Surgical technologists, also known as surgical technicians or operating room
technicians, work in surgical teams under the supervision of more senior personnel
such as surgeons and registered nurses in a variety of necessary support roles.
Before an operation, surgical technologists prepare the operating room for operations,
ensure the cleanliness and sterility of the operating room and all surfaces, drapes,
sterile solutions, and tools to be used in the operation and also clean, shave, and
disinfect incision sites on the patient. During a procedure, surgical technologists
monitor position and drape patients as per the needs of the operation and of the
surgical team as well as monitor the patient’s vital signs and charts in order to
help ensure that the operation proceeds smoothly. They may also handle instruments,
medication, and other equipment and close incisions during procedures. More senior
surgical technologists may be involved in the training of new technicians and
registered nurses in the discharge of their duties.
Training and Education for Surgical Technicians
Surgical technologists in the United States normally study for one to two years
in order receive an associate’s degree in surgical technology. A typical surgical technologist curriculum includes significant amounts of coursework in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, surgical technology and procedures, as well as some training in psychology and computer systems. Surgical technology curricula include theoretical instruction and training in teaching laboratories and clinical environments. The coursework prepares surgical technologists for their functions both in and out of the operating room. Surgical technologists often interact with patients prior to surgeries while preparing them for upcoming procedures, so bedside manner is also an important quality. Surgical technologists’ psychology coursework focuses on this kind of interaction.
Specializations for surgical technologists include cardiac, orthopedic, pediatric, and OB/GYN surgery. Surgical technologists may also advance to roles with greater responsibility and, consequently, pay grade such as surgical assistant. Surgical technologists also have the option of pursuing careers in veterinary surgery, product research and development, and in military service. The military also has its own training pathways for surgical technologists if an aspiring technologist has not yet received training in the field. However, there is no guarantee that the military will provide such training if they believe a recruit would be better suited elsewhere, so someone whose really wants to become a military surgical technologist should get a surgical technology degree before enlisting.
Certification for Surgical Assistants
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) is the national body that administers the Certified Surgical Technician (CST) examination. Passing the CST exam is the only way to become a certified surgical technologist. The CST exam covers all of the knowledge that the NBSTSA considers necessary for a competent surgical technologist, all of which should be familiar to someone with an associate’s degree in surgical technology or has received other appropriate training in the field. Other training may include graduation from a military training program in surgical technology or a surgical first assisting program. Individuals who have received sufficient education in a less formal setting, such as on-the-job training or self-study, and therefore do not hold proof of graduation from such programs may apply to take the CST exam through the NBSTSA’s Accelerated Alternate Delivery (AAD) pathway. Those who take the AAD pathway need the sponsorship of an institution accredited by the NBSTSA and must report their self-education to the NBSTSA.
Qualifications for Surgical Technicians
Because they play so many roles, there are many qualifications beyond the educational requirements and examinations necessary for becoming a surgical technologist that determine one’s responsibilities, wages, and employability. For instance, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Technicians (NCCSA) administers examinations for becoming surgical assistants. Surgical assistants hold many more responsibilities than technologists, but a surgical technologist’s experience can be invaluable and both roles fulfill overlapping, though not entirely identical, roles. Surgical technologists who wish to specialize in a certain area of surgery like those listed above also need to receive specialist training in those areas. There are also specific qualifications for becoming a traveling surgical technologist, a technician whose specialty primarily involves the performance of surgical procedures under non-ideal circumstances such as in small medical facilities that may not have the same fully equipped, high-tech operating rooms as a larger hospital.
Employment and Outlook for Surgical Technicians
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the job outlook for surgical technologists in this decade at 30 percent growth in number of jobs, nearly three times the national average for job growth. The BLS predicts that nearly 30,000 new surgical technologist jobs will open up in that time period. To put it short, this is one of the country’s most employable careers and the job outlook for surgical technologists is excellent. This job outlook reflects a long-standing deficit in medical support professionals like surgical technologists, nurses, and physicians’ assistants.
Most surgical technologists work in hospitals where surgeries are commonplace. This is fairly reasonable to expect since these places are where most surgeries happen. However, surgical technicians are also employed heavily by the Peace Corps, charitable medical organizations, medical consulting firms, and in material management roles where surgical technologist expertise often proves useful. Experienced surgical technicians also have the option of taking on educational or instructive roles as college instructors or even technical writers, photographers, and illustrators. In the latter cases, their experience in surgical roles lends them the insight necessary to produce clear and useful writing and images for technical and educational documents.
Salary for Surgical Technicians
According to the BLS, the median annual income for a surgical technologist in the year 2012 was $41,790 and their wages averaged out to $20.09 per hour. Pay rate is closely tied to a technologist’s education and experience as well as location. The highest paid surgical technologist positions exist in California, Texas, Colorado, and New England, while positions in more rural states tend to pay less. However, these salaries do reflect the cost of living in these areas. In general, a first-year surgical technologist’s income generally rates around $31,000 per year, but an experienced specialist can expect to make around $50,000.¬¬ Surgical technologists working in teaching hospitals also tend to earn a little more than those who do not, which is another possible explanation for the higher average income for surgical technologists in states like California and Texas that have several medical schools.