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What are the Qualifications Needed to Become a Surgical Nurse?

Higher Education Articles July 22, 2013

From overseeing patient care before, during and after operations to assisting surgeons in the operating room, surgical nurses are responsible for numerous functions. But it can be a most gratifying occupational option. Assisting in the recovery of those facing emergency and chronic illnesses, surgical nurses can work in oncology, neonatology, pediatrics and a variety of other fields. However, there are some surgical nurse qualifications that nurses must have before moving into that position. It all starts with education.

Surgical Nurse Education Requirements

Similar to other nursing positions, surgical nurse qualifications begin with a solid educational background. One option for obtaining the necessary education is to attend a two-year associate’s degree program that specializes in surgical nursing. Prospective operating room or perioperative nurses, more commonly known as surgical nurses, can also choose to complete a diploma program. These typically last two to three years and are often completed in a hospital.

A four-year degree program including two supervised years of clinical practice in a health care facility is ideal for a prospective surgical nurse seeking additional education through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Passing the NCLEX-RN examination, a national licensing test for registered nurses, follows the completion of a state-approved nursing program. This completes the education surgical nurse qualifications.

Clinical Education

Possibly a year or at least one semester of clinical education must be completed by potential surgical nurses. Of the many surgical nurse qualifications, this may be the most important. It introduces potential surgical nurses to the practice of nursing in the field through hands-on training. Under the close supervision of a registered nurse (RN), most of this hands-on training takes places in a hospital setting. Being attentive to on-site demonstrations of surgical practices and techniques is vital to those interested in becoming a surgical nurse.


Having gained experienced and passes the requisite exams, registered nurses can move into Certified Operating Room Nurses. To get to this position, nurses have to pass another exam and attend more classes – certification programs that typically take one year, or two semesters to complete. Individuals can continue to work while taking classes in areas such as surgical instrumentation, patient care, anesthesia assessment, and principles of perioperative nursing.

Necessary Skills for Surgical Nurses

Surgical nurses must have a broad knowledge of medicine since they are expected to assist the surgeon in the operating room. That means most of the primary responsibilities take place during the actual surgery itself. Moreover, it means that potential surgical nurses must attain wide-ranging knowledge of a variety of surgical procedures.

Since surgical nurses are the representatives for patients in the operating room, they must get to know their patients. In fact, they should know the patients more intimately than the operating doctor will. This entails knowing the current psychological and emotional state of the patients, as well as their medical history.

Communication is essential in operating rooms as surgical nurses will spend a great deal of time talking with patients. Surgical nurses must hone their people skills in order to accomplish this. Moreover, they must learn to trust their instincts and develop self-confidence. Every decision made in the operating room can mean life or death for patients, so ensuring one can make split-second decisions is critical and one of the most important surgical nurse qualifications.

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