September 8, 2022
How to Get Into Med-Surg Nursing

Part One What is Med-Surg Nursing?

Medical-surgical nursing, also known as med-surg nursing, is the largest nursing specialty in the United States. A med-surg nurse is a specific type of surgical nurse who cares for patients recovering from, or preparing for, surgery. However, this nursing specialty often also provides care for a wide range of non-surgery patients during their hospital stay as well.

Med-surg nurses provide 24-hour care to patients during their hospital stay. Admitted patients will spend more one-on-one time with their med-surg nurse than any other medical professional while admitted to the hospital.

Med-surg nurses work in many different specialties, such as:

  • General surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Neurosurgery
  • Orthopedic
  • Vascular surgery
  • Bariatrics
  • Urology
  • Oncology
  • Cardiac care
  • Gastrointestinal

Med-surg nurses most commonly work at a hospital or medical center on an acute care unit at the bedside. However, this nursing specialty may also be found in other areas, such as outpatient clinics or home health care facilities. 

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Part Two What Does a Med-Surg Nurse Do?

Med-surg nurses provide direct bedside nursing care. During their shift, they usually manage the care of 4 to 7 patients at a time. They also discharge patients while simultaneously admitting new patients into their care throughout their shift.

Responsibilities of a med-surg nurse include:

  • Admitting patients to a unit
  • Discharging patients to outpatient facilities or home
  • Giving medication
  • Providing pain control
  • Ambulating patients
  • Providing wound care
  • Monitoring and recording vital signs
  • Providing patient education and discharge instructions
  • Documenting all events during the patient’s stay in electronic medical records (EMR)
  • Providing bedside care
  • Working with ancillary specialties - such as physical therapy, diabetes specialists, or speech therapy - to coordinate care
  • Performing or ensuring diagnostic testing is completed

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Part Three Med-Surg Nurse Salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median pay for nurses is $77,600 annually or $37.31/hr. But that’s an average across nurses with different degrees, working in many specialties, and living in various locations across the country.

Salary is determined based on several factors and can range widely throughout the country. The bottom 10% of nurses in the US earn about $59,450 annually or $28.58/hr, and the top 10% of earners make $120,250 annually or $57.81/hr.

Nurse salary factors to consider include:

  • The city and state where you live
  • The type of healthcare facility you work in 
  • Whether you work 8, 10, or 12 hours shifts
  • Whether you work full-time or part-time
  • How many shifts you work in a week

Med-surg nurses living in some areas of the country may earn a much higher income than others. However, the salary usually aligns with the cost of living in the area. For example, South Dakota nurses typically earn less than San Francisco nurses. However, it's also much more expensive to live in San Fransisco than in many other states, such as South Dakota.

Part Four How to Become a Med Surg Nurse 

To become a med-surg nurse, you must meet the following requirements: 

Step One: Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

There are two pathways to becoming an RN:

Step Two: Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) 

To earn licensure, you must pass the NCLEX-RN. Per diem nurses must also maintain a current and active license. Nursing licenses must be renewed every two years by completing and submitting continuing education units (CEUs) per your state's nursing board requirements.

Step Three: Apply for Med-Surg Nursing Jobs

Look for new nurse graduate programs in your area that want to train new med-surg nurses. Most new nursing graduate programs are 2-6 months long and offer the in-depth training you will need to be successful on the unit. Facilities usually pair recent nurse grads with a tenured nurse who will help teach you the skill you need to succeed!

>> See Med-Surg Nursing Jobs Hiring Now

Step Four: Become a Certified Med-Surg RN

After earning a minimum of one year of experience, you can sit for the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification (MEDSURG-BC™) exam. Certification will let your employer, coworkers, and patients know that you are an expert in your field and can provide the highest level of patient care.

Part Five Skills Med-Surg Nurses Need

The Ability to Stay Calm

Med-surg nurses must have the ability to maintain a calm demeanor in hectic and stressful situations. 

Organization & Multitasking

This position requires excellent organization and multitasking skills because med-surg nurses often juggle several tasks simultaneously. 

Critical Thinking

They must also have excellent critical thinking skills to determine what tasks are urgent and what tasks can wait.


Med surg nurses must be proficient in hundreds of nursing competencies, a few of which include:

  • Assessing neurological status
  • Managing different types of catheters, such as urinary or epidural
  • Providing care for drains, such as a chest tube or hemovac wound drain
  • Providing CPR when needed
  • Understanding and educating on medication administration, contraindications, side effects, and dosing calculations
  • Providing pulmonary care such as tracheal suctioning, chest drainage symptoms, and assessing breath sounds.
  • Starting and maintaining IVs and providing IV medication
  • Performing complex dressing changes
  • Providing care for braces, casts, and traction devices

Zip Recruiter reports that employers are looking for several specific keyword skills when reviewing potential med-surg travel nursing candidate’s resumes, some of which include:

  • Inpatient care
  • Treatment planning
  • Behavioral  analysis
  • Medical records
  • Acute care
  • Psychology

Part Six What is it Like to Be a Med-Surg Nurse?

Med-surg nurses provide essential and often life-saving care for their patients and families during some of the most challenging times of their lives. Although working as a med-surg nurse can be very stressful and exhausting, many say the career gives them a sense of pride in their work. 

A career as a med-surg nurse may not be suitable for everyone. This nursing specialty requires a sense of determination, the ability to manage the complex patient care of multiple patients simultaneously, and a strong stomach. 

But if learning about various surgical procedures while utilizing a wide range of complex nursing skills appeals to you, med-surg nursing might be the perfect career for you!

$70,000 - $90,000 Associate Bachelors Bedside RN Med-Surg