When it comes time to perform surgery, it takes an entire team of dedicated professionals to ensure a successful operation. While doctors may perform the actual procedure, they couldn't do their jobs without the support of trained operating room technicians. As the health care industry continues to grow, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that demand for operating room technicians, also known as surgical technologists, will increase by 30 percent from 2012 to 2022.
What Does an Operating Room Technician Do?
Operating room technicians may go by a number of different names including surgical technologists, scrubs or surgical room technicians. They are responsible for assisting doctors and nurses before, during, and after a medical operation. For example, an operating room technician may be responsible for setting up sterile equipment and ensuring that it is working properly. The technician may also help prepare the patient by sterilizing incision sites and transporting the individual to the operating room.
During the surgery, an operating room technician will pass surgical instruments to doctors as needed, cut sutures, prepare specimens for laboratory analysis and apply dressings. In addition, they may be responsible for counting equipment, such as sponges and needles, to ensure that all equipment is properly disposed. After surgery, the operating room technician may transfer the patient to a recovery room before cleaning and restocking the surgical room.
Operating Room Technician Training
For those looking to step into a new career quickly, becoming an operating room technician may be an excellent choice. Most training programs in the field can be completed in less than two years with some taking as little as nine months. Operating room technician programs may be offered by:
- Vocational schools
- Junior and community colleges
- Military branches
Choosing a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) allows you to go on to become certified as a surgical technician after graduation. As of 2013, 464 programs nationwide had received this accreditation. While admission requirements may vary, most accredited programs require that you have a high school diploma or GED before enrolling.
During the training, you will receive instruction in a number of subjects including:
- Professional ethics
- Medical terminology
- Care and safety of patients
- Surgical procedures
- Sterilization techniques
After completing the program, you will graduate with a certificate, diploma or Associate's degree, depending on the training you received.
Many operating room technicians choose to take a national examination and become certified before entering the workforce as most employers prefer to hire certified technicians. However, certification is optional and not required by law to work as a technician.
The BLS reports that the vast majority of surgical technologists work in hospitals. Others might work for physicians' and dentists' offices that perform outpatient procedures. Some technicians are known as "private scrubs", which means they are employed directly by a surgeon who wants to work with a specialized surgical team.
How to Become a Great Operating Room Technician
Operating room technician careers can be advanced in the following ways:
Although voluntary, most employers prefer to hire certified operating room technicians. There are two certification opportunities available to operating room technicians. The first is offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), formerly the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist. After you have graduated from a CAAHEP accredited program, you can sit for the council's national certification examination. Once you have passed the exam, you can work as a Certified Surgical Technologist. These technicians must complete sixty hours of continuing education during a four-year period and pass a certifying exam every four years to maintain certification.
The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) also offers certification for operating room technicians. There are three ways individuals can become eligible to take the center's certification exam:
- Complete an accredited training program
- Complete a two year on-the-job training program
- Attain seven years of work experience in the field
Technicians who become certified by the NCCT can use the designation Tech in Surgery-Certified, or TS-C. You must renew the certification every five years by either taking continuing education courses or re-taking the examination.
Operating room technicians who are in the most demand are those who specialize. For example, they may focus on complex procedures such as neurosurgery or liver surgery. Certified Surgical Technologists may also act as surgical first assistants who offer additional services to the surgeon.
In 2013, surgical technologists earned an average annual salary of $42,720 according to the BLS. However, actual incomes for operating room technicians could range from $30,450 to $61,300 depending on education, certification, experience and location. Some states also reported higher than average mean salaries for surgical technologists in 2013, according to the BLS, including the top three:
- California: $57,790
- Hawaii: $55,740
- Nevada: $54,590
Resources for Operating Room Technicians
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Surgical Technologists
- National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA)
- National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, 2014-15 Edition," Surgical Technologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm#tab-1
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2013," Surgical Technologists, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292055.htm