What is a Medical-Surgical Nurse?

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    Medical-surgical (med-surg) nursing is the basis of all nursing care. We all learn basic med-surg principles in nursing school and then most of us move on to a specialty. However, we must all have this basic knowledge in order to move to a specialty.

    What is a Medical-Surgical Nurse?

    Medical-Surgical (med-surg) nursing is the basis of all nursing practice. Back in the day, nurses were either medical or surgical nurse. There were no specialty nursing choices. Nowadays, med-surg nurses make up the biggest component of all nurses. Med-surg nurses care for a diverse population of patients from the young diabetic to the aging hypertensive crisis patient and everyone in between. There are many places and roles for nurses of all levels in med-surg nursing.

    Opportunities

    As the US population ages, there will be more of a need for med-surg nurses who can handle complex patients with many needs. In smaller hospitals, there may only be a med-surg floor so patients with many co-morbid conditions so nurses with a wide knowledge base will be needed.

    Salary

    The median salary for medical-surgical nurse is about $70,000.

    How do Medical-Surgical Nurse salaries compare with other Specialties?

    Career Median Salary*
    Registered Nurse (RN) $68,450
    Nurse Practioner (NP) $100,910
    Nurse Anesthetists (CRNA) $160,270

    Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17

    Qualities of Med-Surg Nurses Include...
    • Ability to understand numerous diagnoses. Med-surg nurses care for a variety of patients with multiple diagnoses. You might be taking care of patients with renal disease, hypertension, diabetes or those patients who have surgery like gallbladder removal. Many surgeries now are scheduled as outpatient procedures so the med-surg nurse will probably take care of more medical than surgical patients.
    • There is an educational component as patients are admitted and discharged sooner than ever.
    • Knowledge of pathophysiology as it relates to the patients diagnoses. Care pathways assist with care across the continuum.
    • Succinct charting and ability to prioritize care.

    Work Environment
    • Inpatient care units - caring for patients in a hospital
    • Clinics - where patients will be seen by their primary care provider (PCP) for preventive, acute, post-op visits or for other complaints
    • HMOs - doing insurance reviews, quality assurance or utilization review
    • Ambulatory care units - perhaps same-day surgery unit or same-day unit
    • Home health care - caring for patients in their home
    • Long-term care - where patients that can not take care of themselves live, either temporarily for rehabilitation or long-term
    • Skilled nursing homes - a free-standing home for patients with a specific skilled need
    • Urgent care centers - acute non-emergent cares
    • Universities - perhaps teaching or working in a clinic

    Education RN, LPN, UAP, APN

    Med-surg nurses are usually registered nurses (RN), though some facilities do hire licensed practical nurses (LPN). Unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP) also usually work on med-surg units. These may consist of unit clerks, certified nursing assistants (CNA), patient care technicians (PCT) and perhaps some hybrid of these positions. Advanced practice nurses (APN) also have a role in med-surg nursing.
    • Preoperative visits
    • Postoperative visits
    • Daily rounds
    • Staff education
    • Case management
    • Utilization review



    Resources

    Advice for the new nurse entering Med-Surg - A very active topic where many nurses have shared their success tips.

    The Academy of Medical-Surgical Nursing is the organization for Med-Surg nurses. They provide info on standards, national practices, and evidence-based nursing. They hold an annual conference also where med-surg nurses can come, learn, and network.

    American Nurses Credentialing Center is the agency that credentials med-surg nurses

    Another option for certification for med-surg nurses is the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board Opportunities

    As the US population ages, there will be more of a need for med-surg nurses who can handle complex patients with many needs. In smaller hospitals, there may only be a med-surg floor so patients with many co-morbid conditions so nurses with a wide knowledge base will be needed.
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 26, '17
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    7 Comments

  3. by   tokmom
    Thank you for not calling med/surg a stepping stone for a 'real' nursing job and recognizing it as a specialty.
  4. by   wooh
    Quote from tokmom
    Thank you for not calling med/surg a stepping stone for a 'real' nursing job and recognizing it as a specialty.
    Well actually, the bolded part just above the post implies that it M/S is what we do before moving to a specialty (implying that M/S is not a specialty, as that would be phrased "in order to move to ANOTHER specialty."
    We all learn basic med-surg principles in nursing school and then most of us move on to a specialty. However, we must all have this basic knowledge in order to move to a specialty.
    Last edit by tnbutterfly on Nov 18, '13
  5. by   0.adamantite
    It takes a strong person to be a medical-surgical nurse. I have been one for a little over a year. Many nurses are unwilling or very resistant to float to our floor. The patients we receive are complex physically as well as often have co-morbid behavioral or mental health diagnoses. We see patients who are very elderly, who are developmentally delayed, who are devastated neurologically, who are from nursing homes/long term care facilities, who have dementia, who have chemical dependency issues/acute withdrawal, who have complex endocrine diseases, who are on comfort cares/dying, those who are pregnant and have complex medical needs, and who have many co-morbities such as HTN/dialysis dependent renal failure/diabetes. We take the patients who have infectious diseases who other floors won't take (such as OB). There is so much to know, and on top of that, we often have to take 4-6 patients. And we have to have great instincts and know when someone is going downhill because we don't have the monitors to tell us. There are no doctors immediately available on our floor to help. When someone is circling the drain, we have to prioritize and advocate because things can happen slowly. Often our floor is over-looked, the doctors don't take our concerns seriously, equipment never shows up, and pharmacy takes 2-3 hours to get needed medications to the floor. We never get all the glory - that goes to the ICU nurses or ED nurses who provide immediate care. We have to work with old, beat-up equipment while other specialty floors get brand new things. So I say, utmost respect to my medical-surgical colleagues. I believe this is the complex and challenging specialty. I know that I won't be moving on for a long time, and plan to get my certificate. So to any who says we are a 'stepping stone' - I say, please take us seriously, because we work our butts off each day and get very little respect.
  6. by   traumaRUs
    Med-surg is the basis for all our care so in essence, we are ALL med surg nurses...thanks for your comments.
  7. by   LadyFree28
    Quote from traumaRUs
    Med-surg is the basis for all our care so in essence, we are ALL med surg nurses...
    Agree.
  8. by   wooh
    Quote from traumaRUs
    Med-surg is the basis for all our care so in essence, we are ALL med surg nurses...thanks for your comments.
    And we're all responding to emergencies in patients needing critical care. We're ALL ed and icu nurses!
  9. by   boogalina
    A very wise ICU nurse with whom I worked told me that "med-surg nurses are a bunch of dang rock stars because they have to do be able to detect critical changes in patient condition WITHOUT invasive monitoring, an intensivist handy, etc - and do that for five-six patients!"

    This impressed me, and that's why I selected a med-surg preceptorship in nursing school. No matter where my nursing career takes me, I'll probably always be a med-surg nurse at heart!

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