Surgical technologists are specialized experts tasked with making sure that an operating room is optimally sterilized and properly organized. Without surgical technologists performing their jobs at the highest level, surgery would practically be impossible.
As a profession, being a surgical technologist is also quite rewarding as it provides a veritable source of income and a sense of playing a crucial role in saving numerous lives every day.
For an aspiring surgical technologist, understanding the full scope of the profession can seem quite daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. To help make things easier, below is a simple yet detailed guide on everything you need to know to get started on your path to becoming a surgical technologist.
What Do Surgical Technologists Do?
Surgical technologists are often referred to as operating room technicians or scrub techs. Their primary duty is to ensure that the operation room and equipment are ready for the surgical process.
Achieving this entails a handful of tasks that happen before, during, and even after the operation is complete.
Before the Procedure
Before a surgery, operating room technicians focus on preparing and sterilizing the environment. This involves tasks such as sterilizing the equipment and operating room itself, preparing patients for surgery, and arranging surgical tools in a way that makes them easily accessible to the surgeons and medical teams.
During the Procedure
A surgical technologist’s job doesn’t end when the operation begins. At this point in the procedure, their jobs involve a variety of tasks, including but not limited to making sure the operating room stays sterile and organized and passing surgical tools to the surgeon and assistants.
After the Procedure
Again, a surgical technologist’s job doesn’t end when the surgery does. After the procedure, operating room technicians still have to wrap up the procedure by accounting for all tools and instruments used during the surgery, disposing of needles and gauze, applying dressings to the patient’s body parts, and making sure the environment remains sterile until the patient leaves for the recovery room.
To become a surgical technologist, an individual must complete relevant courses and programs. These are often offered by universities, vocational schools, junior colleges, community colleges, hospitals, and also the military.
Surgical technology programs take as long as two years, with the shortest lasting as little as twelve months. Most professionals in the field begin with an associate’s degree that takes two years to complete.
To be accepted into these programs, candidates are often required to have a high school diploma and, sometimes, to have completed a few select courses like physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and medical terminology.
Surgical Technologist Certification
As with most allied healthcare professions, certification for a surgical technologist is usually an advantage and is always strongly advised. The prominent certification body in the field is the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA).
To become certified by them, surgical technologists must have completed programs accredited by any of the following accreditation bodies: The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Those who finished a military program can also sit for the certification exams.
Areas of Specialization
Surgical technologists are trained to be versatile in all types of ORs. That said, many choose to specialize in specific surgical specialty areas. Examples of the most popular areas include:
- Cardiology - surgical procedures involving the heart.
- Neurosurgery - surgical procedures involving the brain.
- Organ transplantation - assisting in surgical procedures involving the transplant of organs to individuals who need them.
- Orthopedic - surgical procedures involving the musculoskeletal system, that is, the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
- Pediatric surgery - surgical procedures involving children
- Plastic surgery - surgical procedures involving restoration and reconstruction of body parts
Surgical Technologist Work Environment
As a surgical technologist, you have the luxury of choosing between a handful of work environments depending on which one suits you better. Alternatives in this regard include hospital operating rooms, doctor’s offices, and outpatient centers, among others.
Naturally, regardless of the exact facility, a surgical technologist will spend the bulk of their day working in the operating room, organizing and sterilizing the environment.
As a surgical technologist, you should be prepared to spend a great deal of time working under surgical lights and wearing surgical gowns and gloves. Additionally, physical stamina is required as standing for an extended period is quite common.
As mentioned above, a surgical technologist must have enough physical stamina and tolerance for warmth. Additionally, there are a few other skills that would serve you well as an operating room technician throughout your career. They include:
Listening Skills - A surgical technologist often has to listen to instructions from the surgical team, along with questions and concerns from the patients. For this reason, having sound listening skills is crucial.
Coordination - A surgical technologist has to have excellent coordination so as to always be in sync with the surgeon’s needs in an OR.
Assimilation - A surgical technologist must assimilate and understand what is required, even when they have very little information to work on.
Critical Thinking - Logic and reasoning are usually needed to make crucial judgments.
Operation and Control - A surgical technologist is in charge of controlling the operations of equipment and systems.
Time management - Time is of the essence during a surgical procedure. An operating room technician must always be on time and make sure everything else is as well.
Surgical Technologist Salary & Career Outlook
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a surgical technologist can expect to earn an average annual salary of $48,530. This is for those who get into the job with the average qualification and works in states that fall into the average salary range.
To improve earning potential, a surgical technologist may choose to acquire more education, certification, or move to a location with a more favorable annual salary.
As for the job outlook, the BLS predicts a 9% growth in the field between 2020 to 2030. This is thanks to recent and continual advancement in medical technology that has seen more and more operations being carried out to treat all kinds of illnesses and injuries.