Surgical technologists are an integral part of the team of medical practitioners providing surgical care to patients in a variety of settings.
Surgical technologists prepare the operating room by selecting and opening sterile supplies. Preoperative duties also include assembling, adjusting, and checking nonsterile equipment to ensure that it is in proper working order. Common duties include operating sterilizers, lights, suction machines, electrosurgical units, and diagnostic equipment.
When patients arrive in the surgical suite, surgical technologists assist in preparing them for surgery by providing physical and emotional support, checking charts, and observing vital signs. They have been educated to properly position the patient on the operating table, assist in connecting and applying surgical equipment and/or monitoring devices, and prepare the incision site. Surgical technologists have primary responsibility for maintaining the sterile field, being constantly vigilant that all members of the team adhere to aseptic technique.
They most often function as the sterile member of the surgical team who passes instruments, sutures, and sponges during surgery. After “scrubbing,” they don sterile gown and gloves and prepare the sterile setup for the appropriate procedure. After other members of the sterile team have scrubbed, they assist them with gowning and gloving and with the application of sterile drapes that isolate the operative site.
In order that surgery may proceed smoothly, surgical technologists anticipate the needs of surgeons, passing instruments and providing sterile items in an efficient manner. They share with the circulator the responsibility of accounting for sponges, needles, and instruments before, during, and after surgery.
Surgical technologists may hold retractors or instruments, sponge or suction the operative site, or cut suture materials as directed by the surgeon. They connect drains and tubing and receive and prepare specimens for subsequent pathologic analysis. They are responsible for preparing and applying sterile dressings following the procedure and may assist in the application of nonsterile dressings, including plaster or synthetic casting materials. After surgery, they prepare the operating room for the next patient.
Surgical technologists are most often members of the sterile team but may function in the nonsterile role of circulator. The circulator is not gowned and gloved during the surgical procedure but is available to respond to the needs of the anesthesia provider, keep a written account of the surgical procedure, and participate jointly with the scrubbed person in counting sponges, needles, and instruments before, during, and after surgery. In operating rooms where local anesthetics are administered, they meet the needs of the conscious patient.
Certified surgical technologists with additional specialized education or training also may act in the role of the surgical first assistant. The surgical first assistant provides aid in exposure, hemostasis, and other technical functions under the surgeon’s direction that will help the surgeon carry out a safe operation with optimal results for the patient.
Surgical technologists also may provide staffing in postoperative recovery rooms where patients’ responses are carefully monitored in the critical phases following general anesthesia.
A majority of surgical technologists work in hospitals, principally in the surgical suite and also in emergency rooms and other settings that call for knowledge of, and ability in, maintaining asepsis, such as materials management and central service. A number work in a wide variety of settings and arrangements, including outpatient surgicenters, private employment by physicians, or as self-employed technologists.
Those who work in hospital and other institutional settings are usually expected to work rotating shifts or to accommodate on-call assignments to ensure adequate staffing for emergency surgical procedures during evening, night, weekend, and holiday hours. Otherwise, surgical technologists follow a standard hospital workday.
Salaries vary depending on the experience and education of the individual, the economy of a given region, the responsibilities of the position, and the working hours.
According to a recent study conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the forecast for employment opportunities for surgical technologists is one of rapid growth. Demand for technologists varies among communities and geographic regions. Prospective students are advised to assess the market for graduates within the region in which they would like to work before matriculating in an educational program. Such information is likely to be available through local employment offices, local accredited programs, and hospital councils or hospitals.
Length. Programs range from 12 to 24 months.
Prerequisites. High school diploma or equivalent.
Curriculum. Accreditation standards require didactic instruction and supervised clinical practice. Subject areas include medical terminology, professional ethics, and legal aspects of surgical patient care; anatomy and physiology, microbiology, anesthesia, and pharmacology; sterilization methods and aseptic technique; instruments, supplies, and equipment used in surgery; surgical patient care and safety precautions; and operative procedures and biomedical sciences. Supervised clinical practice in the operating room must include commonly performed procedures in general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, ophthalmology, otorhinolaryngology, plastic surgery, urology, orthopedics, neurosurgery, thoracic surgery, and cardiovascular and peripheral vascular surgery.
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting
6 West Dry Creek Circle, Ste. 100
Littleton, CO, 80120
Association of Surgical Technologists
6 West Dry Creek Circle
Littleton, CO 80120
(800) 637-7433 or (303) 694-9130
(303) 694-9169 Fax