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Considering Work as a Surgical Technologist?

Nature of the Work

Surgical technologists, also called scrubs and surgical or operating room technicians, help in surgical operations under the guidance of surgeons, registered nurses, or other surgical staff. Surgical technologists are part of the operating room teams, which most usually involve surgeons, anesthesiologists, and circulating nurses.

In advance of an operation, surgical technologists help set the operating room by preparing surgical instruments and equipment, sterile drapes, and sterile solutions. They gather both sterile and nonsterile equipment, in addition to checking and adjusting it to guarantee that it is working accordingly. Technologists prepare patient for surgery by washing, shaving, and disinfecting incision areas. They move patients to the operating room, assist to position them on the operating table, and blanket them with sterile surgical drapes. Technologists also pay attention to patients' vital signs, check charts, and assist the surgical team wear sterile gowns and gloves.

In the course of surgery, technologists hand instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons and surgical assistants. They may hold retractors, cut sutures, and assist to count needles, sponges, instruments, and supplies. Surgical technologists assist to set, care for, and take care of specimens retrieved for laboratory analysis and assist in applying dressings. Some operate sterilizers, lights, or suction machines and assist to operate diagnostic equipment.

Following an operation, surgical technologists may assist to move patients to the recovery room and clean and restock the operating room.

Certified surgical technologists with further specialized education or training also may perform functions of the surgical first assistant or circulator. Under the surgeon's guidance, the surgical first assistant, as described by the American College of Surgeons (ACS), offers help in exposure, hemostasis (controlling blood flow and stopping or preventing hemorrhage), and other technical duties that help the surgeon perform a safe operation. A circulating technologist is the “unsterile” staff of the surgical team whose main functions is to interview the patient before surgery, prepares the patient for surgery, assists with anesthesia, gets and opens packages for the “sterile” people to remove the sterile contents during the procedure, keeps a written account of the surgical procedure, and answers the surgeon's questions regarding the patient in the middle of the surgery.

Work environment

Surgical technologists work in clean, well-lighted, cool environments. They should endure standing for long periods and remain alert throughout the operations. From time to time, they may be exposed to contagious diseases and displeasing sights, odors, and materials.

Nearly all surgical technologists work a regular 40-hour week, however they may be on call or have duties at nights, weekends, and holidays on a rotating basis.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Education and training. Surgical technologists acquire their training in formal programs offered by vocational schools, community and junior colleges, hospitals, universities, and the military. In 2008, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) certified more than 450 accredited training programs. Programs run from 9 to 24 months and result to a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree. High school graduation usually is needed for admission. Approved high school courses cover health, biology, chemistry, and mathematics.

Programs offer classroom education and administered clinical experience. Students acquire courses in anatomy, microbiology, physiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, and professional ethics. Other topics covered include the care and safety of patients throughout surgery, surgical procedures, and sterile techniques. Students also experience to sterilize instruments; prevent and control infection; and are in charge of special drugs, supplies, solutions, and equipment.

Certification and other qualifications. Almost all employers favor to employ certified technologists. Technologists may acquire voluntary professional certification from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting by graduating from a CAAHEP-certified program and passing a national certification examination. They may then utilize the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designation. With regard to keeping certification, certified surgical technologists must acquire 60 hours of approved continuing education over a 4-year period or retake and pass the certifying exam at the end of the 4-year period.

Certification also may be acquired from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). To enable to take the exam, candidates follow one of three paths: finish an accredited training program, go through a 2-year hospital on-the-job training program, or obtain 7 years of experience working in the field. After passing the exam, individuals may utilize the designation Tech in Surgery-Certified, TS-C (NCCT). This certification must be renewed every 5 years through either continuing education or retaking examination.

Surgical technologists require manual dexterity to manage instruments quickly. They also must be conscientious, organized, and emotionally stable to keep up with the demands of the operating room environment. Technologists must respond quickly and must be knowledgeable with operating procedures so that they may prepare instruments ready for surgeons without being instructed to do so. They are assumed to keep abreast of new developments in the field.

Advancement. Technologists step up by specializing in a certain area of surgery, like neurosurgery or open-heart surgery. They also may work as circulating technologists. With further training, some technologists step up to first assistant. Some surgical technologists operate central supply departments in hospitals or take positions with operating equipment firms, insurance companies, and sterile supply services.

Employment Opportunities

In 2008, surgical technologists held around 91,500 jobs. Nearly 71 percent of jobs for surgical technologists were in hospitals, largely in operating and delivery rooms. Other jobs were in offices of physicians or dentists who accomplish outpatient surgery and in outpatient care centers, including ambulatory surgical centers. A few technologists, known as private scrubs, are hired directly by surgeons who have special surgical teams, like those for liver transplants.

Job Outlook

Employment change. Employment of surgical technologists is forecasted to increase 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, a lot quicker than the average for all occupations, as the volume of surgeries grows. The number of surgical procedures is assumed to continue to grow as the population increases and matures. Older people, including the baby-boom generation, which usually needs more surgical procedures, will remain to account for a bigger portion of the U.S. population. Furthermore, technological developments, such as fiber optics and laser technology, have allowed a growing number of new surgical procedures to be accomplished and also have permitted surgical technologists to help with a greater number of procedures.

Hospitals will remain to be the number one employer of surgical technologists, as they try to lessen costs by replacing nurses in the operating room. On the other hand, due to better paying opportunities, much faster employment increase is expected in offices of physicians and in outpatient care centers, including ambulatory surgical centers.

Job prospects. Job opportunities will favor technologists who are certified and for those who are agreeable to relocation.

Surgical Technologist’s Earnings

In May 2008, average yearly salaries of wage-and-salary surgical technologists were $38,740. The middle 50 percent took home between $32,490 and $46,910. The lowest 10 percent gained less than $27,510, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $54,300. Average yearly salaries in the industries hiring the biggest numbers of surgical technologists were as follows:

Specialty (except psychiatric and substance abuse) hospitals


Outpatient care centers


General medical and surgical hospitals


Offices of physicians


Offices of dentists


Salaries of surgical technologists differ with their experience and education, the working hours, the duties of the position, and the economy of a given region of the country. Benefits furnished by nearly all employers include paid vacation and sick leave; health, medical, vision, dental, and life insurance; and a retirement program. Tuition reimbursement and child care benefits are being also offered by a number of employers.

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