Nurse in an operating room

How to Become a Surgical Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Nurse in an operating room

Any healthcare professional who specializes in surgery will tell you there’s nothing quite like the thrill of an operating room environment. It can certainly be intense and requires unwavering focus from everyone in the room. But the feeling of playing a part in a successful operation is a rush unlike anything else. If you’re craving an exciting, fulfilling career where you’re well-compensated for your efforts, becoming a surgical nurse practitioner should be one of the top nursing specialties you’re considering. In fact, we recently featured surgical nurse practitioners on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a surgical nurse practitioner, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a surgical nurse practitioner is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the 18 highest-paying nursing jobs.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner Definition

What Is a Surgical Nurse Practitioner?

Surgical nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with extensive training and operating-room experience. They’re one of the surgeon’s most important assistants in the OR and frequently consult with patients and their caregivers before and after surgery.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Surgical Nurse Practitioner Do?

Surgical nurse practitioners play a major hands-on role during surgeries, frequently performing vital tasks which may include opening surgical sites, using laparoscopic or arthroscopic cameras, closing wounds with sutures, or anything else the surgeon may need. Depending on the area in which they specialize, surgical nurse practitioners can be involved in any type of operation, from life-saving trauma surgery to complex tumor excisions to purely aesthetic plastic surgery. Since surgeons tend to be extremely busy, surgical nurse practitioners are often able to spend more time with patients and their families before and after an operation to answer questions and offer advice.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of surgical nurse practitioners include:

  • Consulting with patients before surgery to answer questions or address concerns
  • Assisting surgeons with important hands-on tasks in the operating room
  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs before, during, and after surgery
  • Administering medication when necessary
  • Meeting with patients and their families after surgery to advise them on recovery goals and timelines

Surgical Nurse Practitioner Skills

Above all else, surgical nurse practitioners must have exceptional attention to detail. The operating room is no place to make mistakes or get careless, as patients’ lives are quite literally on the line. The ability to stay cool under pressure is also essential, as you’ll need to take direction well and take action quickly when a surgeon gives you instructions. Finally, listening and communication skills are critical for any surgical nurse practitioner, as you’ll be spending time with patients and their families and frequently fielding questions about what to expect or how to provide post-surgical care.

Pile of medical masks

Where Do Surgical Nurse Practitioners Work?

Surgical nurse practitioners work anywhere you’ll find operating rooms. Most commonly, that’s within hospitals or dedicated surgical clinics, though you’ll also find them working at urgent-care facilities. Some surgery clinics stick to more standard business hours, but at facilities like hospitals that are open 24 hours a day, some surgical nurse practitioners may need to work shifts during nights, weekends, or holidays.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgical Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Surgical Nurse Practitioner?

Becoming a surgical nurse practitioner doesn’t happen overnight—it’ll require several years of investment into your education and building the necessary work experience. However, nearly any surgical nurse practitioner will tell you the rewards are worth it! Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll need to start by earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months! Surgical nurse practitioners will also need to earn a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) before they’re able to practice as APRNs.

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a surgical nurse practitioner is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a surgical nurse practitioner:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your surgical nurse practitioner education is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. While nursing school is not without its challenges and demands, nearly anyone can become a registered nurse if you’re willing to put in the work. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Like any of the other top nursing specialties, your career as a surgical nurse practitioner starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. While these classes may not be directly related to nursing or medicine, they’ll help you become a better problem-solver and communicator, which will improve your bedside manner with patients as well as your ability to think quickly in the operating room.

Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning the various aspects of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess patients and care for a variety of patient groups. Others will teach you about pharmacology and all the different medicines and units of measure used in the medical field. You’ll go through simulated clinical scenarios, and learn about how to perform various hands-on medical procedures, which will set the foundation for your future as a surgical nurse practitioner.

Alongside your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. Any top healthcare career requires a well-rounded knowledge of the human body, especially for surgical nurse practitioners who often need to answer questions for patients and advise them on how to recover after surgery.

The last step of your BSN education requires completing a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience in an actual medical facility. While your nursing program will involve plenty of simulated training exercises, there’s no substitute for real-world experience where your actions make an impact on real patients’ health. As a surgical nurse practitioner in a bustling operating room, you’ll need to have the utmost confidence in your skills, and that starts with mastering the basics as an RN.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools, and one with a proven track record of supporting their students after graduation. Nursing schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even hung your nursing degree up on the wall!

Smiling nurse in an orange mask

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

Before you can become a surgical nurse practitioner, you’ll need to get licensed as a registered nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you’re getting all the correct answers! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. If you’re the type to get nervous on test day, you may want to look into one of the widely available practice exams. Not only can they familiarize you with the test format, they’ll also show you any topics you may need to review from your BSN program coursework.

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

Once you’ve passed the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to receive a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, which is great for job-seekers looking to make a fresh start somewhere! For a future career as a surgical nurse practitioner, you’ll want to seek out employment somewhere you’ll gain experience in a surgical setting. That will likely mean applying for jobs at specialty surgery clinics and hospital operating wards or emergency departments.

Renewal requirements vary slightly by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your nursing license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been actively working as an RN or participating in continuing education programs, you should be able to keep your license current without any trouble.

5. Earn a Postsecondary Nursing Degree

Like all advanced practice registered nurses, surgical nurse practitioners must complete a postgraduate nursing degree, nearly always a master’s of science in nursing (MSN). Many educational institutions offer MSN programs focused on surgical science, which will give you the specialized skills and knowledge you need to succeed as a surgical nurse practitioner.

You’ll find MSN programs for surgical nursing at many schools across the country, including online programs that allow working full-time as a registered nurse while earning your master’s degree. Typically, earning your MSN degree takes two more years in school, though you can finish some accelerated programs as quickly as 18 months.

6. Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner

After completing an MSN program, most surgical nurse practitioners first become licensed as either Acute Care Nurse Practitioners (ACNP) or Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP) by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Upon gaining sufficient experience in an operating room, you’ll be eligible to earn an additional certification focused specifically on surgical nursing through the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board, which will position you as an excellent candidate for surgical nurse practitioner jobs.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Surgical Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to Salary.com, surgical nurse practitioners earn just under $109,000 per year on average, which adds up to about $52 per hour. The highest-paid surgical nurse practitioners among the top 10% of earners in the field can expect to bring home $125,000 per year and up.

Surgical Nurse Practitioner Job Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for Surgical Nurse Practitioners?

Surgery has never been safer, which means more procedures than ever are being performed for a variety of conditions and ailments. And of course, more surgical procedures means more jobs for surgical nurse practitioners! While the BLS doesn’t provide detailed job data specifically for surgical nurse practitioners, they estimate the overall number of nurse practitioners will increase a massive 45% in the next decade. Considering the average growth rate for all other jobs is around 4%, a career as a surgical nurse practitioner comes with one of the best long-term job outlooks you’ll find anywhere in the healthcare industry.

Ready to Start Your Career as a Surgical Nurse Practitioner?

Other than the surgeons themselves, surgical nurse practitioners are some of the most important players in any operating-room environment. They almost certainly take on more surgical responsibility than anyone who’s not a physician. If you love the idea of a sometimes-intense, but frequently rewarding career, becoming a surgical nurse practitioner could be the best nursing specialty for you! As one of the highest-paid nursing jobs, it offers the chance to earn a great living—and the satisfying teamwork and consistent feelings of accomplishment are tough to beat!

Ready to get started on the road to an exciting, rewarding career as a surgical nurse practitioner? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College, and take the first steps toward your new career in nursing today!