Redefining Med-Surg Nursing: From Steppingstone to Lifelong Profession

The nurses station at CHRISTUS Highland Medical. in Shreveport.

Ashley Vaughn, BSN, RN almost joined a labor and delivery team to start her career after graduating from nursing school.

Before accepting, however, she applied to the medical-surgical nursing unit at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center. Her professor said if she started in med-surg, she would acquire the skills for any nursing career.

As part of the interview process, the CHRISTUS Health hiring manager invited Vaughn to the unit to watch the team from a small nursing station. The station sat at the intersection of three hallways of patient rooms.

“I remember sitting there in the nurse's station and watching how much they supported each other,” Vaughn said. “It felt like home.”

Vaughn never left and has been working in med-surg at CHRISTUS since 2015. 

Although the medical-surgical unit is still a great place to learn a wide set of skills, Vaughn, now a clinical supervisor, is part of a growing group of professional nurses who see med-surg as more than a steppingstone.

The Evolution of Med-Surg

Med-surg nursing has paralleled advancements in technology and shifts in patient care needs. As health care became more specialized and advanced, so did the demands on med-surg nurses.

They have begun managing more complex cases, integrating skills beyond basic care. The role of a med-surg nurse has turned into an integral part of the health care system.

For example, many years ago, patients would be required to stay in the hospital for several days after knee surgery. Med-surg nurses would provide dedicated care for these patients until they were medically cleared and discharged.

With advances in medicine, more postoperative care patients rarely stay in the hospital, and if they do, it is just for the night.

“Med-surg is a specialty, although it is often overlooked as one,” said Brandi Knotts, MSN, RN, administrative director of nursing at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center.

Knotts accepted her first leadership position in 2010 overseeing a med-surg unit. Since then, she has seen many nurses start and stay in med-surg.

“They go into it and love it,” she said.

Med-Surg is About Skill Mastery and Teamwork

Med-surg nurses exhibit a strong sense of teamwork. With advanced care facilitating earlier patient discharges, the unit experiences a high turnover, accommodating more patients.

As the hospital's largest unit, it houses 40 beds and caters to a diverse patient population with conditions ranging from dialysis and cardiology to nephrology and palliative care, says Sandra Ouchley, RN lead at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center in Shreveport.

A nurse in this unit must be proficient in a variety of skills to effectively care for patients with diverse conditions. Teamwork is essential for success in delivering comprehensive patient care. 

“We're not going to let you drown, as I say, or feel alone or unsupported,” Ouchley said. “If you need something or if your patient’s not doing well and you need help in that room, we're all running in there.”

Med-Surg has the Culture

As a medical-surgical nurse at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center, acquiring the necessary education and skills is crucial.

A significant aspect of the hospital's culture is to ensure nurses maintain a strong relationship with the education department, gaining the skills essential for job success.

Donavain Mallett, a registered nurse in the medical-surgical unit at CHRISTUS Highland Medical Center, reaffirms this.

Newly graduated from nursing school, Mallett viewed med-surg nursing as a chance to embrace a significant challenge.

His transition from a nursing student to a professional nurse was facilitated by the support and guidance of seasoned colleagues, emphasizing the importance of teamwork.

"From the day I stepped on the floor, it was like, 'Oh, I got this because I had a team that supported me,'" Mallett said.

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