How Do You Become a Surgical Nurse?

To become a surgical nurse, an individual must complete a formal training program. The training program prepares the student for a career in nursing and working in an operating room. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that registered nurses (RNs) could see a job growth of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026. RNs who specialize in certain areas, such as surgical nurse often see better career opportunities. Here is an overview of surgical nurses, including how to become a surgical nurse and what the career entails.

How to Become a Surgical Nurse

Before an individual can become a surgical nurse, he or she must first become a registered nurse. Nurse Journal indicates that there are a few different paths towards this goal.

  • Diploma program – This option often takes place in a hospital and takes two to three years to complete.
  • Associate degree program – This two-year option is generally the most popular.
  • Bachelor’s degree – Although it takes four years to complete, it offers the most comprehensive education and includes two years of clinical education.

Upon completing any of the above options, the student must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to be licensed as an RN. Once the RN determines that he or she wants to become a surgical nurse, the candidate has the option to specialize in surgical nursing. This can be accomplished by earning a master’s degree with a concentration in surgical nursing or complete a two-program on peri-operative nurse training.

Another path the RN might take to become a surgical nurse is to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with a specialization in surgical nursing. According to, the surgical nurse candidate must also complete a residency, fellowship or internship working in a surgical ward.


Nurses are required to be licensed in all 50 states. Licensure requires passing the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a requirement for working as an RN and has nothing to do with working as a surgical nurse. To be eligible to take the exam, the individual must apply with the state board of nursing. The exam is a computer-based, multiple-choice test that consists of up to 265 questions. The candidate must correctly complete at least 75 questions to pass and has five hours in which to do so.

After the aspiring surgical nurse has completed the clinical portion and obtained a nursing license, he or she must then obtain certification. To become certified as a surgical nurse, the individual must pass the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse Examination, which is offered by the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. The American Nurses Credentialing Center also offers the Medical –Surgical Nursing Certification.

The surgical nurse may also earn the Registered Nurse First Assistant and/or the Certified Nurses in the Operating Room Certifications. The surgical nurse candidate may be required to complete a certain number of hours in the operating room to be eligible to take certification exams. Each exam has its own requirements. Depending on the state requirements, the surgical nurse may be required to complete continuing education to maintain licensure.

Career Outlook for Surgical Nurses

Surgical nurses appear to have a very positive career outlook. PayScale reports that surgical nurses earned a median annual wage of $66,326 as of March 2018.

Related Resource: 5 Jobs With a Master’s in Public Health Degree

Although working as a surgical nurse may be a lucrative and rewarding career, it does come with some requirements. For those that are not faint of heart, a surgical nurse career can be a great choice. Determining what the individual needs to do to become a surgical nurse is the first step.