What is a Med-Surg Nurse and What Do They Do?
By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN
Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a professional freelance writer with almost a decade of experience as a Registered Nurse. She’s worked in both hospitals and nursing homes as a med-surg, geriatric and transplant nurse. Her national publication credits include Parents, RN, Ladies’ Home Journal, Nursing Spectrum, Pregnancy and Journal of Christian Nursing.
So you’re wondering “What do med-surg nurses do”? What don’t they do might be the better question! Medical-surgical nursing is an incredibly broad area of practice; in one day, a med-surg nurse may care for a 30-year-old recovering from knee surgery, an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s who insists it’s 1963, a newly diagnosed, non-English speaking diabetic and an alcoholic receiving blood transfusions for a GI bleed. If she works at a small, rural hospital, she might care for a pediatric patient or two as well.
For years, med-surg nursing was suggested as the perfect first job for all new nursing grads. The thinking was that nurses needed a solid base of general nursing experience before specializing in any one area. But increasingly, nurses are recognizing that med-surg nursing is a specialty of its own, requiring a specific body of knowledge and skills. Med-surg nurses can now pursue certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Board and the Medical/Surgical Nurses Certification Board.
On a daily basis, med-surg nurses assess patients; administer medications; ease pain; encourage activity; prevent complications; interpret rhythm strips; monitor labs; insert IVs; change dressings; educate patients and families; comfort the dying and collaborate with physicians, therapists and other healthcare providers. Med-surg nurses also work closely with certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).
In addition to excellent nursing skills, med-surg nurses need top-notch organizational skills and the ability to prioritize multiple tasks. Life moves fast on a med-surg unit, and you must be prepared to keep up with a constantly changing environment.
The beauty of med-surg nursing is that every day is different. As a med-surg nurse, you will never be bored at work, because each day brings new challenges. You’ll also quickly amass a broad knowledge base and will be able to easily transition into other specialties, such as cardiac or transplant nursing, if you so desire.