Medical-Surgical Nurse

Medical-Surgical NurseOnce relegated as the art and science of nursing on hospital wards, medical-surgical nursing is now considered as the foundation of the nursing practice. Most nurses begin as medical or surgical nurse (med-surg) or at some point during their nursing career worked in this field of nursing. Many nurses continue med-surg nursing for the excitement and experience it brings to their career.

The medical-surgical nursing field has progressed from an entry-level job position to a unique comprehensive specialty. This field is no longer seen as a stepping-stone but a specialized science—the backbone of a healthcare institution. Currently, medical-surgical nurses are the most common among all nurse specialties. 

Medical-surgical nursing is an exception field in the sense it is not limited to the disease process or body systems but rather, holistic in approach. It requires nurses to acquire and maintain diverse and extensive knowledge and skills on the different aspects of nursing care. A medical-surgical nurse should strive hard to possess a wide variety of competencies and knowledge to survive on different situations in the workplace.

Because it is the foundation for health care, medical-surgical nursing is the perfect area for foundational learning for novice nurses and students. The primary requirements for nurses who want to be medical-surgical nurse is to obtain comprehensive knowledge and competency to be versatile and flexible when facing diverse settings. 

Qualities a medical-surgical nurse should possess:

  1. A vast set of skills – knowledgeable in all areas of adult health with excellent skills in assessment, organizational, technical, and prioritization.
  2. Act as a patient advocate – consider patient safety as the top priority by supporting patients in knowing what is in their best interests.
  3. Welcome diversity – can function in diverse health care settings, from hospitals, clinics, MD offices to home care facilities; willingly accept changes and accept it as a new learning experience.
  4. Making a difference in patients’ lives – give respect and dignity in end-of-life and decision-making; help patients return to normal functioning; provide care and comfort to patient and family.
  5. Serve as the backbone of adult care.

Education Requirements

To be a certified medical-surgical registered nurse, you need to apply for certification that is granted by MSNCB (the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board) - accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) and American Nurses Association (ANA).

Being qualified as a Certified MS-RN brings plenty of benefits, such as enhanced career opportunities and higher salary. The American Nurses Credentialing Center set several eligibility criteria:

  1. Hold an active, current registered nurse license within the U.S. territory
  2. With a minimum of two years working experience as a RN.
  3. With a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in the medical-surgical area within the last 3 years
  4. Completed 30 hours of continuing education with the area of medical-surgical nursing within the last three years.

This certification lasts for 5 years - and to be re-certified, you need to meet the continuing education requirements or pass an examination given by ANCC or MSNCB. 

Job Description & Duties

Medical-surgical patients often present with complex diagnoses as well as corresponding complex needs. Patients in this area vary, from ambulatory to total care and as such, medical-surgical nurses are expected to be flexible and versatile in providing holistic care. Below are the kinds of patients medical-surgical nurses handle:

  1. Patients with acute to chronic diseases needing management
  2. Patients with diverse admitting diagnosis and not limited to a single body system
  3. Patients with complex and multiple co-morbidities
  4. Patients and their families
  5. Patients across the life span

The following are some of the functions of a medical-surgical nurse:

  1. Medical-surgical (MS) nurses must be able coordinate, organize, and prioritize complex multiple client assignment.
  2. Competent and knowledgeable in guiding patients and their families from the challenges that come along with the complex health care system.
  3. MS nurses must integrate discharge planning into the patient’s daily care.
  4. Must be able to collaborate with other members of the health care team.
  5. Ability to learn the use of technology, including new medical innovations.
  6. Capability to integrate research in relation to a diverse care needs
  7. Integrate the best practice guidelines in relation to diverse clinical situations
  8. Advocate for ethical, quality, and safe work setting

Job Outlook and Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of registered nurses, including medical-surgical nurses, is projected to increase by 26% between 2010 and 2020, much faster than other occupations. Factors affecting growth include technological advancements, the increase of aging baby-boomer population, and the increase in the emphasis of preventative care. These factors will require more medical and healthcare service to achieve longevity and healthier lives. The average annual salary of medical-surgical nurses is $65,000. 


Written by

Sarah Gehrke MSN, RN

Sarah Gehrke, RN, MSN, has 15 years of professional experience in infusion services. She specializes in providing intravenous (I.V.) nutritional therapy by administering [...]