The medical-surgical nurse (med-surg RN) provides direct care to a variety of patients. The med-surg population is often acutely ill and suffering from a number of issues, complications, and co-morbidities. The med-surg population also includes post-surgical patients. Because of the diverse patient population the med-surg RN may come across, this area of nursing can often be the most difficult one to describe. It is also the easiest position for new nurse grads to get. This position is great for nurses looking to gain experience and exposure.
In the article, we explore the following:
- What do med-surg nurses do?
- What might a med-surg nurse encounter on the job?
- What is a med-surg care team?
- Where do med-surg nurses work?
- How do you become a med-surg nurse?
- What are the additional requirements for med-surg nurses?
- What are the salary and job outlooks for med-surg nurses?
What do med-surg nurses do?
Because the work of a med-surg RN is so versatile, it can be hard to compile a comprehensive list of all possible cares and duties. The following list is many of the most common roles a med-surg RN may perform, however, it is not all-inclusive.
- Admitting, transmitting, and discharging patients
- Monitoring vital signs
- Administering medications
- Operating and maintaining medical equipment – IV lines, feeding tubes, catheters, oxygen tubing, etc.
- Documenting patient care, needs, and progress
- Communicating and collaborating with the care team
- Carrying out patient orders and plans of care
- Supporting and educating patients and family members
- Running and/or ordering tests and assessments
- Filling out facility required education, reports, and charting
- Working with wound care (particularly if facility has no wound care RN)
- Helping with pain control
The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) is working constantly to support the growing med-surg RN population. They claim that med-surg RNs are “the solid rock and backbone of every institution.”
What might a med-surg nurse encounter on the job?
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Renal failure
- Bowel obstructions
- Orthopedic complications (hip replacement, knee replacement, rotator cuff repair)
- Congestive heart failure (CHF)
- Hepatic encephalopathy
- Hernia repair
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What is a med-surg care team?
Like most RNs, med-surg nurses have plenty of autonomy. However, there is an extensive care team often involved in med-surg patient care. This multidisciplinary model has been proven to improve patient outcomes many times. Effective collaboration and communication are essential to these positive patient outcomes. The med-surg care team may include the primary care physician (PCP), an internist, a surgeon, physical therapists, occupational therapists, technicians, social workers, and case managers.
Where do med-surg nurses work?
Medical-surgical nurses work in a variety of care settings. While an acute care hospital is the most commonplace of work, you will also find med-surg RNs in inpatient clinics, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), education positions, outpatient or ambulatory care centers, nursing homes, military facilities, home health care facilities, or outpatient surgical centers. Because of the variety of institutions, a med-surg RN may work at, per diem, PRN, part-time and full time (8-, 10-, or 12-hour days) opportunities are all available.
How do you become a med-surg nurse?
Associate Degree Nurse (ADN)
To practice as a professionally licensed RN, the minimum one must achieve is an ADN and pass the NCLEX-RN exam before being eligible for licensure and subsequent employment. ADN programs typically take two years to complete (after 1-2 years of the appropriate prerequisites). ADN programs are usually offered through community colleges and include coursework online, in the classroom, lab work, clinical rotations, and practicum experiences. Most students who choose to pursue an ADN degree do so understanding that they may have to back to school for a BSN.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
To maintain competitive advantage as well as meet the IOM mandate, most RNs choose to pursue a BSN program to begin their professional practice. BSN programs usually take four years to complete. These programs are offered at brick-and-mortar campuses and online. Much like an ADN program, they are a combination of classroom work, lecture, labor work, clinical experiences, and practicums.
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)
This is not required for professional med-surg nursing practice. However, many nurses choose to complete their MSN, as this will allow for more professional promotion opportunities. An MSN also opens the door for teaching opportunities, higher pay, and greater responsibilities. Occasionally, some employers will reimburse or offer educational assistance for these academic pursuits.
There are also “bridge” programs, which take anywhere from 12-24 months, that allow a student to move from an ADN to a BSN or a BSN to an MSN. As mentioned above, most ADN professionals will need to pursue higher education, often through one of these programs.
Questions from the Incredible Health Nurse Community
- Hello, I’m a new nurse and have been working on a med/surg unit for almost a year now. My question is how do you handle rude doctors and/or coworkers? What are some ways I could set boundaries/stand up for myself ?
- I’m a M/S travel nurse, interested in nursing informatics. I learnt that I do not necessarily have to have my master’s degree for that area. Please how to I go about securing a job without a Master’s?
What are the additional requirements for med-surg nurses?
There are a variety of additional certifications a med-surg RN can pursue. Three of the most common are discussed below.
Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (RN-BC)
This certification is accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification. It is a competency-based exam that assesses entry-level clinical knowledge and skills of the RN in the med-surg specialty. It must be renewed every five years.
Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN)
This certification is the recognized path to prove excellence and commitment to the field of med-surg nursing. It is considered a prestigious credential, currently held by over 38,000 professionals. Recertification is necessary every five years.
Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management (CCCTM)
This credential demonstrates an RN’s knowledge of patient-centered assessment and care planning. It was created in collaboration with the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing. New applications for the certification are currently on hold as the board of directors evaluates the program.
State-Mandated Continuing Education: Each state has different requirements for RN’s continuing education requirements. You can find your premium ANCC-certified CEUs for all 50 states here.
What is the salary and job outlook for med-surg nurses?
The field of nursing continues to grow as much as 9% between 2020 and 2030 per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the income for a med-surg nurse can vary greatly (geography, facility, level of education), the average pay is approximately $86,951, according to data from Incredible Health.
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A career as a med-surg RN is certain to offer plenty of opportunities for a broad range of professional education, growth, and collaboration. While many nurses view med-surg nursing as a stepping stone, thousands of men and women enjoy the broad range of work and patient populations and choose to spend their entire careers in this area of nursing.
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- Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. amsn.org. Accessed Aug. 28, 2021.
- “Multidisciplinary in-hospital teams improve patient outcomes: A review.” ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed Aug. 28, 2021.
- “Occupational Outlook Handbook – Registered Nurses.” bls.gov. Accessed Aug. 28, 2021.