Specialty Spotlight

Specialty Spotlight: Never a Dull Day as a Med-Surg Nurse

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Diverse practice settings, diverse patients and diverse nurses—all make for a very diverse and interesting career for medical-surgical nurses, such as Kathleen Reeves, MSN, RN, CNS, CMSRN. Reeves is the president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) and an assistant professor/clinical in the school of nursing at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA). 

Reeves explains that med-surg nursing involves keeping up with continual changes in technology, medications and processes, and offers insights into the specialty to NurseZone.com. 

What do you enjoy most about med-surg nursing? 

I enjoy the diversity of practice settings, the diversity of patients I encounter, and the diversity of nurses I work with in the rewarding specialty of medical-surgical nursing. I enjoy the challenge of staying current on the continual changes in clinical practice—based on evidence and research—new technologies, new medications and new organizational processes. 

What can a new nurse in the med-surg specialty expect in the first few months on the job? 

Like most other areas of nursing, a new graduate should expect a reasonable orientation with an experienced preceptor. He or she will perform multiple psychomotor skills. But, more importantly, the new nurse can expect to develop critical-thinking skills when applying didactic content to clinical practice. 

Another thing a new med-surg nurse in this specialty can expect to develop is excellent assessment skills, as well as priority setting and organizational skills. 

I find that new med-surg nurses are often very hard on themselves. They may not recognize a deteriorating patient’s condition right away, but the new graduate has never experienced the situation before. It is essential to have a solid preceptorship and recognize when assistance is needed. 

Lastly, new grads can expect to experience some degree of reality shock and stress. I would like them to know this is normal. They should talk to mentors, former classmates, and current nurses who can help them through this. I would encourage all new nurses to find healthy stress management techniques and do not forget to have fun. To read more on how to create a successful long-term career, click here 

What is the most challenging thing about being a new med-surg nurse? 

Initially, developing priority-setting and organizational skills when managing the care of multiple patients is sometimes quite challenging for new med-surg nurses. New graduates sometimes have difficulties differentiating urgent from non-urgent events. I also think that some of the new graduates experience difficulty in spending less time with each patient somewhat challenging, at least initially. 

What advice can you offer a student nurse or new graduate looking for a job in med-surg nursing? 

I would encourage him or her to find a position in a facility that values nursing excellence in all specialties, including medical-surgical nursing. I would encourage them to ask nurses working in their prospective healthcare facility the following questions: 

  • Does the facility recognize nursing excellence? 
  • Is there a clinical ladder? 
  • Is certification promoted and rewarded? 
  • Is evidence-based practice expected and supported? Is there a healthy work environment? 
  • Do the nurses feel valued? 
  • Do the nurses enjoy working there? 
  • Would they encourage their own families to seek that facility for health care? 
  • How long is the orientation/preceptorship is on the medical-surgical units, and who would be serving as a preceptor? 
  • Is a mentor program available? 

To get all kinds of insight into the specialty, I would encourage the new graduates to access the information available on the AMSN’s Web site to help them in their practice and to e-mail us their questions and concerns. 

I wish student nurses and new grads considering the med-surg profession much success: This type of surgical nursing is challenging, yet extremely rewarding! 

For more information, visit the AMSN Web site. 

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