Written by Nicole Galan, RN
Nicole received her BSN from Pace University in New York City. After a stint as a hospital nurse, she moved to an infertility clinic in Brooklyn, NY where she practices reproductive endocrinology and infertility nursing and teaches patients how to use the medications that are prescribed at her practice.

Working as a Medical-Surgical Nurse

Medical-surgical nurses (also known as med-surg nurses) work primarily with the adult population and treat a wide variety of health-related issues. They work in hospitals on general medical floors, though some may work in private practice, homecare or long-term care facilities. Some even work for the military or insurance companies.

The beauty of med-surg nursing is that nurses get to work with patients who have been diagnosed with a tremendous variety of conditions. They may care for an 80 year old woman with heart failure one day and a young man with a sports injury the next. Most nurses will care for between five and seven patients per shift, depending on their hospital’s policy and the patient’s level of care, and must also plan for discharging patients and subsequent new admissions. Hospital nurses usually work three or four 12-hour shifts per week, though a few still work five 8-hour shifts.

Med-surg nurses monitor patients, administer medications, advocate for patients and their families, coordinate care across multiple disciplines and provide a therapeutic environment for recovery. Education is a major component of medical-surgical nursing.  The patient (and their caregiveres) need to learn about their condition, their treatment, and how to care for themselves after being discharged. Nurses may prep their patients for surgical procedures and help recover them afterwards. They can also change dressings, perform catheterizations and insert intravenous lines.

While medical-surgical nursing is the largest specialty in nursing, many nurses view it as an entry-level position–a chance to gain a broad knowledge base before moving on to a specialty practice. There are many nurses, however, who choose to practice as medical-surgical nurses throughout their entire career because they enjoy the variety and unpredictability.

Certification as a medical surgical nurse is possible by either the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) after working for 2,000 hours in the field and taking the certification exam. Both certifications are accepted as equally valid, though the MSNCB is the one officially recognized by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, which is the main specialty organization.