How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Hard at work saving lives
Squaredpixels / Vetta / Getty Images

A surgical technologist is an allied healthcare career that is great for people who love to be where the action is - in the operating room. Also known as a "surg tech", "scrub tech", or operating room tech, surgical technologists help with surgeries as part of the operating room team, which includes nurses, surgeons, and other technicians and technologists.

Surgical technologists help to prepare the OR (operating room), sterilizing the instruments and keeping an inventory of them.

Surgical technologists may also help with draping the patient and preparing the incision site. Additionally, surgical technologists will hand instruments to the nurses and surgeons as they are needed during the surgery. Other duties during surgery include cutting sutures, counting sponges or instruments, holding retractors, or taking specimens for the lab.

After surgery, surgical technologists may help transfer the patient to a recovery area, and clean the OR for the next patient.

Work Environment for Surgical Technologists

Most surgical technologists (over 70%) work in the operating room of a hospital. However, some may work in outpatient surgery centers, or in dental offices. Operating rooms are well-lit, sterile environments.

Working as a surgical technologist requires standing for long periods of time. The average work week is about 40 hours; however, nights and weekends may be part of those hours, and surgical technologists may have to be on-call for emergency surgeries.

Training and Education for Surgical Technologists

Surgical technologists must obtain formal training in a surgical technologist program from a community college or technical/vocational school. Programs range in length from nine months for a certificate, to 24 months for an associate's degree. Most programs require a high school diploma, and there are about 450 accredited training programs nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As with most medical training programs, surgical technology programs consist of both classroom learning and hands-on clinical training. Class subjects include anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, ethics, and medical terminology. Students also learn about surgical procedures, and patient care, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Certification for Surgical Technologists

Certification is preferred by most employers. There are two different councils that certify surgical technologists. One is the Liaison Council for the Certification of the Surgical Technologist, which awards the CST designation (Certified Surgical Technologist) upon passing the exam. One must graduate from an accredited surgical technologist program to be eligible for the exam.

The other certification is the TS-C (Tech in Surgery, Certified) which is awarded by the NCCT (National Center for Competency Testing).

Qualifications for Surgical Technologists

In addition to the knowledge in medical terminology and surgery, surgical technologist also must have excellent dexterity to handle numerous instruments in intricate ways. Additionally, surgical technologists must be highly organized, proactive, conscientious, and stable enough to handle the fast pace and demanding environment of the operating room.

Surgical technologists are also expected to keep up with medical and technological advances in their field, and complete any necessary continuing education hours needed to maintain active certification.

Advancement and Career Path

Surgical technologists may advance by specializing in progressively more demanding and more difficult medical specialties. Some of the most challenging would include neurosurgery and cardiac surgery.

Additionally, some surgical technologists may advance to the lead role on the operating team, known as the "surgical first assistant". The surgical first assistant works directly with the surgeon, taking on some additional responsibilities.

Another advanced role to work towards is as a circulator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the circulator helps interview the patient before and after surgery and may also assist with anesthesia.

Employment and Outlook for Surgical Technologists

The employment outlook for surgical technologists is strong, with projected growth of about 30% during the ten year period of 2012-2022. This is considered "much faster than average" growth for a job sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Average Salary for Surgical Technologists

The median salary for surgical technologists is $41,790 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This equates to about $20.09 per hour for a full-time schedule, which most surg techs work. However, some of the higher earners earn from $46,000 to about $60,240 annually.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Surgical Technologists.

Continue Reading