Managing Expectations: The Experience of Med-Surg Nursing

Med Surg Nursing

Every nursing specialization presents its own challenges and obstacles, and the demands can be as individualized as the people filling the role. Some specialties require working with a wide spectrum of ages and illnesses, and nurses may need to be comfortable working in unusual situations under extreme circumstances. 

Med-surg nursing is one of the most varied roles in healthcare, and exposes personnel to an enormous pool of patient conditions and scenarios that require a broad expertise in care. For the right person, it can lead to a fulfilling and exciting professional experience, and it’s one of the reasons why med-surg nurses make up the largest percentage of the nursing workforce. 

Because it’s an extraordinarily diverse role, med-surg nurses need to understand how to manage their time, expectations, and stressors to deliver the best care for all their patients. 

Med-Surg Nursing is its Own Specialty

Med-surg nurses are experts in preparing patients for surgical procedures and helping them recover afterwards. It’s often viewed as being a less-than-specialized service line within the acute care nursing roles and a stepping stone to other specializations, but it may be one of the most demanding jobs in the industry. 

The difficulty of the role lies in the diversity of circumstances, conditions, and patients med-surg nurses may come into contact with. Any healthcare discipline that involves surgery or managing illness—from podiatry to pediatrics—is a potential point of contact for med-surg nurses, and all care relating to preparation or recovery from surgical procedures may be part of a med-surg team’s responsibilities. 

This requires a med-surg nurse to have a wide and diverse knowledge base, as well as acute critical thinking and observational skills. While certain med-surg units may specialize in particular patient populations like orthopedics or oncology, the current state of healthcare in this country—and the number of patients being admitted to hospitals every day—means that any med-surg patient can end up almost anywhere outside the ICU.

Med-Surg Nursing, A Day in the Life

Every type of nursing has its fair share of routines and responsibilities, but for the med-surg nurse, the only constants are change and diversity. Typical duties may include some or all of the following depending on the current circumstances:

  • Admission assessments and reconciliation of medications and medical history
  • Administering medications
  • Documenting routine assessments and changes in patient condition
  • Assessing and interpreting vital signs
  • Managing equipment and resources
  • Educating patients, family members, and home caregivers 
  • Risk mitigation through patient safety measures
  • Collaboration in discharge planning
  • Specialized interventions such as wound care
  • Escalation of urgent or emergent patient conditions
  • Specimen collection
  • Vascular access
  • Precepting of new nursing staff

As extensive as this list is, it’s only the first layer of complexity a med-surg nurse has to handle in a day. These duties are being performed for multiple patients—each with their own needs and complications—and must be managed both by an individual nurse and in conjunction with a team. 

Patient Populations

Because patients may require surgery for almost any reason, med-surg nurses need to have a solid working knowledge of a wide range of medical conditions and post-surgical outcomes and complications. Common conditions a med-surg nurse may need to engage with in a single shift include:

  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Sepsis
  • Substance use disorders
  • Oncological conditions
  • Infectious diseases
  • Abdominal surgeries
  • Orthopedic surgeries
  • Bariatric surgeries

These are just a handful of the numerous acute and chronic medical conditions nurses are expected to manage in med-surg clinical areas, and they can occur in adult, geriatric, and pediatric patients.

Becoming a Med-Surg Nurse

Entry into practice as a med-surg nurse aligns with the basic nursing qualifications for practice. Graduating nursing school and passing the NCLEX will set you up for matching many—if not all—beginning job requirements. While med-surg nursing disciplines call for enhanced training in areas like telemetry and basic cardiac rhythm interpretation, this is often provided to nurses as they onboard and orient to the clinical unit.

With some experience under your belt, becoming certified in med-surg nursing offers a great opportunity for professional development. There are a few specific qualifications for certification above and beyond having a valid license:

  1. You must have practiced for 2 years
  2. You must have accumulated at least 2,000 hours of practice in the med-surg setting

Professional certifications in nursing are all administered by accredited and nationally recognized professional nursing organizations, and there are two main entities you’ll need to be familiar with. While it’s entirely possible to work in med-surg nursing without certification, completing the process opens the door to better employment opportunities, higher pay, and opportunities to take on more specialized roles and responsibilities within med-surg nursing. 

American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC)

The ANCC offers the Medical Surgical Nursing Certification. This credential is valid for five years as long as the nurse maintains their license, and can be renewed with the completion of required continuing education or repeating the certification exam. 

Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB)

The Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) offered through MSNBC must also be renewed after five years, via completion of contact hours or passing the certification exam.

Consider the Experience of Med-Surg Nursing

Med-surg nursing is a specialty all on its own requiring tremendous expertise in a variety of medical conditions and surgical procedures. Regardless of whether a nurse chooses to specialize, most facilities encourage working in med-surg nursing for two years because it’s one of the best ways to get a foundational experience of the profession. While the patient acuity may not be as high as in other clinical areas, the intensity and expectations in the role offers a great opportunity to gain the experience needed to become a well-rounded nurse.

Becoming nationally certified as a med-surg nurse is both an up-front challenge and an ongoing commitment, and whether it’s working towards becoming certified or maintaining certification, continuing education offered by Premiere will be your one-way ticket to success. 

Online learning packages like the Unlimited Nursing CEU Subscription offer courses that satisfy state, department, and board licensure requirements, as well as earn ANCC contact hours you need. All of Premiere’s content is produced by industry experts, and makes it easy to complete CE reporting requirements on a timeline that works for you. 


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