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Surgical Technologist: Surgical Tech Training, Surgical Technician Career

A surgical tech is usually part of an operating team room, and works with a surgeon to pass instruments and manage the functions of the operating room during surgery. A surgical technologist works under the supervision of a registered nurse and surgeon, and is often involved with the operation of diagnostic equipment and various instruments. Surgical techs are commonly referred to as 'scrubs' or a surgical assistant. While hands-on training can provide extensive work experience in the field of surgical technology, a surgical tech career begins with comprehensive education in the medical field followed by certification.

Job Description and Responsibilities of a Surgical Tech

A surgical technologist, or surgical tech, is involved with preparation of the operating room, along with working with patients as they prepare for treatment. The surgical assistant helps to coordinate tasks of the surgical personnel, and receives direction from the supervising nurse or surgeon. Responsibilities of the surgical technologist may include:

  • Working with a team of health professionals in an operating room environment
  • Counting and organizing all surgical instruments alongside the registered nurse
  • Monitoring all members of the operating team to make sure procedures are followed and all instruments remain sterile
  • Operating suction machines, sterilizing equipment, and other instrument devices
  • Working with patients to move them from room to room
  • Ensuring patients are comfortable and prepared for surgery with the appropriate supplies
  • Stocking supplies, equipment, and other tools needed for an operation
  • Observing patients' vital signs
  • Assembling sterile and nonsterile equipment
  • Passing instruments and sterile supplies to operating room staff
  • Disposing of and transporting specimens to laboratories or testing facilities

A surgical technologist or surgical technician may choose to work in operating rooms at a hospital, private surgical facilities, in a dental office, or turn to teaching in order to train other surgical techs.

Career Options for a Surgical Technologist

A surgical technician can advance in their particular area of surgery through specialization and ongoing experience. They may work along with a team of surgical techs to help patients in a hospital environment, or individually with a supervising surgeon or nurse. A surgical technologist can begin a career in the field as a surgical assistant, which can then advance to positions with more responsibility. A surgical technician may choose to specialize in areas such as:

  • Neurosurgery
  • Heart surgery
  • Anesthesia
  • Wound preparation

Surgical Technology Training Programs and Certification

A prospective surgical technician or surgical technologist can pursue a 2-year associate's degree program from an accredited school, or simply complete a 1 year program for certification or a diploma. A surgical technologist can receive formal training from junior colleges, tech schools, and vocational schools. Courses of study include hands-on educational components that may include classes such as:

  • Surgical Instrumentation
  • Pharmacology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Sterilization
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy

After completing the necessary courses for a degree or diploma in surgical technology, certification as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) is an important step. Most employers find certification to be a valuable asset, and are more likely to hire a surgical tech that is certified. Students can receive certification by completing the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) examination. This is a national examination that must be renewed every four years by The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Some hospitals choose to test their employees on site, so if a surgical technician does not meet the basic standards before employment they may have an alternative option.

The National Center for Competency Testing also offers certification, and students who qualify for this version must meet specific requirements such as:

  • Successful completion of a 2-year hospital training program
  • Seven years of work experience in the field
  • Successful completion of an accredited training program

Surgical technology students who have done well in biology, math, physical sciences, and anatomy during high school will be well-prepared for their career as a surgical tech.

Surgical Technologist Program Accreditation

Surgical techs can pursue an education at over 400 accredited programs throughout the United States. The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognizes these programs.

Surgical Tech Earning Potential and Employment Prospects

The employment prospects for the surgical technologist look promising with the rise in health services and the need for certified and skilled medical professionals. Surgical procedures are becoming increasingly advanced and many require a surgical assistant for maintenance and general operation. With a higher demand for doctors and nurses, a surgical tech can find many job opportunities in the health industry. As a result, employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow faster than average through 2014.

Median annual earnings for a surgical assistant or surgical technician were $44,077 in 2006. With additional training, a surgical technologist has an opportunity to advance to a senior position and work with various departments. Related occupations include:

  • Dental Assistants

  • Medical Assistants

  • Clinical Technologist or Technician

  • Laboratory Technologist

  • Practical Nurse

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