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Medical-Surgical Nursing: A Career Outlook and Guide

We’re in a global labor shortage, and with burnout from nurses working insane hours with COVID, nursing is one of the most affected sectors there is. There was a global nursing shortage before COVID hit, so nursing schools/programs have stepped up their recruiting. It pays to be a nursing student in these unprecedented times.

If you’re one of those students or you’re thinking about starting a program, you’re probably looking into nursing specializations. Well, medical-surgical nursing is an excellent career path to start on. Let’s talk about why.

What Is Medical-Surgical Nursing?

Once you become a nurse in the state of New York, you have an endless amount of opportunities for specialization, which comes with plenty of benefits to your career. Well, medical-surgical nursing is the most common nursing specialty in the US, and for a good reason. So, who are the medical-surgical (med-surg) patients?

Yes, surgical patients are a large part of this sector, but the medical-surgical specialty covers far more than just that, which is one of the reasons why it’s so popular.

Med-surg patients account for a large demographic of people in a hospital or care facility. Patients in or out of surgery, patients who are acutely injured or ill, and patients suffering from a number of complications will be involved in the med-surg population.

Of course, this covers a very broad spectrum of patients, particularly in a hospital setting. Because of this, nurses in this specialty tend to have a wide variety of duties and an ever-changing work environment. Let’s talk about that.

Job Description

Given the wide variety of responsibilities, it’s no surprise that the average medical-surgical nursing job could spend their days in completely different wings within a hospital. Nurses in this specialty may spend time:

  • Admitting or discharging patients
  • Administering medication
  • Facilitating or monitoring transportation
  • Conducting tests or assessments with patients
  • Documenting patient care practices
  • Monitoring vitals
  • Assisting with pain management
  • Conducting rounds in the ER
  • Working with or educating family members on ailments or treatments
  • Assisting surgical doctors or staff

The list goes on, and a medical-surgical nurse will likely have far more responsibilities than that. Depending on the job you get, you can expect to have different responsibilities within the department.

Generally speaking, med-surg nurses should not expect to have a wildly different schedule or job description from a standard nurse. Understanding what a nursing job is like and how it’s evolving will give you a good understanding. 

However, because it’s such a broad specialty, your options for finding work are wide open. Qualified medical-surgical nurses are in high demand among hospitals throughout the US, and almost every department seeks out these specializations.

Career Outlook

Currently, nurses of all specialties are in high demand throughout the US due to a national shortage that has persisted since the early days of the pandemic. Luckily for new nurses, there’s no end in sight.

Because of this, nurses tend to have an easy time finding work, along with a stable sense of job security. The only downside is that, due to the shortage, many nurses are working long hours. However, the bright side is that most nurses are paid hourly!

Believe it or not, the average medical-surgical nurse salary is over $86,000 in the US, with prospects for six figures in many states. Not only that but the high salary usually comes with full benefits packages, paid time off, and stable work.

Unfortunately for the world, there is a nationwide nursing shortage that is only increasing, due to a congruence of factors, largely involving the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even gender bias has turned nursing into a widely segregated field, further exacerbating the shortage. It’s a high-paying and rewarding job that men aren’t taking, as they only account for a small fraction of nurses in the US. Fortunately for you, regardless of your gender identity, that means there’s a lot less competition.

Not only that but the demand for med-surg nurses is expected to increase by 9% this decade. Essentially, this translates to an easier time finding work and a more secure job.

Benefits of Specializing

So, if nursing is in such high demand, what’s the point in specializing? Glad you asked.

A nursing degree will get you far in life, but a specialization will really help set you apart from other candidates. Nurses with a specialization tend to earn higher salaries, with many specialties earning over $108,000 and the top 10% earning over $127,000.

Not only that, but specializations will help you advance in your career later on. The more education and qualifications you have, the more likely you will be promoted to leadership levels or generally better positions within a hospital or health department.

Also, it will help you land jobs to begin with, as you will have a higher prestige to add to your resume. The more qualifications, education, and certifications you have on your resume, the higher your job prospects will be, whether you’re 30 years into your career or just starting.

Lastly, and most importantly, a specialization will certainly help you on the job. Almost every nurse with a specialization says they feel more confident performing their duties than they did prior to specializing. In a job that involves saving lives, a confidence boost is a gift in and of itself.

How to Become a Medical-Surgical Nurse

Okay, now that you know why becoming a medical-surgical nurse is such a good idea, you probably want to know how to get started. Well, here’s how!

Meet the Basic Requirements

First, you must be eligible to work in the United States. To do this, you need citizenship, permanent residency, or a work visa. If you have one of those and you are at least 18 years old, then you can become a nurse in the US.

However, nursing is a field with higher education requirements, so a high school diploma won’t cover it. If you have a diploma or equivalent, you will be qualified for many other medical-related positions if you would like to gain valuable work experience while in school.

Becoming a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or emergency medical technician (EMT) is a great way to start. It could even help you get your foot in the door with a hospital or program for when you finish your specialty or stand out among other applicants for jobs. Either way, you will have to meet the education requirements.

Education Requirements

Next, you need to meet the educational requirements for nursing. To become a nurse in the US, you need to hold at least an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN). However, a bachelor’s degree (BSN) is becoming more and more necessary to enter the field.

However, if you pursue a career in nursing after obtaining your associate’s, you will need to continue your education in most states to maintain licensure. This is still a good way to get started, especially if you have trouble applying to bachelor’s programs, as community colleges are open to all.

Currently, more nurses are obtaining a master’s degree in a medical-related field, which is a great way to get a headstart on your specialization. Also, it will help you advance in your career later on, earn a higher salary, and more. Although, it is not generally required to become a nurse.

Also, there are so-called “bridge” programs for certain students. These programs take anywhere from twelve to twenty-four months and they allow a student to move from an ADN to a BSN or even a BSN to a master’s. 

To become a licensed nurse, you will need to complete a nursing degree program and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Once you pass, you will be a registered nurse in your state.


If you’ve already completed your education requirements, then there are plenty of ways you can transition into a specialty such as medical-surgical nursing. If not, then you can try to specialize while in school. However, you can obtain one of many certifications to help you specialize in med-surg. 

First, you can try the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification(RN-BC)Not only is it accredited by the Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification, but it only requires an exam.

Now, most nurses will take a course on the specialization first, but to obtain certification, they will need to pass a competency-based exam that assesses their clinical skills and knowledge of the RN in the medical-surgical specialty. This type of certification needs renewal every five years.

Another option is to obtain the Certified in Care Coordination and Transition Management (CCCTM). Made in collaboration with the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing, this certification can help you rise through the ranks in any specialty or niche down in the med-surg field.

Lastly, there is the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse, which is the most widely recognized path. Currently, it’s held by over 38,000 professionals in the US, and it requires renewal every five years.

Finding a Job

In general, we recommend obtaining your specialization certification before starting your career. It will get it out of the way so you won’t have to worry about going back to school while working, and it will help you find jobs. Most nursing managers prefer to hire candidates with a specialization.

Once you’ve met the qualifications for med-surg nursing, it’s time to start looking for work. First, add your new qualifications to your resume and start your job search.

Some programs will offer assistance or networks to search through when finding a job but don’t rely entirely on this. A better opportunity could be found by a simple online search.

Look at hospitals in your area and apply for jobs that match your qualifications and fit your needs. Send your resume in and try to follow up if possible.

Each job may have dozens of applications, especially in bigger cities. Reaching out with a phone call or going in-person to follow up could help your application stand out from the others.

If you don’t have any work experience, references may be challenging to come by. Reach out to your professors or instructors from your certification courses for a letter of recommendation, if possible. Anything that can help you land the job you want is worth the initiative!

Career Growth

Once you have the job, you’re not done. A nurse’s work is never done.

Most nurses work until they are 58 years old, meaning that careers in the field usually last for more than thirty years. That’s a long time to spend in one position.

Because of this, it’s wise to invest in your future career prospects early on. A specialization, certificate, or concentration in school could help set you apart from other nurses in your department.

If you would like to transition into another role in the future, work your way through the ranks, or earn more money, then it’s best to set yourself up for success. A medical-surgical certification is a great way to start, but it doesn’t have to stop there.

Now, you will need to take additional educational programs over time to maintain your licensure, but you shouldn’t stop there. Always look for more educational opportunities and chances for career growth. It all starts with the right job, so look at opportunities for nurses in your area for more information.

Start Your New Career

Now that you know about medical-surgical nursing and the benefits of the specialty, you see why it’s so popular to start. Well, it’s easy to get your foot in the door, so why wait? Get started today, stay up to date with our latest nursing tips, and feel free to contact us with any questions!

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