surgical technologist in surgery

What does a Surgical Technologist do?

A surgical technologist (also known as an operating room tech, scrub tech, or Surg tech) assists during an operation. Surgical technologists report to the surgeons, doctors, or specialists who lead the operating or surgical teams. Their primary responsibilities are confined to the operation room and during the surgical procedures. They assist in the set up, during the surgery, and clean up after the surgery in a variety of different ways.

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How to Become a Surgical Technologist

There are numerous pathways one can take to become a surgical technologist, however, you must become trained. There are diploma programs, associate degrees, and certifications pertaining to surgical technology. You can attend a college or private institute that offers an accredited training program in surgical technology. There are also vocational training programs that are usually short courses that run for a few months to a year in surgical technology. If you want to attend college you can also earn an associate’s degree in as little as 2 years at a community college. Most degrees or programs include training and coursework in anatomy, medical terminology, pharmacology, technology, and equipment used in this profession.

Once the relevant training and skills are acquired a surgical technologist must become certified to work in this occupational field. The most common certification route is sitting for the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam. According to the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) as of January 2017 all individuals that want to sit for this exam must graduate from a school accredited through the Commission of Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Therefore, it is pertinent to check with your program upon enrolling or inquire with the licensing board in your state prior to starting your studies.

The exam currently exists of 200 questions. However, only 175 are actually scored, the other 25 questions are placed throughout the assessment for pure analysis and statistical evaluation or as sample questions. Exam content includes but is not limited to preoperative preparation, intraoperative procedures, postoperative procedures, administrative and personnel, equipment sterilization and maintenance, anatomy, microbiology, and surgical pharmacology.

Fifty percent of the exam focuses on peri-operative care followed by basic sciences, sterilization and administrative duties. In 2015, the NBSTSA reported the national pass rate at 70% for those that took the paper version and 75% for the computer-based version. This exam should not be taken lightly and only upon passing this exam are you certified.

There are other certification programs a surgical technologist can pursue as well such as Tech in Surgery, Certified (TS-C). This is awarded by the National Center for Competency Testing or NCCT, for more information go to their website.

Job Description of a Surgical Technologist

The job description of a surgical technologist can be varied and shall depend on the specializations that one has. For instance, a surgical technologist may assist surgeons in carrying out intensive surgeries of various parts of the body. In which case, a surgical technologist would need to be skilled in offering assistance to manage all kinds of medical equipment necessary for the procedure. A surgical technologist may also work at a dental clinic or a specialized medical facility, not necessary at a hospital.

According to O*NET OnLine, a surgical technologist must:

  • Maintain a proper sterile field during surgical procedures.
  • Count sponges, needles, and instruments before and after operation.
  • Scrub arms and hands and assist the surgical team to scrub and put on gloves, masks, and surgical clothing.
  • Provide technical assistance to surgeons, surgical nurses, or anesthesiologists.
  • Prepare patients for surgery, including positioning patients on the operating table and covering them with sterile surgical drapes to prevent exposure.
  • Hand instruments and supplies to surgeons and surgeons’ assistants, hold retractors and cut sutures, and perform other tasks as directed by surgeon during operation.
  • Prepare, care for, and dispose of tissue specimens taken for laboratory analysis.
  • Wash and sterilize equipment, using germicides and sterilizers.
  • Monitor and continually assess operating room conditions, including patient and surgical team needs.
  • Operate, assemble, adjust, or monitor sterilizers, lights, suction machines, or diagnostic equipment to ensure proper operation.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics most surgical technologists work in a hospital setting followed by outpatient facilities. A surgical technologist typically works forty hours a week. This may include nights, weekends, and emergency situations beyond normal scheduling.

In addition, surgical technologists are on their feet for extended periods of time and frequently more than 8 hours at a time. Surgical technologists also encounter communicable diseases, exposure to internal and external body parts, and may smell foul odors during surgical procedures. However, advances in science and technology have definitely made it safer and less intrusive making the job a little easier.

Surgical Technologist Career Video Transcript

Have you ever seen footage of surgeries and wondered who all those people in the operating room were? Surgical technologists and surgical assistants ensure the operating room is ready for each procedure, and work under the direction of surgeons to assist with surgical procedures. Surgical technologists and assistants know the terminology and tools needed for many different types of surgeries. They prepare the equipment and supplies and assist the surgical team to scrub and put on gloves, masks, and sterile gowns.

During the operation, they make sure surgeons have the instruments they request at a moment’s notice. They may hold retractors, cut sutures, and apply or assist with applying bandages, then transfer patients to recovery. They are also responsible for counting sponges, needles, and other instruments before and after the operation. In addition to technologist tasks, surgical assistants may operate suction equipment or suture a wound. Surgical technologists and assistants work in hospitals and outpatient surgery centers. Their work environment requires a comfort level with blood, body fluids, and critically ill patients.

They sometimes work overnight shifts, or are on call for emergencies. Surgical technologists need a certificate or associate’s degree in surgical technology. Surgical assistants typically have experience as a surgical technologist or have completed a formal education program in surgical assisting. Surgical technologists’ work spans from the mundane and routine to urgent and critical, all with the focus on saving lives and aiding healing.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Surgical Technologists.

National Center for O*NET Development. 29-2055.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.

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