What is Medical-Surgical Nursing?

Medical-surgical nursing is the foundation of all nursing practice. Once upon a time and not so very long ago, all nurses practiced the art and science of nursing on wards; everyone was a medical or surgical nurse -- that is where all nursing started. Today, many nurses choose to work in the specialty of medical-surgical nursing.

Medical-surgical nursing has evolved from an entry-level position to a distinct specialty. It is no longer viewed as a stepping-stone, but is the solid rock and the backbone of every institution. Medical-surgical nurses are the largest group of practicing professionals. It is one of the most demanding nursing specialties.

Medical-surgical nurses care for patients in many settings such as:Nurse

  • inpatient care units
  • clinics
  • HMOs
  • ambulatory care units
  • home health care
  • long-term care
  • skilled nursing homes
  • urgent care centers
  • surgical centers
  • universities

Medical-surgical nursing is a stimulating and, yes, demanding career. It is not for the faint-hearted. The work is challenging but rewarding.

Who but medical-surgical nurses can manage five to seven patients, plus the ones they have admitted and discharged throughout the day? They make assessments and administer care, treatments, medications, and documentation.

Because medical-surgical nursing is a specialty, we have our own professional nursing organization, the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN). The mission of AMSN is to "promote excellence in medical-surgical nursing." Read more about AMSN.

Medical-Surgical Nurses:

Have a Vast Set of Skills

  • Are knowledgeable in all aspects of adult health
  • Have excellent assessment, technical, organizational, and prioritization skills
  • Teach patients, families, peers, and other health professionals

Are Advocates for Patients

  • Understand the importance of measuring and improving the quality of care delivered
  • Consider patient safety to be the top priority
  • Support patients in their efforts to identify what is in their best interests

Welcome Diversity

  • Care for patients of all ages
  • Manage the care of patients with multiple medical, surgical, and/or psychiatric diagnoses
  • Manage the care of patients with diagnoses across all medical specialties
  • Celebrate that there is always something new to learn
  • Can practice in hospitals, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, MD offices, long-term care facilities, and other practice sites

Make a Difference in People's Lives Every Day

  • Provide comfort and attention to people who, at that moment, need someone to take an interest in their lives
  • Heal patients physically and emotionally through intuitive experiences that rely on observation and touch
  • Assist patients in returning to their highest level of functioning
  • Provide dignity and respect in end-of-life decision-making and care

Are the Backbone of Every Adult-Care Clinical Agency

  • All adult patients are eventually cared for by medical-surgical nurses

Related Information

Read a great article all about medical-surgical nursing from the March 2010 issue of Working Nurse magazine, featuring an interview with AMSN President Kathleen Singleton. Kathleen describes the rewards, joys, and challenges of the practice.

FREE CNE for AMSN Members from the AMSN Online Library!