Surgical technologists, sometimes called “scrub techs” are Allied Health Professionals who assist in surgical procedures under the supervision of surgeons and registered nurses. A surgical technologist provides surgical care to patients in a variety of settings. They possess expertise in theory and application of sterile and aseptic technique and combine the knowledge of anatomy, surgical procedures and implementation of tools and techniques to assist the surgeon in performance of invasive procedures.
What do Surgical Technologists do?
The surgical technologist’s role as a member of the operating room team is to ensure quality patient care during the operative procedure and constant vigilance in maintaining a sterile field. The surgical technologist can perform a variety of functions depending on their work environment. They check supplies and equipment for the procedures, set up sterile tables with instruments, supplies, equipment and medications/solutions, perform appropriate counts with the circulating nurse, drape the sterile field, pass instruments to surgeon and assistants, prepare sterile dressings and clean instruments for terminal sterilization.
Skills and Helpful Traits
Is this for me? The ability to perform under pressure in stressful and emergency situations is an essential quality for a surgical technologist. Manual dexterity to handle instruments quickly and physical stamina are vital. A stable temperament, a strong sense of responsibility, considerable patience and exceptional organizational skills are also required. They are expected to keep abreast of new developments in the field and should make a commitment to lifelong learning. Other skills that are required to succeed as a surgical technologist include: physical strength, eye/hand coordination, critical thinking skills, concentration, good interpersonal relations, memorization and sequencing. Technologists must respond quickly and know the procedures well enough to have instruments ready for the surgeons.
Education and Certification
The trend today is to graduate from an accredited surgical technology training program and attain professional certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Programs may be offered in community and junior colleges, vocational and technical schools, the military, universities and structured hospital programs in surgical technology. Accredited programs vary from nine to fifteen months for a diploma or certificate to two years for an Associate’s Degree.
The choice to become certified exhibits pride in the profession, the desire to be recognized for mastery of scientific principles, as well as ongoing commitment to quality patient care. Certification is a means for upward mobility, a condition for employment in some areas, a route to higher pay and a source of recognition nationwide.
According to the Department of Labor, employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2016 as the volume of surgery increases. The number of surgical procedures is expected to rise as the population grows and ages. Technological advances, such as fiber optics, laser technology, and robotics will also introduce new surgical procedures. Hospitals will continue as the primary employer of surgical technologists, although much faster employment growth is expected in offices and clinics of physicians, including ambulatory surgical centers. A few, known as private scrubs, are employed by surgeons who have special surgical teams, such as those for organ transplantation.
Technologists advance by specializing in a particular area of surgery, such as neurosurgery or open heart surgery. Some surgical technologists manage central supply departments in hospitals, or take positions with insurance companies, sterile supply services and surgical equipment firms. Job opportunities will be best for technologists who are certified. There is very high demand nationwide, with about five job openings for every graduate.
Surgical Technologist Work Environments
- Operating rooms in hospitals
- Central Sterile Processing in hospitals
- Dental and orthodontic offices
- Private surgical facilities
- Experienced surgical technologists may return to teach future technologists
- Organ and Tissue donation organizations
The professional organization for surgical technologists is the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST). Formed in 1969 with the support of the American College of Surgeons, American Medical Association (AMA), American Hospital Association (AHA), and Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN), AST represents the interests of over 80,000 surgical technologists.
AST's primary purpose is to ensure that surgical technologists have the knowledge and skills to administer patient care of the highest quality and is the principal provider in conjunction with more than 40 state organizations of continuing education for surgical technologists. AST also works with Accreditation Review Committee on Education in Surgical Technology and the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting to set standards for education and certification and represent the profession at state and national levels to ensure graduation from an accredited program.
$32,490 and $46,910
US Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Occupational Outlook Handbook,
$36,025 and $43,583
Professional Organization Websites
I began my career as a hospital secretary but I knew I needed a bigger challenge while still wanting to help people. I moved into a position as a nursing assistant and then an orderly. At the urging of my peers I began to explore my options as a surgical technologist. After completing a training program at the local community college and attaining my certification I finally found my life’s goal.
If it’s broke, we can fix it
I have always found the human body fascinating. I love the idea that when something is wrong with a patient’s body, we can go inside and make it better. Surgical technologists get to work in almost every area of the body. Some of the most common surgeries include joint replacements, ear, nose and throat procedures and “simple fix” operations like removing a patient’s gall bladder.
Surgical Technologists work best as a team
I work at one of Cleveland Clinic’s regional hospitals. I am able to assist with a variety of surgical procedures on a daily basis. Working in a regional hospital allows for a stronger camaraderie among the other surgical technologists, doctors and the rest of the surgical team members due to the closeness of our daily interaction. Teamwork is an essential element of my job.
A surgical technologist’s typical shift begins at 7 a.m. and may or may not end at 3:30 p.m. If one is required to be “on call” that day or maybe pick up extra time for a colleague your day can last for several extra hours beyond that of your normal routine. Ambulatory surgery center surgical technologists work a set schedule of Monday through Friday with no call time.
Stitching it together
Communication and a willingness to work with many personality types is a must in order to be a surgical technologist. Knowledge of the many tools and procedures, working in a demanding field and responsibility for maintaining a sterile environment is vital to success for the surgical technologist.
Who says you can’t travel if you are a surgical technologist?
I began my career as a surgical technologist in North Carolina. The excitement of traveling to other hospitals across the United States gave me the opportunity to see a variety of procedures and many different techniques. I came to the Cleveland Clinic because their philosophy of “patient’s first” was a strong passion of mine. I also get to be a part of surgeries that do not happen anywhere else in the country. Working at Cleveland Clinic’s Main Campus has allowed me to work with some of the world’s finest doctors and see a wide variety of procedures.
It’s never too early to start
I share my insight into my profession to all that I meet who may be interested in becoming a surgical technologist. There are educational programs available in Cleveland and throughout the United States. Not only is your education important for use on the job, but observing surgeries and talking with other surgical technologists will help you decide if this career path is the right one for you. Certification for a surgical technologist is strongly recommended. Joining with your fellow “techs” through networking in the Association of Surgical Technologists allows one to keep informed and stay on top of the newest policies and procedures.
Patients are the reason for the job
One of the biggest rewards of my job is that you can truly feel as if you have improved a person’s quality of life after a successful procedure. The patient’s protection and wellbeing is my number one priority. Although we cannot always bond with our patients, we sometimes have the opportunity to meet them before or after surgery. They are always so grateful for what our team does. It makes our job that much more satisfying and another way we can exhibit our “world class service.”