Dr. LaToya Freeman Shares Insights on Med-Surg Nursing

Dr. LaToya Freeman Shares Insights on Med-Surg Nursing

A member of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN), LaToya Freeman DNP, APRN, ACCNS-AG, CPPS, HNB-BC, PCCN is also a clinical nurse specialist at Michigan Medicine. In honor of Med-Surg Nurses Week, Dr. Freeman shared her thoughts about this nursing specialty with Minority Nurse. Above all else, she sees a positive future ahead. 

“The best days for nursing are in front of us,” says Freeman.

Tell me a little about your current role and how you got into the field of med-surg nursing.
My nursing journey began over 14 years ago, following a “no” from a college advisor and a passion for medicine. Nursing has given me a purpose outside of myself and an amazing opportunity to connect with others compassionately during vulnerable moments.  

My current role is one of the roles I have enjoyed the most during my journey. As a clinical nurse specialist, I am seen as the clinical expert and a change agent. I am able to influence patient care and outcomes through three spheres of practice: patients, nurses, and the system/organization. I have had the pleasure of working with multidisciplinary teams to provide quality care to patients through a multitude of venues. My background is mostly comprised of critical care as a staff nurse, but I would teach med-surg nursing clinicals as adjunct faculty. This is where I had the opportunity to connect with bedside staff on med-surg units, and I was able to understand that med-surg nursing is truly a specialty. It takes skill, a strong foundation, grit, and a passion as they are building their practice and developing their critical thinking skills. It is quite an honor to observe a new nurse with the complexities of med-surg patients grow from novice to expert. 

What are some of your typical responsibilities over a week?
My responsibilities over a week range in a variety of functions, which is another reason why I enjoy my role. The CNS optimizes patient care by working with care teams and nursing staff, educating nurses, educating patients and the families supporting and managing their conditions, analyzing data and patient care outcomes, assisting in research, bringing evidence-based practice to the bedside, creating policy that drives patient care, and implementing patient care programs. 

What aspects of your education and training are most valuable to you in your career?
My most valuable training was completing my doctoral studies. As I am a lifelong learner, I have completed my BNS, MSN/Ed, post-masters, and DNP. All of my educational experiences provided a different level of thinking to support patients and nursing staff. With my most recent degree, the DNP, I was able to obtain skills to influence organizations with system thinking and application of advancing nursing practice and improving patient care outcomes. This training has been beneficial in supporting the med-surg nursing units.  

Are there particular skills that serve med-surg nurses best and how do they help?
When you think about the needs of patients on med-surg units, one of many skills includes critical thinking such as critically thinking through treatment plans, orders, lab interpretation, and the nursing impact on the care being provided. Adaptability is another skill that serves well within med-surg. There are constant changes from the patient, the provider, and often the organization so being flexible is imperative. Flexibility is one of the keys to nursing. The other skill that is role modeled often is compassion. Patients are coming to the hospital during vulnerable times and may be provided an unfavorable diagnosis. Being able to connect with patients and families and support them during a challenging time is what nursing is all about.  

What do you like about working in med-surg?
Med-surg nursing is a quiet secret in the nursing profession. Unless you work in med-surg, you may not understand the complexities of patients that are treated within the walls of med-surg.  Med-surg is a specialty of its own, providing a variety of skills, problem-solving, and understanding of multiple diagnoses within the same admission. Med-surg nurses wear several hats and juggle a variety of tasks within a typical assignment. Watching nurses thrive in this setting while providing exceptional care to the patients and taking care of each other is a sight that warms the heart. 

How does a professional organization like AMSN help your career?
Creating opportunity for professional development by a variety of means such as conferences, continuing education, and publications has been helpful. Committees within AMSN have assisted with networking with other professionals outside of my local circle. The publication journals supported by AMSN provided a venue to disseminate best practices.  

Acknowledgement of the specialty by honoring the med-surg nurses with the PRISM award has assisted in leveraging the careers of many nurses by highlighting the amazing work that is completed daily.

Celebrating Med-Surg Nurses Week

Celebrating Med-Surg Nurses Week

This week, November 1-7, celebrates Medical-Surgical Nurses Week and focuses on the work the careers of nurses in this specialty.

Organizations including the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses and the Medical-Surgical Nursing Certification Board  promote this week to raise awareness of how med-surg nurses help patients, the skills they use and develop, and the career path of nurses who choose med-surg.

Med-surg is one area of nursing, but the skillset required of these nurses covers a wide breadth and depth of responsibilities. Med-surg nurses, the largest specialty of nurses, work in all areas of healthcare. They are hired to treat patients in hospitals, health centers, surgical centers, and offices. Med-surg nurses also find their skills in high demand so this role is a popular one for travel nurses as well.

If you’re a nursing student considering this as a career path, you might wonder what does a med-surg nurse do? Nurses in this role practice a high-level of hands-on care with their patients. They are treating patients who are ill with various ailments or they may care for those who are preparing for or recovering from surgery.

As with anyone in a nursing career, med-surg nurses need to have excellent critical thinking skills and must be confident in their work. They’re required to make immediate decisions and to notice when a patient’s health has changed in the slightest way.

As a med-surg nurse, you’ll be using the skills you have to assess the whole patient, so even if you’re treating someone who is recovering from a GI surgery, you’ll be watching for other symptoms or changes. You’ll want to be alert to changes in breathing, new indications of pain, and even changes in skin color that others may not see in their assessments.

Because of this essential high level of awareness and understanding of the patient, you’ll need to know a lot of information and be committed to a lifelong learning process. Med-surg nurses have all reached the professional attainment of a registered nurse. As a professional med-surg nurse, becoming certified is an additional step that shows you will provide the highest level of care to your patients and also demonstrates a dedication to the nursing practice. As med-surg nurses continue to advance in their careers, they should pursue recertification to continue learning of the latest developments and advances that will help them care for their patients.

If you’re already working as a med-surg nurse, this is a week to celebrate all your life-saving work. Be sure to check out the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses week-long celebration including several virtual events you can tune into for free. As an experienced nurse in this area, you know this career offers constant change and you probably see new conditions and challenges all the time. During a year of a worldwide pandemic, however, your career probably looks very different than any other year. The COVID-19 crisis has posed a serious threat to the physical and mental health of med-surg nurses even as it reaffirmed their commitment to helping save lives.

During this year’s med-surg nurses celebrations, reassessing how you can support yourself and your team is important. Talk to your colleagues to see how you can all work together when you are seeing more patients than you ever have at once. Talk with family, friends, or professional therapists to help when you are overwhelmed. And continue to reaffirm your career choice and know a world is grateful for the work you do.