What Is Medical-Surgical (Med-Surg) Nursing Like?

med surg nurse assisting an elderly patient bedside
Written by
Calvin Henninger
August 17, 2023

As the largest, broadest, and most widely defined branch of nursing, the field of med-surg nursing covers a lot of ground! 

Table of Contents

At its most basic level, med-surg nursing involves caring for patients who have a range of medical conditions and surgical needs; this can mean anything from dressing wounds and administering medication to communicating with family members and physicians. 

In this article, we’ll explore the world of med-surg nursing, discussing the responsibilities, challenges, and rewards of this important nursing specialty.

What is the Role of a Med-Surg Nurse?

Med-surg nurses play a crucial role in providing comprehensive care to patients with acute and chronic medical conditions. 

This essentially means that they will be working with patients who have been injured, patients who are recovering from surgery, patients who are dealing with chronic conditions like diabetes, and patients who are recovering from acute illnesses such as pneumonia.

These nurses are responsible for assessing patients, administering medications, monitoring vital signs, coordinating care, and educating patients and their families throughout patients' health journeys. In addition, med-surg nurses collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as physicians, specialists, and allied health staff, to ensure the best possible outcomes for the patients under their care.

The Diversity of Patient Populations

One unique hallmark of med-surg nursing is the incredibly diverse range of patient populations that nurses encounter. 

In most other cases, a nurse’s specialty will go hand in hand with a specific group of patients. Cardiovascular care, for example, will typically feature older patients; pediatric care, by definition, will see you working with younger patients.

Unlike these other specialties, med-surg nurses care for patients across the lifespan, from infants to older adults. In a given week, they may see patients with respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disorders, gastrointestinal issues, renal conditions, orthopedic injuries, or neurological disorders. They’ll be meeting and interacting with patients from all walks of life and in all stages of life.

Working as a med-surg nurse can be an awesome opportunity to bond with patients and hear their stories. However, the diversity of the conditions and treatments also means that med-surg nurses must have a broad knowledge base and the ability to adapt to a wide range of patient needs.

A Fast-Paced and Dynamic Environment

While not the fastest-paced nursing environment—see emergency room nursing for this one!—  working as a med-surg nurse will definitely expose you to some fast-paced and stressful situations. 

Nurses in this specialty often handle multiple patients simultaneously, prioritizing the needs of their patients and making critical decisions quickly. 

Succeeding in this profession requires the ability to manage your time and stay organized, even during particularly chaotic situations. At any given time, med-surg nurses may find themselves juggling multiple competing responsibilities, such as administering medications, speaking to family members and collaborating physicians, documenting patient information, and responding to emergencies.

Collaboration and Multidisciplinary Teamwork

As a med-surg nurse, you’ll often find yourself working with other members of a patient's healthcare team. 

This team can include physicians and physician assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical therapists, and a whole host of other healthcare professionals. Each of these professionals has worked (or will work) with the patient at a stage of their healthcare journey, and part of your job is making sure all of this care remains coordinated and informed.

In an ideal world, this collaboration ensures that your patients receive holistic care that is aligned with their specific needs.

Emotional Support and Patient Advocacy

In addition to the hands-on care they provide, med-surg nurses also serve as advocates for their patients, ensuring their needs and rights are respected. 

During challenging moments in the healthcare journey, med-surg nurses can provide a much-needed lifeline to patients who are feeling demoralized and anxious. The healthcare system can be an incredibly complex and intimidating labyrinth for the average patient to navigate. 

As a med-surg nurse, you’ll be acting as a guide for patients, someone who can help them understand where they are in the process and what the next steps will be. 

Whether it's explaining a complex diagnosis, assisting with end-of-life decisions, or offering a compassionate ear, a huge aspect of your job will be providing comfort and reassurance to patients and their loved ones.

What are the Challenges in Med-Surg Nursing?

While med-surg nursing can be an unbelievably rewarding profession, it is not for everyone. 

To start, the workload can be demanding. Every patient walking through your door will have a different story, with different needs and preferences. While taking some extra time with a patient can make a world of difference to that patient, it can also cause scheduling difficulties for the next six patients you’ll be seeing that day. 

At times, balancing the needs of your patients with your resources—and the facility’s—can be an enormous challenge. To this end, med-surg nurses must be resilient and adaptable to handle these demands. Shift work, including working nights and weekends, can disrupt personal and social life. 

Beyond being stretched thin for time and energy, you will be working in an environment where patient suffering—and even loss—are common. Working in this sort of environment can make it difficult for some nurses to remain emotionally invested in their patients and can take a toll on their mental health.

The Rewards of Med-Surg Nursing

Despite the challenges, med-surg nursing remains a rewarding and fulfilling career for thousands of nurses. There’s nothing quite like witnessing your favorite patients recover, regain their health, and return home.

Beyond this, the variety of the work that you’ll be handling as a med-surg nurse keeps the job interesting and fresh. After all, no two patients walking through your door are the same; each case will present unique challenges that require you to think critically and work with a variety of collaborating healthcare professionals.

Interested in Becoming a Med-Surg Nurse?

At the end of the day, med-surg nursing has its benefits and drawbacks. And whether you think it’s the right field for you or you’d prefer to take your career in a separate direction, we hope this article has helped outline the hard work and dedication involved in being a med-surg nurse.

If you’re interested in learning more about this specialty, check out our ultimate guide to med-surg nursing. In it, we cover everything from tips for new med-surg nurses to an overview of med-surg units within hospitals.

Beyond that, our per-diem nursing blog is an awesome resource for new and experienced nurses alike. Check it out for content related to all specialties of nursing, as well as other nursing-adjacent topics.

Blog published on:
August 17, 2023

Calvin is a contributing copywriter at Nursa who specializes in nursing content centered around healthcare technology for both facilities and clinicians, medical terminology, and current events.

Sign Up with Nursa and Request PRN Jobs near You

Related Blog Posts

See All Blogs
GO BEYOND A SINGLE JOB

Choose Multiple PRN Shifts on Your Schedule

Nursa isn't just about finding a job; it's about crafting your ideal work schedule by selecting shifts. Once you create a Nursa profile, you will experience the convenience of scheduling shifts in real-time.

Certified Nursing Assistant CNA - Assisted Living Memory Care $23.62 per hour
CNA
Date
July 15, 2024
Hourly
$
24
Est. Total
$
19557
View Shift
00:00 - 12:00
Elk Meadows Assisted Living
Certified Nursing Assistant CNA - Assisted Living Memory Care $22.59 per hour
CNA
Date
July 16, 2024
Hourly
$
23
Est. Total
$
18705
View Shift
00:00 - 12:00
Elk Meadows Assisted Living
Certified Nursing Assistant CNA - Assisted Living Memory Care $22.59 per hour
CNA
Date
July 17, 2024
Hourly
$
23
Est. Total
$
18705
View Shift
00:00 - 12:00
Elk Meadows Assisted Living

See More Shifts and Apply Now

Explore and find where you would like to work

Search ShiftsPer Diem Jobs
Briefcase purple icon

Pick Up a Job Today

Find per diem PRN job opportunities in your area. High paying CNA, LPN and RN and many more are now available now.

Join Nursa
Building Purple Icon

Post Your Jobs Today

Facilities who use Nursa fill 3 times as many open per diem shifts, on average, compared to trying to fill the shifts themselves.

Post Jobs
Nursa is no 1 mobile app for clinicians

Download the App Now

App store Button
Google Play button