There are a couple of essential people in the room during a surgery most people know about — the surgeon, of course, and the nurse — but there is one other important player who ensures that everything runs smoothly.
Sometimes referred to as “the unsung heroes of the operating room,” surgical technologists (STs) are well-educated members of the operating team who handle the instruments, supplies and equipment necessary during a surgical procedure. STs must not only understand the procedure being performed but also anticipate the needs of the surgeon before, during and after the operation.
What do surgical technologists do?
An ST’s main job is to assist the surgeon throughout the procedure by holding retractors and instruments, suctioning and sponging, cutting suture and applying dressings. Before the procedure begins, STs set up the sterile back table with instruments needed for the operation and drape the patient and surrounding areas with a sterile barrier.
You can learn more about the day in the life of a surgical technologist from Herzing University ST instructor Stephanie Allen - and what you need to know about working in the operating room.
Where do STs work?
Certified surgical technologists often work within the hospital system in the main operating room or an ambulatory care center for same-day surgery. They can also work in a hospital’s sterile processing department or endoscopic department. Other STs work at a private physician’s office, performing small in-office procedures. Finally, some STs are hired by travel healthcare staffing agencies for assignments of various lengths in surgical facilities around the world.
Regardless of where you choose to work, there are many people that rely on STs to ensure positive outcomes for their patients.
- Nurses—Nurses rely on the STs to communicate with the surgeons and relay the information they need to know for the start and end of the procedure. At the end of the procedure, the ST cleans the room and sets up the correct supplies for the next procedure.
- Surgeons—STs are the surgeon’s right-hand man/woman. Surgeons rely on the ST to have the proper instruments ready and to anticipate their needs throughout the operation. They also depend on the ST to establish and maintain the sterile field to prevent any breaks in aseptic technique, which could lead to an infection and complicate the patient’s recovery.
- Patients—Most importantly, the patient relies on the ST to make sure the procedure goes smoothly and minimize the risk of infection.
The average salary for a surgical technologist depends largely on your experience in the field and the state in which you practice. According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists make $47,300 per year on average.
How do I become a Surgical Technologist?
The Herzing surgical technologist program in New Orleans, Louisiana allows students to earn their associate’s degree in two years. Students must complete general education requirements and core classes as well as a clinical externship at a local hospital. At the end of the clinical externship, students sit for the National Certification Exam. If you’re looking for a challenging and rewarding career in healthcare, then a degree in surgical technology could be the right fit for you!
Stephanie L. Allen, CST, BS is a Surgical Technology Instructor at Herzing University - New Orleans with 6 years of experience in all surgery specialties and a concentration in Trauma and Neurology Surgery. Stephanie recently became a contributing peer reviewer and demonstration personnel for the Fuller Surgical Technology: Principles and Practice 7th Edition book and is still practicing in the field at a local hospital. She also earned a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Saginaw Valley State University.
* 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.
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