The Surgical Technologist Career
The rise in the number of patients requiring various types of elective and non-elective surgical procedures has dramatically increased the demand for various professional medical personnel to assist in providing high quality medical care, whether it is in the context of a hospital operating room or a urgent-care facility that only performs minor surgical procedures.
The surgical technician plays a vital role in any surgical procedure, no matter its type.
What is a Surgical Tech?
A surgical technician helps support the surgeon and other professionals before, during and after a surgical procedure. Depending on the nature of the surgery, there may only be a single surgical technologist present, or he or she may be working as a part of a team. The surgical technologist job description often includes the following duties:
- Preparing for the surgery by ensuring that all equipment is present and has been checked before use.
- Ensuring that all sutures and dressings are present and sterile.
- Assisting the surgeon and any other personnel in dressing for the surgery.
- The surgical technologist will move the patient onto the surgical bed, and assist the surgeon in positioning the patient in order to provide the best possible access during the surgery.
- After the surgery, the surgical tech will assist in moving the patient to a recovery area.
- As part of the post-surgical procedure, surgical techs will clean and restock the operating room in order to prepare it for later use.
- During the surgery, the surgical tech will provide the surgeon and any nurses with the equipment they require to successfully complete the operation.
A surgical tech must also be a very detail oriented and conscientious individual, especially when ensuring that any tools or supplies are properly prepared for use. The surgical tech is a vital part of ensuring that the patient does not suffer a postoperative infection produced via the use of improperly sterilized equipment.
Finally, a surgical technician must be capable of communicating effectively and quickly with his fellow technicians and supervisors. Any operation will require the technician to be able to accurately respond to the surgeon’s requests. This will be especially important for emergency or trauma care operations, where speed can be vital to the successful outcome of the surgery.
Where Are Surgical Techs Employed?
While the traditional view of a surgical tech is of a hospital employee, there are a wide variety of employment options for qualified surgical techs. With the rising popularity of outpatient clinics and urgent care centers, many surgical technologists find themselves assisting in operations that do not occur in a public or private hospital. Among the most common areas of employment for surgical technicians are the following:
- Outpatient clinics for a variety of minor and elective surgical procedures.
- Urgent care clinics and centers.
- Hospital emergency rooms and trauma care centers.
- Doctors’ offices, especially for practices that carry out minor surgical procedures.
Additionally, experienced surgical technologists will often supervise other surgical techs, as well as work with nurses and surgeons to evaluate and develop more effective hospital policies. In some cases, surgical techs may transition to other careers, including becoming registered nurses.
How to Become a Surgical Tech
Surgical techs must possess a high school diploma or equivalent, and successfully complete a program of study in surgical technology. In addition, most states require that a surgical tech be at least 18 years of age.
Surgical tech programs are offered from a variety of institutions, including community colleges, private colleges and vocational programs. The time it takes to become a surgical tech, depending on the student’s schedule, can range from several months to over two years.
Many programs offer part-time and distance learning options for their students, which can be important for individuals who are currently working or who have other demands on their time.
A program in surgical technology educates the student in the following areas:
- Human anatomy and physiology.
- Patient care and safety, especially when moving ill or injured individuals.
- The proper methods used to sterilize and prepare surgical instruments.
- The surgical tech is instructed in the importance of avoiding patient infections and how to respond to them when they do occur.
In 2010, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognized accredited surgical technologist training programs. Students should verify that their school is currently accredited with the CAAHEP, in order to ensure that their program will be recognized by all states and employers. Additionally, completing an accredited program improves the surgical tech’s career options.
Becoming a Certified Surgical Technologists
A surgical technologist job description can also include whether or not a certified surgical tech is required. By becoming certified, a technician can improve his or her level of expertise in the field of surgical technology.
Certification is currently offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology (NBST), the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) and the National Healthcare Association (NHA). In most cases, certification requires the completion of an accredited program, followed by successfully passing a comprehensive exam regarding the duties of a surgical technician.
In some states, certification is required to work as a surgical tech. However, even in areas where certification is not mandatory, certified technicians are generally granted preferential hiring and salary options when compared to non-certified technicians. Certification acts as a guarantee of the technician’s practical and academic skills in the field of surgical technology.
Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that the surgical technologist field will expand by about 19 percent by 2020. The median pay of over $39,000 is very competitive with other careers requiring the same level of education and certification.
The surgical technician serves a vital role in the modern healthcare sector. Those who choose this profession will find that it is a challenging career which is held in high esteem by fellow professionals and the public alike.