Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists help surgeons and other medical specialists during surgical procedures. They’re also known as surgical or operating room technicians or scrubs. Surgical technologists serve on surgical teams comprised of circulating nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons.

Prior to a surgical procedure, surgical technologists organize equipment and sterilize drapes, tools, and other devices. They also calibrate equipment to make sure it’s functioning properly. Technologists prepare patients for surgery by washing them and shaving and sterilizing areas that will be cut. They move patients to surgery rooms, position them properly on the table, and place sterilized covers over them. Technologists also monitor vital signs, review charts, and assist members of the surgical team put on sterilized surgical clothing.

During operations, technologists hand sterilized tools to surgeons and other members of the surgical team. They’re frequently assigned to hold retractors, count and monitor supplies, and cut sutures. Surgical technologists apply dressing and handle tissue and blood samples that are later tested in medical laboratories. Some surgical technologists operate diagnostic technology and ensure lights, sterilizers, and suction machines function properly.

Following surgery, surgical technologists move patients to other rooms to recover and clean, sterilize, and restock the surgical room with supplies.

Certified surgical technologists who’ve completed additional training can fill circulator or surgical first assistant positions. While being supervised by a surgeon, the surgical first assistant is responsible for administering hemostasis, a method designed to limit blood flow and stop major hemorrhaging, and perform other technical duties as requested by surgeons and other members of the surgical team.

Education and Training

Surgical technologist training programs typically take 9 months to 2 years to complete. Students have the option of earning a professional certificate or associate’s degree. Those completing professional certification typically have better job and career growth opportunities.

The military, hospitals, universities, community colleges, and vocational schools offer surgical technologist training programs. As of 2008, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) has identified over 450 accredited programs.

Most healthcare providers recruit certified surgical technologists. To certify, technologists are required to graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program and pass a national certification test. Once this is done, technologists are recognized as Certified Surgical Technologists (CSTs). To remain certified, surgical technologists must complete 60 hours of continuing education every 4 years or retake and receive a satisfactory score on the certifying test every 4 years.

Job Outlook

Job growth is projected to increase at an above average rate. Certified technologists and those willing to move to bigger markets enjoy better job opportunities.

Job growth for surgical technologists is estimated to increase by 25 percent through 2018, a higher rate compared to average growth in other industries. As the population ages, demand for surgical procedures will increase. Likewise, technological improvements, such as laser and fiber optic technology, have increased the availability of surgical procedures and enabled surgical technologists to participate in more surgeries.

Hospitals will remain the number one employer of these specialists. As hospitals continue to cut expenses, they’ll hire more surgical technologists to assume the responsibilities of nurses within operating rooms, but more surgical technologists will probably work at physicians’ clinics and outpatient facilities since those employed in these settings earn more money.

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