Do I have to Work Med-Surg as a New Grad Nurse?

  • Save

Oh, the great med-surg debate! As a new grad nurse do I have to work med-surg?

The short answer to that question is no! But why is it no? Choosing what career of nursing to go into is very nerve-racking.

School is bad enough but during all that schooling, we have to decide where we want to start our career.

Have any of you heard this?

  • “New grad nurses must work med-surg.”
  • “Med-surg is where you want to go…you need to make sure you master and keep your skills sharp.”
  • “Every new grad nurse needs at least two years of med-surg before you can go do something else.” 

As a new grad nurse do I have to work med-surg? The short answer…no!

Thomas N. Uzuegbunem, BSN, RN

I have no issues with med-surg nursing, and while it can be a great area to start not every new grad nurse needs or wants to go into med-surg.

Maybe there was a time that you had to go through med-surg to get to where you want.

But with the shortage of nursing and where we are at in healthcare that is not really the case any longer.

Example Scenario

Let me give you a scenario. Let’s say that you wanted to go into operating room(OR) nursing. Or you want to go into psychiatric nursing, but you were told to go spend a couple of years in med-surg as a new grad nurse…

just to “get your skills down” before you can go do what you wanted to do.

You do the 2 years or so of med-surg and then you go into psychiatric medicine or you go into the OR.

Let’s say you spend five or ten years in psychiatric medicine or the OR. After a couple of years, how much of med-surg do you remember let alone after 5 or 10 years?

I would argue probably not a lot. Those skills that were “sharpened” would now be very dull.

You remember what you need to do your job in psych or the OR effectively.

I’ll give you another scenario, let’s say at the end of those 10 years you decide that you were going to change areas and move back into med-surg nursing or another specialty.

I would argue that when you go for rehire they will treat you similar to a new grad nurse because you have never worked in that specialty or you’ve been out of that specialty for a long time.

Figure Out Where You’re Going

Knowing your destination makes it easier to identify the road you need to get there.

Thomas N. Uzuegbunem, BSN, RN

What I would recommend is to do a career vision cast. Doing a career vision cast forces you to think about where you want to end up in your career.

Knowing your destination makes it easier to identify the road you need to get there.

For example, if your goal was to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA), you already know that you should probably start in the intensive care unit (ICU) or the emergency room (ER).

What if you wanted to become a pediatric nurse practitioner?

Wouldn’t it make sense to start working in pediatrics to better prepare for that role?

I would argue that starting in med-surg as a new grad nurse would probably slow down those goals mentioned above.

Related Article: 5 Best Jobs for New Nurses

Not Every Nurse Wants to do Patient Care

Here is something else to think about. Not every nurse wants to do patient care.

I have met a lot of nurses and nursing students that don’t want to participate in direct patient care forever, and that’s ok.

I have met a nursing student who was in the process of finishing up nursing school and was already accepted to go to law school.

Their plan is not to do patient care at all. What if your goal was to do case management?

There are many nursing jobs that don’t involve direct patient care and starting in med-surg as a new nurse would not really be needed.

What Do Managers Care About

…skills can be taught. What is harder to teach is a nurse that cares about their personal brand…is a leader…and cares about pursuing excellence…

Thomas N. Uzuegbunem, BSN, RN

What about what managers care about? Somebody might say that managers want to see that you have been through med-surg.

Do they really?

While depending on the position this may or may not be true. I believe it is important to note that skills can be taught. What is harder to teach is a nurse that cares about their personal brand.

A nurse that is a leader and has leadership qualities. A nurse that cares about pursuing excellence in their job every day.

Using Med-Surg Nursing as a Stepping Stone

I should mention that it’s important to know that some areas will be harder to get into fresh out of nursing school than others. You should still try if that’s what you want, but areas such as OR nursing, ER nursing or even ICU nursing can be very competitive.

What this means is you might have to use med-surg as a bridge to get you there.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is med surg experience necessary?

No, it’s not. There are a lot of different nursing specialties new nurses can work in to get a great first-year experience that sets them up for a successful nursing career.

Is med-surg a great place to start?

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with starting your career in medical-surgical nursing especially if you’re not sure what direction you want to take your nursing career in.

Final Thoughts

Here’s our final thoughts on working med-surg as a new grad nurse.

a medical surgical floor
  • Save

My final thought is that there is nothing wrong with med-surg or starting out in med-surg nursing.

If a new grad nurse doesn’t know where he/she would like to start their career med-surg can be a good starting point.

But if you already know what you want, why delay it!

What are your thoughts? Do you think that there is an area of healthcare that all new nurses should start in?

Please share this article so we can get the word out and educate others.

Related Articles on Med-Surg as a New Grad Nurse

Update: This post was originally published in January, 2018. This article has been reviewed and updated.


  1. Thank you for the article, I was really debating where to go. I really want to do dialysis and people were looking at me crazy because I didn’t see it neccessary to do med-surg first right after nursing school. So, thanks

    1. Hey Olivia-Dior,

      I’m glad you found this helpful. It is possible to be successful as a nurse without med-surg. I wish you all the best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *