There are approximately 92,000 surgical technologists working in the United States. Job growth indicators suggest that over the next decade, the field will grow by 25%, which puts it far ahead of the average growth for all jobs.
Surgical technologists assist in the operating room during surgery. They work on surgical teams with a surgeon, anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist, and circulating nurses. They are responsible for preparing the operating room prior to surgery. They position equipment and instruments and prepare sterile solutions and drapes. They must check all equipment to ensure it is in working order, and adjust it for the particular type of surgery. It is also part of the technologist’s job to bathe, shave and disinfect the portions of skin where incisions will be made.
They bring patients into the operating room, assist with positioning them on the table, and arrange sterile surgical drapes. They note patient vitals, review charts, and assist other team members don sterile clothing. Once surgery is underway, technologists hand supplies and instruments to surgeons and their assistants. Cutting sutures; counting sponges, supplies, needles and instruments; and holding retractors are also part of the job. Some surgical technicians manage sterilizers, suction machines and lights. When the operation is complete, surgical technologists assist in patient transfer to the recovery room, then clean and replenish supplies in the operating room.
Surgical technologists who have undergone additional education and become certified in a specialty might act as the circulator or surgical first assistant, responsible for technical tasks that aid in a successful operation.
Surgical technologists work in well-lit, climate controlled environments that are kept scrupulously clean and ventilated. They must have sufficient stamina to stand for hours at a time and remain focused and alert. Risks of this type of work include exposure to infectious diseases as well as the, at times, unsettling visual images and smells that exist in operating rooms. They must have excellent manual dexterity, as they are passing sharp instruments to members of the team. In addition, they must have the ability to remain calm under extreme stress. They must know operating procedure and have the correct instruments ready without direction. Surgical technologists work 40 hours per week or more. Evening, night, and weekend rotations are likely for those who are employed by hospitals or other round-the-clock facilities. Overtime is common. Surgical technologists may be required to be on an on call rotation.
Training for this type of work runs nine months to two years and can be undertaken at hospitals, community colleges, universities, hospitals, or through the military. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognizes over 450 accredited programs that range in length from nine months to two years and result in a certificate, diploma or associate’s degree. Programs for surgical technologists are composed of classroom instruction in combination with clinical experience. Coursework includes anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, microbiology, terminology and professional ethics. Students learn how to protect patients during surgery, surgical practices and sterile procedures. Students are taught the proper method of instrument sterilization, how to prevent and manage infection, and the handling of certain solutions, equipment, supplies and medications.
Most employers favor surgical technologists who are certified. Voluntary certification is offered by the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist. Applicants must have successfully completed a CAAHEP-accredited program and passed a national certification test. Sixty hours of approved continuing education undertaken during the previous four years is required to maintain certification. The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) also certifies surgical technicians. There are a number of acceptable ways to qualify. Applicants can complete a two-year hospital training program, gain seven years of work experience or graduate from an accredited training program. Continuing education or re-testing is required to keep this certification active beyond five years. This certification must be renewed every 5 years through either continuing education or reexamination.
Career advancement can take a number of forms. Technologists can specialize in a surgical area, such as open-heart surgery. They can become circulating technologists. They can undergo further education in order to step into a role as first assistant. Some technologists are managers in hospital central supply departments. Others leave the operating room to work for sterile supply services, insurance companies, or operating equipment firms in sales or marketing.
Two-thirds of all surgical technologist jobs are in hospital operating and delivery rooms. Some surgical technologists work in dental or physician offices where outpatient surgery is performed or in ambulatory surgical or outpatient care centers.
The median annual salary for surgical technologists is around $39,000. Those in the midrange earn between $33,000 and $47,000. Top-end earners make around $55,000 per year.