When one thinks of nursing, one may get an image of a nurse helping patients at the bedside. For many areas of nursing, this is the case. However, nursing is a dynamic, multi-faceted field. Surgical nursing is especially dynamic. A nurse can work in a pre-op area, in the operating room, or in a post-anesthesia care unit (PACU). Nurses can also work in a surgical ICU or on a medical-surgical floor. They can also opt to work in a surgery clinic or outpatient surgery center.

There are a few ways in which both new and established nurses can become a surgical nurse:


One of the best things a prospective nurse can do is to volunteer in the care area in which they are interested in. While volunteering in a highly regulated environment such as an operating room or PACU may not be possible, one can volunteer on med-surg floors or in the ICU performing small tasks for patients and staff. It's a great way to learn about the post-op care of surgical patients and learn from the nurses and other staff in that area.

Work in Surgical Areas

Another way for prospective nurses to gain experience in the field of surgery is to find employment in several environments; for example, one can become a unit assistant in a PACU, a receptionist in a surgery clinic, even work in environmental services! One can also work as a nurse's aide or medical assistant prior to becoming a nurse, which would allow one to work in a more clinical role. Even non-nurse roles can help future nurses get a sense of the specialty area of surgery and also allows them to observe and ask questions.

Select Surgery as a Specialty in Nursing School

Some nursing programs allow students to focus on a specific care area towards the end of their program. While every program offers some clinical hours in surgical areas, one may be able to choose that specialty to focus on for an entire semester. When researching nursing schools, it might be a good idea to find out if the school offers clinical rotations in surgery as sort of an "internship". The great thing is that it allows the nursing student to determine if the surgical specialty is right for them.

Become Certified in Surgical Nursing

The Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses (AORN) is a great resource for current as well as prospective RNs. It offers information on education, continuing education, and certification/credentialing for many different RN roles. These include general perioperative nursing, nurse managers, master's-prepared nurses, and first-assist nurses.