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History of Surgical Nursing

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Surgical nursing, also referred to as medical-surgical nursing, is a specialty of nursing that requires a specific set of skills. The job requires that the nurses possess strong analytical, technical, administrative and organizational skills in addition to the “people” skills normally associated with the nursing profession.


In the late 1800s hospitals consisted of three basic units: medical, surgical and obstetrical. The training of nurses in each of these areas involved preparing them to perform in each of these areas, and each was considered to be a separate entity.


By the 1930s the approach to nurses had changed, and there was no distinct separation between medical and surgical nursing. The National League of Nursing Education began to implement its “Combined Course” guide in 1937 as part of the nurse training curriculum

Return to Specialization

By the 1960s, the pendulum had swung back to treating surgical nursing as a distinct specialty. However, the training of surgical nurses still included elements of medical nursing. The scope of the surgical nurse’s job now began to include the gathering of data, making diagnoses and involvement in the development of treatment and care plans.

Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses

The medical-surgical nursing profession began to further distinguish itself as a distinct entity in 1991 with the founding of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. In 1996, the organization published its own set of standards. In part, these guidelines indicated that surgical nurses must now incorporate research into their job functions.


Today, surgical nursing continues its evolution as a specialty and is the largest group of practicing professionals, according to the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses. They practice in a variety of settings, including hospitals, urgent care facilities, home health care, skilled nursing care facilities and universities. Depending on the work situation, they may be required to care for as many as seven patients at a time.


Chris Joseph writes for websites and online publications, covering business and technology. He holds a Bachelor of Science in marketing from York College of Pennsylvania.

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