When you watch a medical drama and the scene switches to the operating room, there is usually one star – the surgeon. But other medical specialists deserve their turn in the spotlight because it takes a team to effectively treat patients during an operation.
One of those vital support professionals is a surgical technologist, whose service before, during and after surgery is vital to every patient’s health. Even though they may not hog the limelight, surgical technologists are very important in medical procedures.
Here are some facts to know if you’re considering a career as a surgical technologist.
What is a surgical technologist?
A surgical technologist carries a lot of responsibilities. Surgical technologists assist with operations, prepare operating rooms for surgery, and arrange equipment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgical technologists will:
- Sterilize equipment and make sure that there are adequate supplies for surgery
- Prepare patients for surgery, such as by washing and disinfecting incision sites
- Help surgeons during surgery by passing instruments and other sterile supplies to them
- Count supplies, such as surgical instruments, to ensure that no foreign objects are retained in patients
- Maintain a sterile environment to prevent patient infection
Many duties are neatly organized between pre-surgery, surgery, and post-surgery tasks. Surgical technologists have the unique responsibility of assisting in every aspect of patient care.
The daily life of a surgical technologist can vary based on the facility, the type of surgery and the tech’s experience. According to Herzing’s Surgical Technology Program Chair, Adrienne Conca, “the Surgical Technologist is a highly qualified specialist in aseptic technique and an essential member of the operating room team. Each day they may participate in many different cases or concentrate in one specialty area. Working alongside other team members, the surgical technologist ensures quality patient care and safety by maintaining the sterile field and meeting the needs of the surgeon.
Where can you work as a surgical technologist?
Surgical technologists most often work in hospitals, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, sterile processing, or privately for a surgeon. They may also choose to advance their credentials as Certified or Licensed First Assistants and work exclusively as the surgeon’s assistant in surgery. Many surgical technologists also continue their education with advanced degrees in the field and become instructors, Clinical Coordinators, and Program Chairs in Surgical Technology programs.
Typically, a surgical technologist can expect can work a regular 40-hour week since surgeries are often scheduled in advance. However, this depends on location. You could be on call or must work nights and weekends on a rotating basis.
What skills are needed to be a surgical technologist?
Just like with any career, surgical technologists need to have a combination of both hard and soft skills to be successful.
Here are some of the most important attributes for a successful surgical technologist:
- Manual Dexterity: Surgery requires attention to the smallest detail. Even though you may not be the individual conducting the surgery, you still need to be able to work in tight spaces, with a variety of personalities, and handle surgical tools, lasers, and specialty equipment, such as operating microscopes and microsurgical instruments. You must have steady hands and a good attitude to work in the operating rooms.
- Strong Focus: Working in surgery can be very stressful for some people. They may feel like there is a lot of pressure to hand off, retract and multitask within the surgery. Staying calm under this kind of pressure and remaining focused on patient care, and the procedure occurring in front of you is extremely important.
- Collaboration: Surgical technologists don’t work in a bubble! Not only do you have to be comfortable working with other surgical technologists and patients, but you also need to collaborate with anesthesiologists, surgeons, nurses, and other medical personnel.
- Thick Skin and a Strong Stomach: Surgery is not for the faint of heart. All surgery involves blood and the inside of a patient’s body. Some surgery may involve trauma to a patient and include visually shocking disfigurement. Additionally, surgery also includes unpleasant smells from patients’ bodies, blood, and equipment we use to stop bleeding. Things can also change in an instant while in surgery, so you must be emotionally mature and capable of always responding to the surgeon’s urgent needs.
Why work as a surgical technologist?
Surgical technology is a growing career. The BLS shows a 9% growth for surgical technologists from 2020-2030. The aging of the large baby boomer generation is expected to increase the need for surgical technologists because of the likelihood of more medical procedures. For example, people in advanced age are more likely to get knee replacement operations to maintain an active lifestyle and/or have cataracts removed to improve vision.
Besides overall job growth, it is a rewarding career. Herzing graduate Dakota Stamant shares her experience: “I initially chose to get my degree in Surgical Technology because I’ve always watched and enjoyed surgical shows. I knew they were different from working in real life, but they gave me the initiative to try. After the first surgery I scrubbed in on, I knew that I had made the right decision coming here. I was so comfortable and felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be.”
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.