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Careers for med-surg nurses stretch beyond hospital walls
EDITOR'S NOTE: Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer.
Although most med-surg nurses in the U.S. practice in hospital settings, many who venture beyond acute care are finding their training prepares them for a spectrum of careers in the community.
Med-surg nurses who work outside the traditional hospital environment often don’t sacrifice wages and might even bring home bigger paychecks. The annual average wage for registered nurses working in medical and surgical hospitals is $75,820. Nurses who work in the federal executive branch of the government make an average $87,030 annually or $90,510, on average, if they work in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.
Beyond academia, community clinics and government offices hire nurse educators. In government offices, med-surg nurses provide information to legislators, who do not have a medical or nursing background. “We can interpret things for legislators, so they understand what impact legislation will have on the nursing community and on the patients that we take care of,” Hertel said. “This is a vital role.” Med-surg nurses also work in community clinics, including walk-in clinics, providing nursing care and education, according to Hertel. “We teach clients who are diabetic or who have chronic health conditions such as COPD how to maintain their health, so they don’t have to go into the hospital,” she said. Other career opportunities for med-surg nurses include with pharmaceutical companies as pharmaceutical reps, as well as at pharmaceutical and other corporations, as researchers. Glenda Wheeler, APRN, FNP-BC, CMSRN, said her decades of working as a med-surg nurse at the bedside helped prepare her for what she does today as a nurse practitioner working in a rural clinic in Quinter, Kan. “I think without it, I would not have done as well as a nurse practitioner, especially in a rural setting,” Wheeler said. “In a rural setting, you need to know a little of everything, and as a med-surg nurse, you acquire a well-rounded foundation in all nursing areas. If you’re thinking about an all-around career in nursing, med-surg encompasses disease processes and pre- and postsurgical care and interventions. It prepares you for any specialized area, and also for rural healthcare.” Hertel said she loved working at the bedside as a staff and charge med-surg nurse. But she also loved teaching — so when the door opened to become faculty and pursue a higher education for her own career, Hertel entered. After earning her master’s and educational specialist degrees, Hertel took an entirely new role — still as an educator but not in a classroom. “We also publish textbooks and other review books, including education materials for nursing students, which is what I currently do,” she said. Med-surg, she said, prepared her for each of those careers. Med-surg nurses work closely with patients and have a direct impact on their returning to the healthiest state possible. These nurse specialists learn about teamwork, multitasking, organization, working under pressure and more. “Initially, I thought that I’d spend my entire nursing career at the bedside, but as I continued with my education and participated in AMSN,” Hertel said. “I saw the scope and opportunities I hadn’t considered initially.”
Become an educator
Med-surg nurses in the community are educators, researchers, community health providers, sales representatives and more, according to Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses President-Elect Robin A. Hertel, MSN, EdS, RN, CMSRN. Hertel is an example of a med-surg nurse who went from working for several years on a hospital’s med-surg unit, to teaching nursing, to her current role as a nursing education specialist at ATI Nursing Education in Leawood, Kan., where Hertel develops educational tools for nursing students, such as items for testing, review modules, case studies and more. As nurse educators, med-surg nurses can take on a variety of roles in different industries, Hertel said. “Nurse educators can teach at a technical college or a university,” she said. “Nurse educators can also work for medical device manufacturing companies, teaching customers about the new devices that are coming out. Med-surg nurses have a unique introspect into that because we deal, hands on, with so many different medical devices.” Michele Unrein, MSN, RN, director of nursing for North Central Kansas Technical College’s associate degree nursing program, in Hays, Kan., honed her skills as a nurse on the med/surg unit of a teaching hospital before becoming nurse faculty 26 years ago. “I learned so much by working on that unit,” Unrein said. “That med-surg floor allowed me to take care of so many patients with so many different diagnoses that I was able to use all of my nursing skills and increase my organizational skills.” Unrein was later recruited to teach at the local nursing program, and pursued higher education to advance her nurse education career.
Go from the clinic to a corporation
Find nursing schools close to home
Take a hard look at all options
Med-surg nurses can broaden their career horizons by becoming connected and joining a professional organization — whether that’s a local or state nursing organization, AMSN or another national group, according to Hertel. Hertel also recommends med-surg nurses continue their educations. If they can’t pursue higher degrees, they should consider certification in their area of work. One option in med-surg is to become a Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse, or CMSRN. “If there’s a particular area of med-surg nursing that appeals to you, such as wound care, that’s an option, too” Hertel said. “You can become certified as a wound care nurse and specialize in that. If you’re interested in working with patients who have diabetes, you can become a diabetes educator and work closely with those patients and make a true difference in their lives. Not all work necessarily keeps you at the bedside, but with every opportunity you take, as far as increasing your education, it’s going to open so many doors.”
Beyond academia, community clinics and government offices hire nurse educators. In government offices, med/surg nurses provide information to legislators, who do not have a medical or nursing background.
Robin Hertel, RN
Glenda Wheeler, RN
Community health and education are just two of the options
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By Lisette Hilton
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