Med-Surg Nurse: In-Demand Specialty for Travel Nursing Jobs
Medical-surgical nurses — or med-surg for short — represent the single largest nursing specialty. They are the hospital employees who spend the most time with patients and their families.
This specialty represents a merger of two separate nursing disciplines — medical nursing and surgical nursing. The specialties were combined in the 1960s after healthcare educators determined that patients would be better served by nurses who were trained in both disciplines who could provide total care. Today, the modern med-surg nursing specialty has been described as “the foundation of all nursing practice.”
The patient population within hospitals continues to grow at the same time that the nursing shortage becomes critical, and as a result, med-surg nurses are increasingly in high demand. Their ability to manage multiple patients and to remain calm and organized while fulfilling a wide range of duties makes them an invaluable part of the health system. Healthcare facilities will continue to turn to travel nurses to meet patient needs and reduce strain on staff nurses.
What is a Med-Surg Nurse?
Rather than providing care for a defined population or specializing in a type of care, med-surg nurses apply their skills to wide-ranging conditions in adult patients, while also delivering health education and meeting patients’ psychological, emotional and social needs. They treat patients who are recovering from or preparing for surgery, as well as patients diagnosed with chronic conditions or admitted for emergent situations.
They usually manage from five to seven patients with a variety of diagnoses and conditions per shift. No two days are alike, and there is rarely any downtime.
Med-surg nurses are the face of nursing for the majority of patients who are inpatients preparing for or recovering from surgery, as well as those who are being treated for chronic or acute illnesses. They rely on their comprehensive medical knowledge and nursing theory to provide appropriate individual care for a diverse range of patients. Medical-surgical nurses possess the same skill set as nurses working in many other nursing specialties. They must be experts at coordination. They are responsible for multiple patients at a time, as well as for the care provided to their patients by other members of the healthcare team.
Though med-surg nurses work in hospitals more than any other setting, they can also be found in inpatient clinics, in administration or teaching settings, in the military, in nursing homes, and in ambulatory care settings. Though their central responsibility is the coordination of patient care, their specific duties include:
- Working with other health care team members to assess, plan, implement and evaluate patient care plans
- Educating patients regarding the surgical procedures they are about to undergo
- Preparing and administering prescribed medications and reporting adverse reactions
- Recording patient vital signs and medical information
- Monitoring equipment and interpreting and recording the information it provides
- Taking action when patients manifest adverse symptoms and responding to life-saving situations
- Providing bedside care, including changing dressings, inserting catheters, starting IVs
Because their duties are so diverse and essential and because they are caring for multiple patients at a time, med-surg nurses must have strong time management skills.
Med-Surg Nurse Education Requirements, Certifications and Professional Groups
Medical-Surgical nursing is viewed as a smart first step for a newly graduated nurse. The position exposes you to a wide variety of patient conditions, the opportunity for direct patient care, and the chance to establish yourself as a valuable member of a healthcare team. Many who intend to stay for just a few years end up loving med-surg nursing so much that they spend their entire career on the med-surg floor.
Whatever your long-term plans, to become a med-surg nurse you first need to become a Registered Nurse. Though you can achieve this with an Associate’s Degree in Nursing, hospitals are increasingly requiring their nursing staff to have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Nurses who graduate with their ADN may need to continue their education after they’ve been hired. Whatever your degree, after graduation you need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam in order to be hired as a med-surg nurse.
Once licensed, nurses can avail themselves of training programs including new graduate internships that teach them the valuable organizational and communication skills that are integral to the role, and after approximately two years of experience in a med-surg environment nurses will be eligible for certification as a Certified Medical Surgical Registered Nurse. This certification provides med-surg nurses with additional recognition of their skills and expertise and frequently leads to higher compensation and improved marketability.
Med-surg nurses who are interested in additional professional advancement can join the Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses, an organization dedicated to the advancement of the profession.
Med-Surg Nurse Salary and Job Growth Potential
Recent studies have confirmed what intuition has always made clear: the lower the nurse-to-patient ratio, the better the quality of care patients receive. Hospitals are mindful of this, and many states are beginning to mandate these staffing practices. As a result, there is increasing demand for nurses with med-surg experience. This has, in turn, led to increased salaries.
Across the nation, the median salary for a med-surg nurse is $86,567, with 75% of med-surg nurses being paid between $71,500 and $94,500.
The median salary for a med-surg RN is $86,567.
Differences in salary depend upon a number of factors, including the geographic region, the nurse’s experience and education, whether the nurse is certified, and more.
In addition to salary, med-surg nurses receive additional compensation in the form of benefits such as sick leave, vacation time, tuition reimbursement and childcare support. They can also increase their income by signing on for overtime and shift differentials.
Additionally, med-surg nurses will continue to be in demand as a result of the national nursing shortage. While much of the shortage is the result of America’s aging population combined with retirements among tenured nurses, there are also areas in the country where the shortage is being felt more intensely, and as a result facilities in those areas are increasingly turning to travel med-surg nurses for assistance.
Top Paying Cities for Med-Surg Nurses in 2021
According to ZipRecruiter.com, here are the best paying cities for med-surg nurses in 2021:
- Sunnyvale, CA: $107,425 per year
- Santa Rosa, CA: $103,901 per year
- Williston, ND: $102,224 per year
- Manhattan, NY: $101,954 per year
- Cambridge, MA: $100,694 per year
The Pros and Cons of Being a Med-Surg Nurse
Pros of Med-Surg Nursing
- Satisfaction of working as part of a collaborative team of healthcare professionals to improve patient outcomes.
- Ability to work directly with patients and see the impact of your care
- Opportunity to work with patients with a variety of conditions, constantly expanding knowledge and skills.
- Job highlights critical thinking skills, organizational skills and communication skills.
Cons of Med-Surg Nursing
- Position can be exhausting, as med-surg nurses are responsible for multiple patients and are constantly juggling responsibilities and duties.
- Job environment is often chaotic, and nurses can be overwhelmed by never having enough time.
- Staffing shortages can lead to higher nurse-to-patient ratios.
- Patients and their families can be frustrating
Nursing as a Med Surg Travel Nurse
Whether you plan on moving from medical-surgical nursing to another specialty or want to work in med-surg throughout your career, these positions expose you to the broadest range of patients. Med-surg nurses have both clinical skills and organizational skills that translate well into any other area of care and into any professional setting. That’s just one reason they are so well suited to travel nursing.
Hospitals and other care facilities around the country rely on travel med-surg nurses for their flexibility and leadership, as well as their experience and knowledge.
Medical surgical travel nurses have the opportunity to continue learning on the job. They can gain experience with a wide range of patients, all while being paid competitive, tax-advantaged salaries. Perks typically include a housing stipend and traveling reimbursement, along with the freedom to choose where you work.