Medical-surgical nursing was once a general phrase for nurses who did not have specialty areas of practice, but that has since changed. Now nurses in the medical-surgical nursing specialty handle large patient loads, juggle multiple patient populations, and adapt to the ever-changing face of nursing care.

Medical-Surgical Nursing Career

Nurses specializing in medical-surgical nursing can work in a variety of venues. The most common is the hospital, but nurses in this specialty are finding their skills also needed in clinics, home health care agencies, HMOs, ambulatory care units, long-term care homes, surgical centers, and universities. A nurse in this area usually takes care of a high load of patients – usually five to seven – and is in charge of coordinating their care throughout the day. It takes skills in assessment, time management, documentation, and careful care planning to handle all of the responsibilities that face a medical-surgical nurse. It is definitely a challenging specialty, but one with great rewards. It is a place to hone basic skills and become an expert in the field of nursing as a whole.

Medical-Surgical Nursing Salary

Medical-surgical nurses who work in hospitals and nurse practitioners who work in this area can expect to earn $63,000 per year. Medical-surgical nurses are in demand everywhere, so salaries and opportunities may vary based on the experience.



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Medical-Surgical Nursing Education

Medical-surgical nurses can obtain a specialty certification to validate their skills and advance their career as a medical-surgical nurse. What was once considered a general nursing field is now regarded as a specialty for which registered nurses (RNs) can obtain a specialty certification by completing two years and at least 2,000 hours of relevant work in a medical-surgical role. Medical-surgical nurse education programs are generally the same as RN education programs, but there are some programs designed specifically for nurses interested in committing to a career on the medical-surgical floor of a hospital. The essential skills and education for a medical-surgical nurse will emphasize a keen ability to think quickly during critical and urgent situations and respond with appropriate clinical treatment for a variety of patients with diverse medical conditions and histories.

There are two certifications available for those who complete medical-surgical nurse education programs. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) awards successful candidates the RN-BC (registered nurse-board certified) credentials. The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) awards the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) credentials. One difference between the two credentials is that the CMSRN is the only one endorsed by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN). There are no education-related eligibility requirements for either certification. Candidates must have two years of work history as an RN with at least 2,000 hours of practice in a medical-surgical setting completed within the last three years.

Curriculum and Core Classes

Nursing students who are interested in medical-surgical nurse education programs should complete an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) that will prepare them to become an RN. Upon completion of an RN education program, graduates should prepare for the national certification exam to officially earn their RN credentials and begin working in a medical-surgical setting, such as the medical/surgical area in a local hospital.

A graduate degree is not required for the RN-BC or CMSRN certification. Applicants who wish to complete a graduate degree and obtain a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) should consider a clinical nurse specialist education program, which might be the most suitable for a medical-surgical nurse specialist.

Medical-surgical nurse education programs and training can be obtained through teaching hospitals all across the nation. Although the field of medical-surgical nursing is now considered a specialty, the curriculum, core course, and clinical preceptorships encompass a broad range of knowledge and skills. Students will study medical administration and coding, risk management, phlebotomy, pain management, wound care, respiratory care, infection mitigation, health assessment and quality control.

Preceptorship hours can be spent in a variety of roles as long as the time is spent in a medical-surgical setting; however, the ANCC certification (for the RN-BC) requires all 2,000 hours to be spent in a clinical role whereas the MSNCB (for the CMSRN) accepts hours completed in a clinical, management or education role.

Program Length

Nursing students can spend two or four years studying to become an RN and an additional two years working as an RN before becoming eligible to sit for the medical-surgical nurse certification exam. When combined with this basic training, it may take four to six years to obtain the specialty certification in medical-surgical nursing; however, individual life circumstances and availability have a tendency to affect the overall timeframe.

Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification

American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Type of Certification: Registered Nurse – Board Certified (RN-BC)

Eligibility Requirements: Nurses must have a valid registered nurse license, two years experience as a nurse, 2,000 clinical hours in medical-surgical nursing in the past three years, and 30 hours of continuing education in medical-surgical nursing in the past three years.

Certification Process: Apply online or by mail, and send in proof of certification and hours. Applicants will receive an authorization to test that they can take to approved testing facilities. Aspiring nurses will have 90 days to take the exam.

Fees: $395 for non-members

Renewal Process: Medical-Surgical nurse practitioners can renew their certification after five years for a fee of $350 for non-members. They need to accrue 1,000 clinical hours in medical-surgical nursing and participate in professional development, such as continuing education, research, publication, academic credits, preceptor work, or volunteer service.

Learn about other advanced practice nursing specialties.

State Nursing Certification Information