Two Med/Surg nurses in scrubs and PPE smiling at the camera in a hospital.

Med/Surg: How to Succeed in America’s Most Popular Nursing Specialty

May Baker
March 21, 2024

With nearly two million Med/Surg (Medical Surgical) nurses currently employed in the United States, this specialty consistently stands out as the most popular choice among healthcare professionals! Its unique challenges, variety of tasks, and incredible opportunities for growth have made Med/Surg a favorite choice among both new and seasoned nurses looking for a fulfilling and rewarding career. In this article, we’ll dive into the details of what Medical Surgical nursing involves and provide valuable tips for success in this field.The versatility and breadth of knowledge required in Med/Surg nursing not only equip nurses with a solid foundation in patient care but also pave the way for specialization, making it an ideal starting point for many in their nursing careers.

What is Med/Surg Nursing?

Med/Surg, short for Medical Surgical nursing, is a diverse and dynamic specialty of acute care that forms the backbone of our healthcare system. Med/Surg nurses are RNs (Registered Nurses) who care for diverse adult patient populations and treat a wide range of medical conditions. Often, Med/Surg nurses perform a variety of pre- and post-surgical tasks to support patients who are ill or injured. They may administer IVs, dress wounds, prepare patients for procedures, and attend to patients’ needs during a hospital stay. They also communicate with patients’ family members during times of injury, illness, or surgery, providing education and reassurance during often stressful times. However, unlike ICU nursing, most patients in need of Med/Surg care are not in critical condition.

This specialty is often considered a stepping stone for many nurses because it provides a solid foundation in nursing skills. Unlike specialties like labor and delivery or oncology, Med/Surg nurses must be prepared for any number of medical conditions. Due to the variety of tasks involved and diverse patient population, this specialty is also ideal for new nurses looking to gain experience and skills in an acute setting. Medical Surgical nurses must possess comprehensive clinical knowledge encompassing all bodily systems, diseases, and conditions in order to deliver high-quality care.

Tasks and Responsibilities

While Med/Surg patients may not require constant supervision, nurses are still responsible for performing an assortment of important tasks. Med/Surg nurses have a multitude of responsibilities that require exceptional critical thinking, time management, relational and organizational skills. Some common tasks include:

  • Patient Assessment: Conduct thorough assessments to monitor vital signs, pain levels, and overall patient condition.
  • Medication Administration: Administer medications, including IV drugs, and closely monitor their effects.
  • Wound Care: Manage and care for surgical wounds, pressure ulcers, and other types of wounds.
  • Labs and Testing: Assist with gathering necessary materials for medical testing and review lab results with patients.
  • Patient Education: Educate patients and their families about their medical conditions, treatment plans, and self-care options.
  • Collaboration: Collaborate with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare professionals to implement patient care plans.
  • Emergency Response: Be prepared to respond to medical emergencies and provide life-saving interventions when necessary.

Med/Surg nurses generally provide care for patients aged 18-108, and the medical conditions they encounter are just as broad. Common illnesses a Med/Surg nurse may treat include:

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Dehydration
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 
  • Dehydration
  • Diabetes
  • Cellulitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Kidney failure
  • Bowel obstructions
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Fall-related injuries
  • Orthopedic procedures

Where Can I Work as a Med/Surg Nurse?

Med/Surg RNs mainly work in acute care hospitals, though they make excellent clinicians in ambulatory settings, long-term care facilities, and home health as well. Hospital Medical Surgical units are generally fast-paced and collaborative environments. Med/Surg nurses are a crucial part of the multidisciplinary team, along with physicians, surgeons, physical and occupational therapists, dieticians, palliative and hospice nurses, social workers, and case managers.

Should I Start My Career in Med/Surg?

New nurses who start a Med/Surg job find that the variety of cases they treat prepares them well for work in other specialties. The fast-paced environment of Medical Surgical units prepares nurses to handle anything! Over time, med/surg nurses establish impeccable time management systems, learn to navigate challenges effectively, and establish an extraordinarily well-rounded foundation of disease and disorder knowledge. Med/Surg nursing also allows you to learn what you like and don’t like as a nurse while honing your assessment and hands-on skills. On the other hand, some nurses simply love Med/Surg for what it is: busy, rewarding, and never boring!

Advancing with Certification: Elevate Your Med/Surg Nursing Career

Obtaining certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is a significant step for Med/Surg RNs aiming to highlight their expertise and dedication to patient care. The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (MEDSURG-BC) validates a nurse's capability to provide high-quality care, enhancing their professional credibility and potentially leading to better job opportunities and improved patient outcomes. By achieving this certification, nurses demonstrate their commitment to excellence and patient safety in the diverse and fast-paced med surg unit of a healthcare facility.

Diversity in Care: The Core of Med/Surg Nursing

Med/Surg nursing stands out for its broad patient care spectrum, requiring nurses to possess a comprehensive understanding of various medical conditions. This role is crucial in a healthcare facility, where med surg nurses ensure patient safety and advocate for their well-being. Their versatility in treating patients from all walks of life makes Med/Surg nursing a rewarding career path for those passionate about making a tangible difference in patient care. Embrace the challenge and diversity of Med/Surg nursing to truly impact your patients' health and recovery journey.

How Much Can I Make as a Med/Surg Nurse?

The average salary of a Med/Surg nurse is around $100,000, which varies depending on years of experience. Nurses just starting in this specialty can expect to make around $85,000. Your location, years of experience, certifications, and education all affect your earning potential. 

Travel Med/Surg nurses make even more! Medical Surgical RNs who travel with Advantis Medical earn, on average, 30% more than their permanent counterparts. This compensation is paid out weekly and includes tax-free housing and per diem stipends. Plus, Advantis Medical travel Med/Surg nurses enjoy a full suite of medical and 401(K) benefits available starting day one!

Tips for Success as a Med/Surg Nurse

Now that we've covered the basics, here are some valuable tips for succeeding as a travel MedSurg nurse:

  1. Stay Current: Keep up-to-date with the latest medical advancements and nursing practices. Attend workshops, conferences, and online courses to enhance your skills.
  2. Be Adaptable: Flexibility is key in Med/Surg nursing. Be prepared to adapt to different hospital systems, policies, and patient populations.
  3. Communicate Effectively: Strong communication skills are crucial. You'll be working with different teams and patients, so clear and concise written and verbal communication is essential.
  4. Stay Organized: Develop efficient organizational systems to manage your workload effectively. Prioritize tasks and stay organized to provide the best patient care. This is not a specialty you want to get behind on!
  5. Manage Your Time: Time management strategies are imperative to maintain your patient load, and each nurse must find what works for them. Many nurses utilize “brain sheets” either created or found online to organize patients and task lists.
  6. Embrace Challenges: Even seasoned nurses can learn new skills! Don't shy away from complex cases or high-acuity patients. Embrace challenges as opportunities to grow and expand your skill set. The more you practice a clinical skill, the more confident you will become.
  7. Ask Questions: You aren’t expected to know the perfect solution to every problem. A nurse who avoids asking questions about their uncertainties risks their patient's safety. If you don’t know something, ask directly and ask often! 
  8. Be a Team Player: Healthcare doesn’t work without collaboration. Nurses who view themselves as part of a team and are willing to help out their fellow colleagues foster a positive and supportive environment for others.
  9. Build a Support Network: Connect with other nurses, both online and in person. If you are a travel nurse, online communities such as Facebook groups can provide a great space to share experiences and connect with new friends. Your colleagues can provide valuable advice and support during your assignments.
  10. Invest in Self-Care: Take care of yourself physically and mentally. Travel nursing can be demanding, so prioritize self-care and rest to maintain your well-being.

Certifications For Med/Surg Nurses

Nurses who wish to demonstrate their commitment to the specialty of Medical-Surgical nursing can obtain the following certifications:

  • The MEDSURG-BC certification provided by the American Nurses Credentialing recognizes successful candidates as Board-Certified in Medical-Surgical Nursing.
  • The Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) certification provided by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses recognizes excellence in medical-surgical nursing. 

Both organizations require that nurses possess an active RN license, with at least two years of full-time nursing practice and at least 2,000 hours of clinical hours to qualify. Hours must be completed within a three-year period in a medical-surgical setting.

MedSurg vs. MedSurg/Tele Nursing

While MedSurg nursing primarily focuses on general medical and surgical patients, MedSurg/Tele nursing combines elements of both Medical Surgical and Telemetry nursing. Telemetry nurses specialize in monitoring patients with cardiac conditions

In a MedSurg/Tele setting, nurses must be adept at caring for patients with medical and surgical needs while also providing continuous cardiac monitoring. This requires a more refined cardiac skill set and the ability to interpret and respond to changes in heart rhythms.

Make Even More Money as a MedSurg Nurse!

There has never been a better time to capitalize on the high demand and competitive pay of MedSurg nursing. On average, travel MedSurg nurses earn 30% more than their permanent counterparts while enjoying competitive benefits, flexible scheduling options, and the opportunity to work for world-renowned facilities anywhere in the country. Med/Surg nurses are always needed in all 50 states, and you can earn a premium by traveling anywhere from an hour to a state away!

At Advantis Medical, we place MedSurg nurses on coveted travel assignments daily. Our nurses enjoy concierge support, competitive pay, weekly direct deposit, housing reimbursement, and travel planning assistance. Advantis has exclusives like this Med/Surg Opportunity in Rochester, NY, Med/Surg role in St. Louis, MO, or this Med/Surg Job in Charlotte, NC. Additionally, explore opportunities such as our Med/Surg position in Richmond, VA, Med/Surg role in Tulsa, OK, Med/Surg job in Des Moines, IA, or our Medical-Surgical position in Peoria, IL.

Ready to embark on your Med/Surg nursing journey? You can browse exclusive, high-paying travel job openings from the #1 rated travel nurse agency today! Choose to work with one of our dedicated Pro Recruiters to receive white-glove service or express your interest in specific jobs directly on our individual job pages. Start your next adventure today by searching for exclusive Med/Surg travel nursing jobs with Advantis Medical!

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