Surgical nursing or perioperative nursing is a nursing career which focuses on care for surgical patients. Surgical nurses may work in pre or post-operative care units as well as operating rooms, and they are a critical part of the surgical care team. Most people who go into a hospital for surgery will interact with a surgical nurse at some point. The career outlook in surgical nursing is very good, especially for nurses who have specialized in specific surgical fields such as cardiothoracic surgery, and compensation for people who choose to pursue careers in surgical nursing tends to be quite excellent.
In the realm of pre-operative care, a surgical nurse monitors a patient who is about to undergo surgery, confirming that he or she is in good health for the procedure. The nurse may also help prepare the patient by placing intravenous lines, cleaning the surgical site, and so forth, and many surgical nurses also discuss surgeries with their patients so that the patients know what to expect. The surgical nurse works with the anesthesiologist and surgeon to clear the patient for surgery, and to ensure that everyone on the surgical team has the information they need for a successful surgery.
During surgery, surgical nurses assist the surgeon with surgical procedures, and meet the needs of the operating room team. A special type of surgical nurse known as a circulating nurse monitors patient safety, checking members of the surgical team to make sure that they are sterile and monitoring the use of surgical instruments, sponges, and other materials, ensuring that nothing gets left inside the patient. Nurses who participate in operating room work are very skilled, and while they may not actually perform the surgery, they are critical to patient care in the surgical theater.
Surgical nursing also involves post-operative care. After a patient is wheeled out of surgery, a surgical nurse monitors his or her recovery, checking on dressings, drains, and devices implanted during surgery. The surgical nurse ensures that the patient is eating and drinking properly, and frequently checks vital signs while monitoring for infections and other complications.
Work in the surgical nursing field can be very demanding. Most surgical nurses are assigned a very small number of patients, typically fewer than six, to ensure that they can focus on patient needs. For complex surgeries and at-risk patients, there may be a 1:1 nurse to patient ratio, and sometimes multiple surgical nurses are involved in patient care. A surgical nurse must be able to work as part of a team while acting as an advocate for the patient and his or her family.