May 15, 2014
Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Surgical nurses, also referred to as perioperative nurses, are an indispensible part of any surgical team. Surgeons depend on perioperative nurses to keep the operating room clean and sterile, monitor the patient’s vital signs for any complications and to hand them surgical tools during the procedure. Surgical nurses generally branch out into three broad subspecialties: scrub nurse, circulating nurse and RN first assistant. While each plays a distinct role in the operating theatre, they all work together to make things easier for the surgeon to carry out the procedure safely and efficiently and to ensure the safety of the patient.
To practice in any of the three surgical nurses subspecialties, you will need to have an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing and a registered nurse license.
While there is no specific degree program for surgical nursing, most nursing schools offer elective courses in the varied aspects of different surgical procedures. With this, you can start practicing as a perioperative nurse and can then pursue continuing-education credits in surgical nursing.
Hospitals often prefer to hire nurses who have some experience in emergency or critical care nursing before applying for surgical roles. You can also choose to pursue certification offered by professional associations.
A scrub nurse is responsible for inspecting the operating room and ensuring that it is clean and sterile and safe for the patient before the procedure begins. Scrub nurses also set up the surgical tools and count all instruments, from needles and scalpels to sponges, before and after the procedure. After scrubbing in, they help the rest of the surgical team wash their hands and put on the necessarily sterile gowns, masks and gloves.
During the surgery, the scrub nurse is responsible for handing the surgeon tools and other instruments and must often anticipate when he’s ready for the next tool and what he needs. After the operation, they are responsible for counting and clearing all the surgical tools and helping prepare the patient for transport to the recovery room.
Circulating nurses do not participate directly in the surgery. Instead, they oversee the procedure and ensure that it follows safety guidelines and existing hospital policy. They begin by inspecting all surgical equipment to determine that everything is in working order. They also confirm the patient’s identity and verify that that patient’s family has completed the necessary consent forms.
A circulating nurse will also discuss the type of procedure with the surgeon and update the surgeon on any special concerns such as allergies and other health conditions that could have an impact on the patient’s treatment. Circulating nurses may also assist the anaesthesiologist as the patient is put under. During the operation, they help supply any additional equipment or supplies the team may need.
RN first assistants provide direct patient care. They watch out for potential complications by keeping an eye on the patient’s vital signs, including pulse, respiration and heart rate. If there is any sign of trouble, the surgeon is alerted so proper action may be taken. Surgeons rely most heavily on RN first assistants during any procedure.
Under direction from the surgeon, an RN first assistant may also perform emergency care such as CPR or procedures to control bleeding. After the procedure, these specialists will often do the task of suturing wounds and the incision site and applying bandages and dressings. They also participate in evaluating the patient before surgery and also before the patient is discharged. Nurses need several years of surgical nursing experience before taking on the role of RN first assistant.