Surgery is an exact and highly calculated endeavor. But as crucial as maintaining absolute precision during the surgical process is maintaining fundamental organization and sterilization in the surgical environment.
And that’s where surgical technologists - operating room technicians, scrub techs, surgical techs, and scrubs - come in.
They play such a vital role in a surgical theater that their jobs are highly estimated in the allied healthcare world. But how exactly can you begin a career as a surgical technologist? And how complex is the process? We take a look at all of these and more below.
Steps to Becoming a Surgical Technologist
While there are quite a few different approaches to becoming a surgical technologist, below is a step-by-step overarching guide that is common to all approaches:
Step 1: Obtain a Diploma
Aspiring students must obtain a high school diploma or GED to become a surgical technologist. This requirement is the same for most post-secondary surgical technologist programs.
These programs often have prerequisite courses, including biology, physiology, and anatomy. It is advisable for high school students who wish to pursue a career in surgical technology to take these courses.
It is also an added advantage to gain general experience in healthcare by pursuing an internship in a local hospital.
Step 2: Earn a Degree
Most people become surgical technologists by earning an associate’s degree. Obtaining an associate’s degree usually takes two years, although reducing this to nine months in an expedited program is possible.
An essential aspect of choosing a program is looking out strictly for accredited ones. Enrolling in an accredited program comes with many benefits, not the least of which is the ease of securing employment.
Additionally, a surgical technology graduate must have obtained their degree from an accredited program to sit for the National certification exam.
It is also possible to become a surgical technologist by obtaining relevant training from the military instead of going through a college program.
Step 3: Professional Experience
Having a real-world, professional experience of what you’re learning is always a good idea, no matter the field you find yourself in. As an aspiring surgical technologist, this becomes even more imperative.
Not only do you need professional experience to secure a job, but you also need one to sit for most certification exams. Thankfully, most accredited programs ensure that they incorporate clinical training and internships in their curriculums.
Step 4: Certification Examination
Graduates of a surgical technology program are often incentivized to sit for certification examinations for one reason or another. The first common reason people opt to get certified is that it is sometimes state-mandated.
However, even in states where certification is not mandatory to practice professionally, people still choose to write these certification exams because it is much easier to get a job with one than without.
Hospitals and medical facilities simply prefer certified personnel because they are believed to meet the criteria to perform their jobs by their certifications. Also, thanks to the continuing education requirements, certification helps a surgical technologist to keep improving and stay on top of the constant developments in the field.
Step 5: Job Application
Once you graduate from an accredited program and get certified, securing employment in an appropriate institution is next. While most surgical technologists are prepared to work in general operating rooms, some choose to specialize even further in fields such as neurosurgery, pediatric surgery, orthopedic surgery, and so on.
Also, the work environment for a surgical technologist is broader than just a hospital alone. They can also work in outpatient care facilities and specialized doctors’ offices.
Surgical Technologist Role Requirements and Responsibilities
Surgical technologists play a crucial role in the success of any operation. Apart from their primary task of keeping the operating room in optimal sterile and organized condition, they are also expected to prepare the patients for the upcoming procedure.
Furthermore, a surgical technologist also assists the surgeon and surgical team in arranging crucial equipment and passing them to the appropriate personnel when needed.
For this reason, a surgical technologist must understand and respect the chain of command in an OR. This chain of command begins with the surgical technologist, up to the surgical assistants, the nurses, the anesthesiologists, and the surgeons.
Essential Skills & Traits
As a surgical technologist, you will learn most of the technical aspects of the job in a college program or military training. But apart from the scientific aspects of the job, there are specific skills and dispositions that a surgical technologist must have based on the unique requirements of their roles in an operation room. Below are some of the most prominent:
- Following Instructions - As mentioned above, there is a hierarchy in the operating room, and surgical technologists are often at the bottom. For this reason, they must be willing to follow instructions to the letter immediately they’re given.
- Coordination - A surgical technologist will find themselves handling and arranging surgical equipment if only to pass it to the appropriate personnel on the team. For this reason, a steady hand is essential.
- Detail-Oriented - An operating room is the height of the organization. There are so many moving parts, and a surgical technologist keeps everything sterile and organized. Therefore, they must pay attention to every detail and movement and ensure that nothing is out of place.
- Teamwork - Surgical technologists will inevitably find themselves working alongside basically every surgery team member. This can be tough for those who are not natural team workers.
- Others - Other essential skills for a surgical tech include communication skills, focus, problem sensitivity, and the ability to monitor people and instruments.
What’s Next After Employment?
As they gain more experience in the field and feel the urge to move on to more prominent roles, surgical technologists may consider pursuing careers in similar healthcare fields with higher pay.
This way, a surgical technologist can become an anesthesia technician, surgical first assistant, registered nurse, physician assistant, or physician.