Top paying med-surg nursing jobs
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How to Find Top-Paying Med-Surg Nursing Jobs

When building a rewarding nursing career, your choice of specialty can significantly impact your job satisfaction and salary. If you’re interested in the medical-surgical nursing specialty, this guide provides valuable information on finding top-paying med-surg nursing jobs. It also covers the benefits of accepting travel assignments and actionable tips for growing your med-surg nursing career.

Medical-Surgical Nursing Overview

Medical-surgical nursing, often abbreviated as med-surg nursing, encompasses a broad range of surgical and nonsurgical conditions. It includes caring for patients with various medical concerns (medical nursing) and caring for surgical patients before and after surgical procedures (surgical nursing). Choosing this specialty means having extensive knowledge and expertise as a nursing professional.

According to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, med-surg nursing is the largest nursing specialty in the United States. Med-surg nurses work in all types of healthcare environments and cover a wide array of tasks. Some of the most common duties associated with med-surg nursing include:

  • Taking vital signs
  • Providing bedside care
  • Administering medications
  • Starting IVs
  • Inserting catheters
  • Changing surgical or wound dressings
  • Setting up and adjusting monitoring equipment
  • Documenting adverse events
  • Reporting status changes to physicians and other care providers
  • Participating in the discharge planning process

Current Demand and Employment Outlook for Med-Surg Nurses

Experienced med-surg nurses are in high demand, evidenced by the 8,619 staff jobs and 36,692 travel med-surg nurse jobs posted on Vivian Health on December 15, 2022. These jobs may or may not involve telemetry since there’s some overlap between med-surg nursing and telemetry nursing jobs. Besides traditional med-surg units in acute care hospitals, experienced med-surg nurses may also be in demand in various surgical units and work settings dealing with wound care, among others.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide projected demand for med-surg nurses specifically, it indicates that registered nurses as a whole will see a 6% increase in demand between 2021 and 2031, resulting in more than 195,000 new RN positions. Due to the versatility of med-surg nurses, many new opportunities may be for these specialized nurses, offering a positive employment outlook over the next decade.

Med-Surg Nursing Employment

Many med-surg nurses work in hospitals and standalone surgery centers, but employers all over the country need skilled med-surg nurses. The healthcare industry’s current focus on reducing patients’ hospital stays further increases employment prospects for qualified medical-surgical nurses in numerous practice settings. Thus, you can also find career opportunities in the following places:

  • Health insurance companies: Insurance companies rely on experienced med-surg nurses to handle calls from customers who have questions about their health. Some companies also hire med-surg nurses to make outbound calls to counsel patients about their post-surgical care.
  • Nursing homes: Residents of nursing homes need around-the-clock care. Med-surg nurses use their skills to care for residents recovering from various medical conditions and surgical procedures.
  • Military bases: Some military bases have their own hospitals or clinics. Med-surg nurses provide high-quality care to service members and their families.
  • Home health agencies: Some patients receive presurgical or postsurgical care in their homes, making med-surg nurses an asset to home health agencies.
  • Outpatient clinics: Some clinics hire med-surg nurses to conduct assessments on patients with upcoming surgical procedures.
  • Correctional facilities: Local, state and federal correctional facilities hire med-surg nurses to provide high-quality care to inmates.

Average Med-Surg Nursing Salaries

Staff med-surg nursing salaries averaged $37.24 per hour or nearly $1,490 if working a 40-hour workweek, per Vivian’s salary data in mid-December 2022. However, the average weekly salary for med-surg travel nurses is usually significantly higher. During this same period, travel med-surg nurse salaries averaged $2,556 nationwide.

Average salaries for staff and travel nurses vary greatly by geographic location, often hinging on the cost of living and current demand in a specific area. Employers in some states offer well above the national average for these and other reasons, with pay often fluctuating as demand grows, then wanes. The following table provides a sample of the highest-paying states and states with lower pay rates coupled with lower costs of living, based on Vivian’s salary information in mid-December 2022.

State Average Hourly Staff Salary Average Weekly Travel Salary
New Jersey $41 $2,974
North Dakota $30 $2,954
California $54 $2,944
New York $42 $2,786
Texas $36 $2,055
Florida $33 $1,800
Oklahoma $31 $2,279

Tips for Growing Your Med-Surg Nursing Career

No matter how much experience you have, there are always ways to take your med-surg nursing career to new heights. Take these steps if you’re interested in advanced opportunities and finding top-paying med-surg jobs.

Obtain Professional Certifications

Some employers may require professional certification, but even if they don’t, you can give your nursing career a tremendous boost by pursuing these credentials voluntarily. Certification demonstrates your expertise in the medical-surgical nursing field. Two credentialing agencies offer specialty certification for med-surg nurses.

The Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board (MSNCB) offers the Certified Medical-Surgical Registered Nurse (CMSRN) credential to nurses who meet eligibility requirements. To sit for the CMSRN exam, you must have a current RN license and a minimum of 2 years of experience in a med-surg setting. The MCNCB also requires candidates to have completed at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice hours within the past 3 years before taking the exam.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Medical-Surgical Nursing Board Certification (MEDSURG-BC). The MEDSURG-BC designation evaluates entry-level skills and clinical knowledge. To sit for the exam, you must have a valid nursing license and at least 2 years of full-time experience as a registered nurse. The ANCC also requires candidates to have a minimum of 2,000 hours of med-surg clinical practice and 30 hours of continuing education in med-surg nursing within the past 3 years before taking the exam.

Network With Other Nursing Professionals

Nursing conferences

Networking with other nursing professionals allows you to exchange ideas and discuss tough cases. Once you establish positive relationships within your professional network, your contacts may be willing to tell you about exciting job opportunities or connect you with recruiters or hiring managers interested in hiring a skilled med-surg nurse. You can use networking as a stepping stone to higher pay and better assignments, growing your career accordingly.

Create a Vivian Health Profile

Vivian Health is a job market resource used by some of the top healthcare employers in the country. Creating a Vivian Universal Profile gives you access to med-surg job opportunities and makes connecting with healthcare organizations and staffing agencies easier. Our career resources can help you find the best travel nursing assignments. You can read reviews of staffing agencies and health facilities to learn how other medical professionals feel about these companies. Our salary tool and job pages help you research pay rates for various jobs and see how many listings a facility currently has open.

Accept Travel Nursing Assignments

Whether you’re interested in med-surg/telemetry nursing jobs or traditional med-surg roles, accepting travel assignments has many benefits. One of the top benefits is a high amount of flexibility. Instead of working the same hours week in and week out, you choose when and where you work, with assignments that fit your schedule. Here are three more benefits you might enjoy as a travel med-surg nurse.

  • Travel Nursing Compensation

Travel nurses are well-compensated for their expertise and flexibility to fill in where they’re needed most across the country. As a travel nurse, you may fill an assignment in an underserved area or work in a hospital struggling to retain experienced staff. Employers often pay a premium for med-surg nurses who can fulfill their needs on short notice and sometimes just for a few weeks.

  • Diverse Work Environments

Another benefit is working in different practice environments, which can help you decide the best fit for your personality and professional interests. Travel nursing may have you working in a correctional facility one month and a nursing home the next, allowing you to weigh the pros and cons of each setting.

If you focus solely on hospital assignments, you may rotate through several departments, including the ICU, telemetry unit, recovery room and preoperative unit, making it easier to determine which department best fits your skills and temperament.

  • Valuable Perks

Travel nursing often comes with perks you don’t get with a staff nursing position. For example, travel nurses who claim a permanent tax home may receive tax-free housing allowances and per diems to cover meals and incidentals. Plus, traveling doesn’t mean you must give up common perks offered to staff nurses. Travel staffing agencies often offer their travelers health insurance and other desirable benefits you usually only get in permanent positions.

Education and Licensing Requirements for Travel Med-Surg Nurses

financial aid for nurses

Each state has its own education and licensing requirements for RNs interested in med-surg nursing. However, you usually must complete a nursing education program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to obtain a license. Before you can sit for the NCLEX, you must obtain an Authorization to Test (ATT) from your state’s licensing body. Depending on where you plan to practice, you may need to provide official transcripts, undergo LiveScan fingerprinting or meet other requirements to obtain RN licensure.

Although it’s possible to get a med-surg nursing job without a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), consider obtaining a bachelor’s degree to access as many career opportunities as possible. To qualify for Magnet status, 100% of a hospital’s nurse leaders must have their BSN degrees. Even if you’re not a charge nurse or nursing supervisor, you may be considered a nurse leader by virtue of your influence on the clinical practice of other nurses. Thus, your preferred employer may only select applicants with a BSN.

Getting a BSN can also help you meet current and potential legal requirements related to nursing education. In 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed New York’s “BSN in 10” bill into law. Under this law, a newly licensed nurse must complete a BSN degree within 10 years of entering practice. If other states follow suit, having a BSN can help you qualify for a greater variety of med-surg nursing roles sooner versus later.

Rachel Norton BSN, RN

Rachel Norton has been a critical care nurse since 2007. She grew up in the northeast but enjoys every corner of the country. Her passions are people and travel, so travel nursing allows Rachel to both meet amazing people and satisfy her wanderlust - and she loves inspiring other nurses to do the same.

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