A surgical technologist is an important member of the operating room team, working closely with anesthesiologists, surgeons and circulating nurses to ensure that every surgery goes according to plan. Also known as scrubs or operating room technicians, surgical technologists may help set up the operating room, prepare and transport patients for surgery, adjust lights and equipment, pass instruments and other supplies to surgeons and surgeon's assistants, hold retractors, cut sutures, and help count sponges, needles, instruments and other supplies. It can be rewarding to interact with the patients and comfort those who are afraid of going into surgery.
Day in the Life of a Surgical Technologist
Surgical technologists (also known as operating room technicians,) perform a number of duties before and during surgery. This makes surgical technician jobs important and rewarding. On a typical day, a surgical technician job description might include the following duties.
- Prepare patients for surgery, including transporting them to the operating room, positioning them on the operating table and covering them with sterile surgical drapes to prevent exposure
- Set up surgical instruments and equipment
- Prepare sterile solutions
- Assemble any necessary sterile or non-sterile apparatus
- Wash, shave and disinfect incision sites
- Observe and monitor patient charts and vital signs
- Assist the surgical team with sterile gowns and gloves
- Maintain a proper sterile field during surgical procedures
- Pass sterile supplies and instruments to surgical assistants and surgeons
- Help apply dressings to surgical incisions
- Hold retractors, severing sutures around wounds
- Keep track of needles, sponges and other instruments
- Help collect, confine, care for and dispose of laboratory specimens
- Run diagnostic equipment or operate sterilizers, lights or suction machines
Surgical technicians' duties vary depending on the size and type of hospital where they work. For example, a surgical technician in a small hospital may assist in many types of surgery. Those who work in a large medical center may work in a certain specialty, such as women's health, and assist only with operations related to that specialty.
Important Characteristics for Surgical Technologists
Successful operating room technicians typically have the following traits and skills:
- Accuracy and attention to detail, to ensure the surgery goes smoothly
- Manual dexterity to handle surgical instruments
- The ability to work well under pressure
- A desire to help others, whether assisting the surgical team or comforting patients
- Effective communication with both the surgical team and patients
- Physical stamina, necessary for moving patients and standing during lengthy operations
The typical path to becoming a surgical technologist includes these major steps: education, certification and continuing education. Here are a few details about each one.
- Earn an associate degree, diploma, or certificate from an accredited school.
Programs that train students to become surgical technicians can be found at many community colleges, universities, hospitals, vocational schools and military institutions. These surgical technician schools offer training programs that last anywhere from 9 months to 2 years and may culminate in any of the credentials previously mentioned. Programs usually provide both classroom education and supervised clinical training.
Become professionally certified.
Professional certification is voluntary but it can give a surgical technician greater credibility in the eyes of many potential employers. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), formerly the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist (LCC-ST), awards professional certification to graduates who pass a nationally standardized examination after attending an educational program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Complete courses in continuing education.
After becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), you must earn 60 hours of relevant continued education or retake and pass the certification exam at the end of a four-year period.
Other Ways to Prepare for a Surgical Technologist Career
It is also possible to earn your certificate by completing a two-year, on-the-job training program or acquiring seven years of work experience in the medical field and contacting the National Center for Competency Testing. Certification earned in this manner must be renewed every 60 months through either retesting or continuing education.
Surgical Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed Jan. 2018, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/surgical-technologists.htm
Summary Report for Surgical Technologists, O*NET OnLine, Accessed Jan. 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-2055.00