Surgical technologists are specialized experts ensuring an operating room is optimally sterilized and properly organized. Surgery is only possible with surgical technologists performing their jobs at the highest level.
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 daily.
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 the operation room and equipment are ready for surgery.
Achieving this entails several tasks before, during, and even after the operation.
Before the Procedure
Before surgery, operating room technicians focus on preparing and sterilizing the environment. This involves sterilizing the equipment and operating room itself, preparing patients for surgery, and arranging surgical tools to make them easily accessible to the surgeons and medical teams.
During the Procedure
A surgical technologist’s job continues even after the operation begins. At this point in the procedure, their jobs involve various tasks, including but not limited to ensuring 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 continues even after the surgery. 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, one must complete relevant courses and programs. Universities, vocational schools, junior colleges, community colleges, hospitals, and the military often offer these.
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 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- 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 can choose between a handful of work environments depending on which suits you better. Alternatives include hospital operating rooms, doctor’s offices, and outpatient centers.
Naturally, regardless of the exact facility, a surgical technologist will spend most of their day in the operating room, organizing and sterilizing the environment.
As a surgical technologist, you should be prepared to spend much 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, a few other skills 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 patient questions and concerns. For this reason, having sound listening skills is crucial.
- Coordination - A surgical technologist has to have excellent coordination 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 need more information to work on.
- Critical Thinking - Logic and reasoning are usually required 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 ensure everything else is done.
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 intermediate qualification and works in states that fall into the average salary range.
To improve earning potential, a surgical technologist may acquire more education and 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.