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Surgical Technologist (Technician) Career, Job and Employment Information

Surgical Technologist (Technician) Career and Job Highlights

  • Training programs leading to an associate degree, diploma, or certificate last between 9 and 24 months.
  • Job openings are projected to be good.
  • Hospitals will remain the biggest employer, though rapid job growth is projected in doctors’ offices and outpatient care centers, like ambulatory surgical centers.

Surgical Technologist Career Information and Job Description

Surgical technologists, also knows as surgical or operating room technicians or scrubs, help during surgical operations under the direction of registered nurses, surgeons, and other surgical workers. Operating room teams, of which surgical technologists are part, typically comprise surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Prior to the surgery, technologists prep get the room ready by placing surgical tools and equipment and sterile dressings and liquids in their appropriate places. They ensure that all equipment is functioning properly, and prepare the patient for the operation by disinfecting the part of the body where the incision will be made and removing any hair that may be present there. They move the patient to the room, properly position them on the table, and use sterile “drapes” to cover them. Technologists are also responsible for checking the patient’s vital signs and records, and helping doctors and nurses put on their gloves and gowns.

During the operation, technologists hand tools and supplies to the doctors and surgeon assistants as they request them. They also count equipment, such as needles, sponges, and other instruments, to ensure that nothing is left inside the patient. They may be required to handle lights, suction equipment, and sterilizers. They also assist with specimens to be taken to the laboratory by collecting and caring for them.

Following the surgery, technologists restock the room with supplies and may transport the patient back to their room to recover.

Surgical Technician Training and Job Qualifications

Community and junior colleges, the military, hospitals, universities, and vocational schools all offer formal training for surgical technologists. In 2002, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredited some 361 programs, most of which require at least a high school diploma or GED for admission. Training programs leading to an associate degree, diploma, or certificate last between 9 and 24 months.

Classroom study and clinical experience constitute the training programs. Anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, physiology, professional ethics, and medical terminology are studied, as well as sterile techniques, surgical procedures, and patient care and safety. Practical skills, such as how to sterilize instruments, handle drugs and equipment, and prevent and control infection, are also studied.

Certified technologists have a competitive edge as most employers prefer certified professionals. The Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologists offers voluntary professional certification to graduates from a CAAHEP-approved program who pass their examination. The professional title Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) may be used once one is certified. Recertification is required every 4 years, requiring continuing education credits and additional examinations.

The National Center for Competency Testing also certifies technologists. There are three ways to qualify to take the test: you can graduate from an approved program, do 2 years of hands-on training in a hospital program, or have seven years of work experience in radiology. Following passage of the exam, individuals are designated as Tech in Surgery-Certified, TS-C (NCCT). Technologists must recertify every five years by retaking the exam or accumulating continuing education credits.

Surgical technologists should be able to handle and pass surgical instruments accurately and quickly. Given the demanding nature of the operating room, they should be responsible, organized, and emotionally stable. They should have good command of surgical procedures in order to have instruments ready for the surgeons. Background knowledge of chemistry, biology, mathematics, and health can help. Continual study of recent developments is also very important.

Advancement opportunities for technologists come from specializing in certain types of surgery, like open-heart surgery or gastrointestinal procedures. Circulating technologists are the “unsterile” part of a surgical team and performs tasks such as: recording information from the surgery, interviewing the patient and recording their medical history, retrieving unsterile packages for doctors to remove the sterile instruments inside, and keeping doctors informed about the patient. First assistants, whom technologists can become, given advanced training, help with more hands-on practices, including putting in stitches, sponging, closing wounds, cauterizing bleeders, and retracting. Other technologists become mangers of hospital supply departments or move into insurance, supply services, or equipment manufacturing.

Surgical Technologist Job and Employment Opportunities

Job growth is projected to be faster than average as compared to all other professions through 2012, creating favorable job outlook. The total number of surgeries performed is projected to increase as the population ages and requires more medical car. The baby boom generation will slowly comprise a larger portion of the population and they typically need more surgical procedures. New surgical procedures, such as those utilizing laser technology and fiber optics, will continue to be developed and implemented.

Hospitals will remain the biggest employer, though rapid job growth is projected in doctors’ offices and outpatient care centers, like ambulatory surgical centers.

Historical Earnings Information

Surgical technologists were paid in 2002 a median $31,210. The lowest paid 10 percent made less than $21,920, while the 10 percent who made the most were paid more than $43,470. The middle half made between $36,740 and $26,000.