When you think about an operating room, you probably think of the key players we see on TV: surgeons, nurses, maybe an anesthesiologist. (And if you’re seeing it on TV, they’re probably all hopelessly glamorous, but I digress.) The key player you might not be imagining is the surgical technologist, who works with all of these medical professionals to care for patients and ensure that surgeries run smoothly.
These essential surgical team members, also known informally as “scrub techs” or “operating room techs,” are usually responsible for setting up the operating room and working with doctors and nurses throughout the procedure to manage conditions in the room. Surgical techs are usually hard at work even before the surgeon starts scrubbing in. Their tasks may include:
- Sterilizing the operating room and equipment
- Laying out the equipment and ensuring that all necessary equipment is available
- Positioning and covering the anesthetized patient in preparation for surgery
- Preparing medications and sterile solutions
- Handing equipment to surgeons and nursing staff during the operation
- Assisting the surgeon when necessary
- Dressing incisions and getting patients ready for post-op care
- Transferring the patient to a recovery room
- Restocking and cleaning the operating room
Because surgery can happen around the clock, particularly in a hospital, surgical techs may work night/weekend/holiday shifts outside of the regular 9-to-5 schedule. However, these shifts are fairly regular, unless an emergency surgery goes longer than anticipated. Some hospitals require that surgical technologists have “on call” shifts as well. The vast majority (approximately 70%) of surgical techs work in hospitals, though some may also work in outpatient clinics that perform surgeries.
For more on what it’s like to be a surgical technologist, check out these videos:
Inside Jobs: Surgical Technology
Surgical Technologist: Alisha Mobley
Surgical Technologist (Dr. Kit)
Surgical technologists typically hold an associate’s degree. Certification by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting can help boost the odds of finding a job in the surgical technologist field, but is not broadly required. As of 2016, only nine states require that surgical technologists be certified: Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. The Association of Surgical Technologists offers up-to-date information on requirements and education.
The surgical technology field calls for a number of special skills and knowledge bases, including:
- Attention to detail
- Math and science (particularly biology)
- Detailed medical knowledge (including anatomy and physiology)
- Critical thinking
- Organizational skills
- Communication skills
This is a demanding field, and calls for nerves (and a stomach) of steel, in addition to the standard kinds of Allied Health job skills. If you faint at the sight of blood, or think shortcuts are “good enough” when it comes to cleaning, this area might not be the best choice for you.
The median salary for licensed surgical technologists is $43,350 per year, or $20.84 per hour, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). And according to a PayScale.com survey, surgical technologists are largely “extremely satisfied” with their career choice.
This is a field you can bank on: the BLS expects the available surgical tech jobs to grow by more than 15% by 2024.