What is Med Surg? (and What Medical-Surgical Nurses Do)

SimpleNursing Editorial Team Feb 21, 2022
what is med surg nursing Medical Surgical female nurse in a mask and gloves PPE in an operating room

Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment? Is it your goal to treat different types of clients? Then, you might love medical-surgical nursing.

A medical-surgical nurse (also known as a med-surg RN) often fills a variety of critical roles in client care. It’s a chance to gain valuable experience in nursing and have a rewarding, fulfilling career helping those in need. 

The experiences gained in the med-surg specialty can also be very beneficial to you throughout your career as you build your nursing knowledge, skills, and provide outstanding service to clients.

If you’re considering getting into medical-surgical nursing, we’ll explain what you need to know to become a med-surg nurse and the type of responsibilities you can expect in this position.

What is Med Surg Nursing?

Medical-surgical nursing is defined by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) as a nursing specialty that provides care to adults with a variety of health issues. They also care for clients before and after a surgical procedure. 

In fact, medical-surgical nursing comprises the largest group of nursing specialists in the United States.

medical surgical nurse

Medical-surgical nurses have a wide range of expertise that allows them to help clients with a variety of conditions and needs. They might work with clients who require various types of surgeries; ranging from knee replacements to open-heart surgery.

Those who work in the med-surg specialty might also work in various types of environments. 
For example, they might work in hospitals, outclient surgical centers, or other types of healthcare facilities. They can also visit clients in the home setting as a part of a home health care team or work in nontraditional settings that enable them to meet their client’s needs.

What Do Medical-Surgical Nurses Do?

A day in the life of a med-surg nurse is always changing. They might have tasks that call for them to be health educators, leaders, administrators, client advocates, and care providers.

Whatever job they do, though, plays a critical role in caring for clients before and after surgery in a variety of settings and states of health. We’ll explore some of the most common tasks that med-surg nurses do throughout their day.

Med-Surg Nurse Job Duties

As a med-surg nurse, you may have a wide range of responsibilities based on the needs of your clients and the environment in which you care for them. 

Health Care Responsibilities

  • Administering medication to clients
  • Managing, maintaining, and operating a variety of medical equipment, such as IVs, feeding tubes, catheters, or oxygen tubes
  • Helping with pain management
  • Providing wound care
  • Monitoring client vital signs

Administration Responsibilities

  • Managing the discharge paperwork
  • Helping clients organize discharge care
  • Working with the health care provider (HCP) to order any diagnostic tests
  • Assessment of the client
  • Making sure that the paperwork required by the healthcare facility is managed correctly
  • Assessing client care plans
  • Maintaining communication with the rest of the health care team
  • Maintaining client documentation, including their needs and progress

Health Education Responsibilities

  • Organizing discharge education
  • Providing education and support for family members

As you can see, a med-surg nurse might fulfill several vital tasks supporting client health. Within the specialty, you might also encounter clients with various conditions and comorbidities, which will call on your skill set and training. Critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills are a big part of the job.

Is Med-Surg Nursing Hard?

The med-surg nursing field calls for nurses who can confidently use their training and make quality nursing decisions. 

Although this position can be challenging (and calls for nurses to help care for clients with a variety of difficult conditions), the nursing education and training that nurses receive and the experience they gain on the job should adequately prepare them for the role.

What Education Do Med-Surg Nurses Typically Need?

Becoming a med-surg nurse will require you to become a registered nurse to receive the training to provide nursing care.

The minimum to become an RN is an associate degree in nursing (ADN). This is typically a two-year degree that includes coursework and lab work. You’ll also spend time in clinical rotations and practicum experiences to prepare you for the day-to-day tasks of being a nurse.

med surg nurse working

A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree is the next step in education. For a full-time student, it will typically be a four-year program. While it includes many of the same components as an ADN — practicums, classroom work, and clinicals — a BSN goes more in depth in these areas. 

Earning this degree can provide you with a more competitive resume and help you build the skills needed to better serve as a med-surg nurse.

Finally, a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree can prepare you for promotional and leadership opportunities. And these opportunities often come with higher pay! The degree itself explores topics related to nursing on a deeper level. When a student finishes their MSN, they can become a nurse practitioner or nurse educator.

While an MSN isn’t required to work as a med-surg nurse, it can help you cultivate your critical thinking skills or prepare you to take on more responsibilities in your role.

Read more about the cost of nursing school by degree here.

What Exams do Med-Surg Nurses Need to Pass?

If you’re interested in becoming a medical-surgical nurse, it all starts with passing the NCLEX-RN. The NCLEX is a test that demonstrates that a nursing student has the skills, competency, and knowledge necessary to become a registered nurse. 

Passing this test is a prerequisite for licensure to become an RN.

However, there are also other credentials and certifications that you can pursue to help you secure a career in the medical-surgical specialty. They include:

  • Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (MED SURG-BC) is accredited by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). It’s an entry-level exam for new nurses to start building credentials for their dream position. You’ll need to renew this certification every five years.
  • Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) demonstrates that you have exemplary skills in the field. It’s considered a prestigious and selective certification, with less than 40,000 nurses holding the certification. Like the RN-BC, though, it has to be renewed every five years.

In addition to these two med-surg-specific certifications, you may also choose to pursue certifications in related fields to bolster your credentials. A popular option is the Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management (CCCTM), which certifies the nurse’s client assessment and ability to create a care plan.

How Much Do Med-Surg Nurses Typically Earn?

Nursing continues to be a quickly growing field, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the field to grow by 9% between 2021 and 2031.

You can expect an average salary as a med-surg nurse of about $101,000 per year.

Study Smarter for a Med-Surg Nursing Career with Us

When it comes to preparing for the exams necessary to become a med-surg nurse, studying smart is key. You need to know where to focus your attention, how to identify your weak areas, and which material you need to study so you can perform well and prepare for your dream job. 

Preparing for licensure and certifications might seem overwhelming, but there’s help. For help preparing for the NCLEX-RN, turn to SimpleNursing, which offers resources, study guides, practice questions, and more.
Find the resources you need to prepare for the NCLEX and your nursing career with a free trial today.

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