the patients prior their operation, it's a good chance for the patient to discuss any concerns they may have. Also the theatre nurses must making sure that the patients are in good health, before going ahead with the surgery. While it is very important to prepare a patient physically it is also important to mentally prepare a patient prior to surgery.[2] A surgical nurse will help prepare the patient using various methods often including family members depending on the situation.[2] The patient will normally express any concerns about the surgery to the nurse, this information will be passed on to other hospital staff including the surgeon, the appropriate actions will be taken dependant on the situation.[2]

Anaesthetic Phase[edit]

This next phase includes the theatre nurse working together with the anaesthetist, they are there to support and helping when needed. The theatre nurse also organises equipment, medications and specialist devices ready for the next stage which is surgical phase.

Surgical Phase[edit]

During the surgical phase theatre nurse play an important role in assisting the surgeons. While the surgeon is working on the patient the theatre nurse is passing equipment, instruments and other resources the surgeon has requested. The surgical nurse is also responsible for accounting surgical equipment, instruments and specialist devices. The last duty of the nurse in this phase is being the important connection between the surgical group and other parts of the hospital.

Post Operative Phase[edit]

The first twenty-four hours post surgery are critical, there are many procedures that should take place in order to monitor the patient. Observations of the patient need to be taken and recorded every fifteen minutes. General observations are inclusive of, heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation.[3] Further tasks taken out by a surgical nurse post operation include; urine output, assessment of wound sites, replacing intravenous requirements and reporting any abnormalities.[3] It is also a task of the nurse to collect information about the social patient's history or issues, mobility restrictions, nutrition and education requirements prior to discharge from hospital. When these tasks are taken out it is proven to improve recovery.


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. Registered nursing received their training over a longer period of time, as they receive a University degree. To become a registered nurse you must complete a bachelor's degree of nursing which takes up to 3 years. Enrolled Nurses complete a Diploma of Nursing which is a full-time course over 12 –16 months at Technical and Further Education (TAFE). [4]

In Australia, the education standards are nationwide, requiring an undergraduate nursing degree and graduate diploma in preoperative nursing. The undergraduate degree has a full-time study duration of three years at the University of Notre Dame.[5] The post graduate diploma in in preoperative nursing has some perquisites including; undergraduate nursing degree, be a full-time employee of the Fremantle Health Service, hold a current licence to practice as a level one registered nurse and have at least one year of postgraduate experience.[6] With these qualifications it is possible to become a surgical nurse in Australia.

Types Of Surgical Nurse[edit]

In the theatre room there are too main types of nurses, a scrub nurse and a circulation nurse. The scrub nurses job is to make sure they are familiar and well educated with every piece of operational equipment. As on request they are required to provide the surgeons with the equipment needed. Also the scrub nurse is responsible, for making sure all operating equipment is accounted for before and after the operation.

A circulation nurse have many similar responsible, although they are to insure that the operating room is clear and non-contaminated by previous surgeries or other infections. They are also there to collected, open, clear and sterilise packets containing surgical equipment.[7]

Potential Careers[edit]

Nurses who work in the operating theatre become specialists in the field or a specific sub speciality. Once you find a specialist field or specific sub speciality you enjoy working in, the nurse will commence as a junior nurse. After graining a large amount of knowledge and skills set with experience, if the nurse chooses to become more of an expert in this field. The theatre nurse may do a postgraduate certificate or diploma to become a Clinical Nurse for that Speciality. The salary for a surgical nurse in Australia can range from $47,721 to $80,160 with an average of $57,103 this data was recorded in March 2016.[8]


  1. ^ "Welch Allyn Connex Clinical Surveillance System for Continuous Multiple Parameter Patient Monitoring". Medgadget. 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  2. ^ a b c "Preoperative Care - procedure, recovery, blood, removal, pain, complications, time, infection". Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  3. ^ a b "Clinical Guidelines (Nursing) : Routine Post Anaesthetic Observation". Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  4. ^ Surgical Nursing 12th ed. (1997) Torrance & Serginson (Bailliere Tindall)
  5. ^ "Bachelor of Nursing". Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  6. ^ "Graduate Diploma in Perioperative Nursing". Retrieved 2016-05-17. 
  7. ^ Joyce J. Fitzpatrick PhD RN FAAN and Emerson E. Ea DNP APRN-BC CEN (2011). 201 careers in nursing. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
  8. ^ "Registered Nurse (RN), Operating Room Salary (Australia)". Retrieved 2016-05-17.