What is a Surgical Nurse Practitioner?

When we think about surgery, most imagine heart surgeons, neurosurgeons, or orthopedic surgeons.

However, various medical professionals work in an operating room, including surgical nurse practitioners.

During surgical operations, a surgical nurse practitioner may function as a first assistant to the surgeon.

Surgical nurse practitioners do not perform complex surgeries.

However, they perform non-complex procedures like suturing wounds to enable surgeons to focus on other tasks.

To perform surgery, a person must go to medical school, complete their residency, and practice under a qualified surgeon.

Thus, nurse practitioners do not have sufficient training or expertise to perform complex surgical procedures.

What is a Surgical Nurse Practitioner?

A surgical nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who’s obtained post-graduate education.

These healthcare professionals receive extensive training and education within their specialization.

As a result, surgical nurse practitioners play a prominent role on the surgical team.

These specialists work alongside the surgeon, nurse anesthetist, operating room nurse(s), and residents/medical students.

In some cases, a facility will hire a surgical nurse practitioner instead of a physician assistant to perform various duties. 

What do Surgical Nurse Practitioners Do?

Surgical nurse practitioners perform multiple duties to ensure patients obtaining surgical procedures receive proper care.

Although surgical nurse practitioners assist surgeons with hands-on tasks, they do not perform surgical procedures.

Instead, the surgeon performs most of the operations during procedures due to their training and scope of practice.

Surgical nurse practitioners support surgeons by presenting vital data during surgery and providing medical instruments.

They also operate suction machines or utilize various surgical devices to assist with the procedure.

Finally, some surgical nurse practitioners assist with suturing wounds or other minor procedures.

Nurse pracitioners are not trained to be surgeons. However, surgical nurse pracitioenrs assist with various opertaing room tasks to support the surgeon.

Surgeons supervise surgical nurse practitioners and residents/medical students on less invasive aspects of surgery.

Besides working in the operating room, surgical nurse practitioners perform preoperative and postoperative duties.

It includes pre-operation assessments and educating patients and family members on upcoming procedures.

They also monitor the patient’s health post-surgery and assist with the recovery process. 

As a result,  surgical nurse practitioners provide care and guidance to patients throughout each step of the surgical process.

Some nurse practitioners focus on the operating room while others concentrate on preoperative and postoperative duties.

A surgical nurse practitioner’s duties depend on the healthcare facility, state laws, and scope of practice.

Some states/institutions require practitioners to obtain additional certifications before assisting in surgical procedures.

Nurse Practitioner Responsibilities:

  • Conduct examinations
  • Perform preoperative and postoperative care
  • Diagnose medical conditions
  • Educate patients and family members on procedures
  • Treat various illnesses, diseases, and injuries
  • Wound care and pain management
  • Order and interpret diagnostics
  • Prescribe medications
  • Triage patients

The list above covers various tasks within a nurse practitioner’s scope of practice.

It includes the duties of nurse practitioners of various backgrounds and disciplines.

Accordingly, the responsibilities of surgical nurse practitioners may vary based on the above factors.

Where do Surgical Nurse Practitioners Work?

Surgical nurse practitioners work in various healthcare settings assisting surgeons and surgical teams.

It includes hospitals, physician offices, private practices, urgent care facilities, and dedicated surgical clinics.

A surgical nurse practitioner’s obligations vary depending on their specialization, work setting in occupational demands.

For instance, some surgical nurse practitioners operate in cosmetic surgery offices while others work in replantation.

Their work schedule also varies depending on their line of work.

To illustrate, surgical nurse practitioners who assist with cosmetic procedures have set schedules. 

They may operate Monday thru Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.

Conversely, surgical nurse practicians who work at 24/7 urgent care facilities may have very varied work schedules.

These specialists may need to work morning, noon, or night shifts, weekends, and holidays.

How to Become a Surgical Nurse Practitioner

The path to becoming a surgical nurse practitioner is quite long and extensive.

It requires years of dedication to develop the necessary education and expertise.

Nevertheless, this profession is highly rewarding, prestigious, and well-paying for those with dedication and discipline.

This section explores the numerous steps aspiring surgical nurse practitioners must complete to operate in this profession.

1. Join a Nursing Program

The first step to becoming a surgical nurse practitioner is to join a nursing program.

To gain entry into the program students must complete numerous nursing school prerequisite courses.

These prerequisites form a foundation of knowledge necessary to perform well in nursing school.

Students must also maintain a good GPA to qualify for the program, which varies depending on the university.

After completing the prerequisite courses students apply to join the nursing program.

2. Obtain a BSN Degree

Most universities offer nursing students an ADN or BSN degree.

The ADN takes roughly 18 – 24 months to complete and provides a fundamental understanding of the nursing profession.

Nevertheless, surgical nurse practitioners require much further education to operate in their profession.

As a result, students must complete their BSN, which takes roughly 36 – 48 months to complete.

The BSN degree prepares nurses for roles in more specialized fields and enables them to pursue postgraduate education.

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

At the end of the BSN program, nursing school graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam.

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) develops the NCLEX exam.

It takes the competencies of nursing school graduates to ensure they adequately understand the nursing profession.

4. Acquire Work Experience

Most nurses spend years developing experience before pursuing advanced education and becoming nurse practitioners.

Some registered nurses spend 8 – 10 years in the field before returning to school.

However, aspiring surgical nurse practitioners may pursue further education directly after getting their BSN and license.

While developing experience it’s essential to look for work in a medical-surgical setting.

It enables nurses to gain vital knowledge and training that is helpful when becoming surgical nurse practitioners. 

5. Complete Postgraduate Education

After obtaining a BSN, getting licensed, and acquiring work experience the next step is to pursue postgraduate education.

Nursing students must acquire their MSN degree and focus their education on surgical science.

It takes approximately 18 – 24 months to complete the necessary education.

Depending on the school, registered nurses may pursue their surgical science degree in-person or online.

Online programs enable working registered nurses to continue developing their education while receiving an income.

5. Get Certified

Upon completing formal education and becoming a nurse practitioner, it’s beneficial to obtain CMSRN certification.

The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board issues the exam to ensure nurses have adequate training and knowledge.

Obtaining CMSRN certification is optional, but highly recommended.

It enables surgical nurse practitioners to demonstrate their expertise, commitment, and knowledge of their specialization.

As a result, these healthcare specialists can earn more money, handle additional duties, and get hired more quickly.

Introduction to The Surgical Team

 A surgical team works together to ensure the patient receives optimal care before, during, and after surgical procedures.

Besides the surgeon, the surgical team includes a surgical nurse practitioner/physician assistant, an anesthesiologist/CRNA, an operating room nurse, and a surgical technician.

Various preoperative/postoperative medical professionals also assist with preparation and patient recovery.

A Surgical Team Consists of:

  • The surgeon
  • Physician Assistant
  • Surgical nurse practitioner
  • Anesthesiologist
  • Nurse anesthetist (CRNA)
  • Operating room nurse/circulating nurse
  • Residents/medical students
  • Surgical technician

Each medical professional plays a distinct role in supporting the group and ensuring everyone performs their tasks effectively and efficiently.

The Fourteen Types of Surgeons

There are numerous types of surgeons who specialize in different areas of medical practice.

As a result, the duties these professionals perform vary depending on their specialization.

Careers vary extensively from cardiothoracic and neurological surgery to orthopedic and plastic/maxillofacial surgery.

Overall, there are currently fourteen recognized surgical specializations, according to the American College of Surgeons.

Surgical Career Specialties

  1. Cardiothoracic surgery
  2. Colon and rectal surgery
  3. General surgery
  4. Gynecology and obstetrics
  5. Gynecologic oncology
  6. Neurological Surgery
  7. Ophthalmic surgery
  8. Oral and maxillofacial surgery
  9. Orthopedic surgery
  10. Otorhinolaryngology
  11. Pediatric surgery
  12. Plastic and maxillofacial surgery
  13. Urology
  14. Vascular surgery

Each specialty requires years of education, training, and supervision to master.

Moreover, surgeons specializing in one domain may not practice in another field if they don’t possess proper training and certification.

For instance, heart surgeons have very distinct roles, responsibilities, and capacities within the medical field.

As a result, heart surgeons cannot perform the duties of a neurosurgeon and vice versa.

At least not without returning to medical school and obtaining proper education, internships/residency, and licensing.

The American Board of Surgery offers valuable information for anyone interested in being trained in surgery.

Hopefully, this article has clarified whether nurse practitioners perform surgery.

If so, please share the article with anyone who might find it valuable and informative.