An Unsung Healthcare Hero

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The Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses (AMSN) states that medical surgical nursing “is the single largest nursing specialty in the United States and beyond.” In fact, they estimate that of the 3.1M nurses currently practicing medicine, 650,000 work in the medical surgical field. However, many healthcare professionals view medical surgical nursing as nothing more than a pit stop for new nurses, a place where they acquire the skills needed to advance to higher acuity fields.

In this blog post, we explore why medical surgical nursing is more than just a stepping-stone where “green” nurses hone their knowledge and skills. We examine the critical role that these clinicians play in our healthcare system. We also explain why this specialty is the right choice for every nurse regardless of where they are in their career journey.

What is a med surg nurse?

a med surg nurse talking with a patient in the hospitalA med surg nurse (short for a medical surgical nurse) provides direct care to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses and ailments. For instance, in a single day, they may attend to patients that are acutely ill, managing a disease and/or preparing for/recovering from surgery. Because they treat a spectrum of conditions, med surg RNs must have a broad understanding of the workings of all body systems and be familiar with a sweeping number of illnesses.

Medical surgical nurses play a critical role in coordinating care between a patient’s physician(s) and specialist(s). For this reason, they must be strong communicators that are highly detailed oriented and intensely focused on patient care.

What types of conditions does a med surg nurse treat?

A med surg nurse attends to the needs of patients that are: suffering from an acute or a potentially acute illness or injury; experiencing an exacerbation of a chronic condition affecting one or more body systems; and/or preparing for/recovering from surgery. Given this broad scope, it is difficult to succinctly capture all the conditions that a med surg nurse may treat. The following list highlights some of the more common diagnoses they encounter:

  • Bowel obstructions
  • Cellulitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Dehydration
  • Diabetes
  • Encephalopathy
  • MRSA, VRE or C-Diff
  • Orthopedic complications (e.g., hip replacement, knee replacement, rotator cuff repair)
  • Pneumonia
  • Renal failure
  • Sepsis
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI)

What are the typical job duties for a med surg nurse?

Since medical surgical nurses provide care for a variety of conditions, it can be difficult to compile a comprehensive list of their duties and responsibilities. While the following list is not all-inclusive, it is illustrative of the most common tasks assigned to a med surg nurse:

  • Admitting new patients;
  • Monitoring vital signs;
  • Administering medications;
  • Operating and maintaining equipment (e.g., IV tubes, feeding tubes, oxygen tubes, catheters);
  • Performing and/or ordering tests and assessments;
  • Documenting patient needs and progress;
  • Providing wound care (especially if the facility does not have a wound care RN);
  • Facilitating transportation to a rehabilitation facility, long-term care facility, home, etc.; and
  • Providing support and education to patients and their family members/care givers.

Where do med surg nurses work?

Traditionally, med surg nurses have worked on a med surg floor within an acute care hospital. However, the healthcare industry’s increased focus on reducing the length of patient stays has created a demand for qualified medical surgical nurses in additional practice settings. For instance, inpatient clinics, outpatient surgical centers, home healthcare organizations and nursing homes all rely on med surg RNs to provide their patients with an exceptional level of care. Furthermore, the high demand for med surg RNs means they have multiple opportunities to fill per diem, part-time or full-time roles within these organizations.


The healthcare industry’s increased focus on reducing the length of patient stays has created a demand for qualified medical surgical nurses in additional practice settings.


What education and/or work experience is required to become a med surg nurse?

future med surg nurse studying anatomyIndividuals interested in pursuing a career as a med surg nurse must first fulfill the educational requirements requisite for an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN). After graduating from a two- or four-year, state-approved nursing program, the individual must then pass the appropriate National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN). Once these qualifications have been met, the individual can begin working as a med surg nurse.

Medical surgical nurses interested in advancing their careers within this specialty can obtain additional certifications/credentials. The three most common certification/credentials for medical surgical nurses are:

  • Medical Surgical Nursing Certification: The Medical Surgical Nursing Certification (RN-BC) is issued by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC). This certification is given to nurses that pass a competency-based exam that assesses clinical knowledge and skills related to the medical surgical field. Recertification is required every five years.
  • Certified Medical Surgical Registered Nurse: The Certified Medical Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) credential is issued by the Medical Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB). Nurses wishing to obtain this credential must meet the eligibility criteria and pass an exam that assesses experience within the field. Recertification is required every five years.
  • Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management: The Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management (CCCTM) credential is issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurses wishing to obtain this credential must successfully pass an examination that validates subject matter proficiency. Presently, this certification is available for renewal only.

What skills are needed to succeed as a med surg nurse?

In addition to possessing a broad medical knowledge and skill set, med surg nurses need to have certain professional skills (or soft skills) to succeed within this field. These skills include the ability to:

  • Stay Organized – Over the course of their stay, medical surgical patients receive treatment from multiple medical professionals. This means there are a lot of reports and documents that need to be kept up-to-date and organized. As the clinician primarily responsible for patient care, med surg nurses are tasked with keeping these records in order.
  • Maintain a Calm Demeanor – Med surg nurses attend to multiple patients with various needs. This means they are constantly being pulled in different directions and need to shift gears quickly. Maintaining a calm demeanor ensures continuity of care for patients and reduces the likelihood of healthcare worker burnout.
  • Multitask – Educating family members and caregivers, ordering tests and assessments and maintaining a multitude of records and charts are just a few of the tasks assigned to medical surgical nurses every day. Being able to meet the job’s demands efficiently and effectively ensures longevity and satisfaction within this field.

What are the benefits of a career in medical surgical nursing?

One of the biggest benefits of a career in medical surgical nursing is the opportunity to see and treat a variety of conditions. As a med surg nurse, no two days are exactly alike. The patients (and their needs) are constantly changing and so are the nurses’ tasks and duties. For those clinicians that disdain monotony and routine, medical surgical nursing provides variation and excitement.

The second biggest benefit of a career in medical surgical nursing is the opportunity to acquire new knowledge and skills from different practice areas. Since med surg nurses attend to a spectrum of conditions, they must maintain a student-like mindset, always willing to learn. For those clinicians fascinated by all aspects of the human body, the med surg floor is the place to learn more.

The third biggest benefit of a career in medical surgical nursing is the opportunity to “try out” different specialties before committing to a career change. Med surg RNs are uniquely positioned to gain hands-on experience with a specialty’s medications, procedures and clinicians before making a permanent decision. It is the ultimate try before you buy scenario.

What is the career outlook for medical surgical nursing?

According to NurseJournal.org, employment for medical surgical nurses is expected to grow by 30% through 2022. This accelerated growth can be primarily attributed to the growing rate of chronic health conditions (e.g., obesity, heart disease, diabetes) in the United States. Furthermore, the current shortage of qualified nurses within all specialties means that there will continue to be a high demand for medical surgical nurses in the years to come.

Why should a med surg nurse partner with a healthcare staffing agency?

There are three main reasons why a med surg nurse should partner with a healthcare staffing agency:

  • Access to Opportunities – Healthcare staffing agencies have access to a variety of med surg nursing positions. This means med surg RNs have a better chance of finding a position that meets their criteria (e.g., shift preference, location, facility setting) when they partner with a healthcare staffing agency.
  • The Chance to Travel – Due to the growing demand for qualified med surg nurses, facilities nationwide are engaging travel nurses to meet their needs. Med surg RNs that are partnered with a healthcare staffing agency will have the opportunity to take their career on the road.
  • Dedicated Support – While rewarding, working as a med surg nurse can be mentally and emotionally tough. Medical surgical nurses that are partnered with a healthcare staffing agency (like Premier Medical Staffing Services, LLC) have a dedicated recruiter supporting and cheering them on.

Are you interested in learning more about medical surgical nursing? Would you like to speak with a med surg nurse about their work experience? If so, we would love to connect with you! Fill out the form below to have one of our staffing experts contact you.

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Learn more about the healthcare careers available at Premier Medical Staffing Services:

A Day in the Life of a Correctional Nurse
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Psychiatric Nursing: All Your Questions Answered
Spotlight: Long-Term Acute Care Nursing
6 Benefits of Travel Nursing Careers