Surgical technicians, also called surgical techs, surgical technologists or scrubs, assist surgeons in all aspects of the operating room. For every one surgeon, there are usually around 5 surgical technicians who work to keep the operating room running smoothly.
Most surgical technicians begin working after around one to two years of formal training in surgical techniques and background medical knowledge. The surgical tech job description reflects this with many detail-oriented yet highly important clinical tasks.
Surgical Tech Job Duties
Surgical technicians are part of an operating room team that also includes surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. The day-to-day surgical tech job description includes duties such as:
- Setting up the operating room prior to surgery
- Stocking surgical supplies
- Sterilizing instruments, gowns, surfaces and other supplies
- Checking surgical machines and equipment
- Preparing patients for surgery
- Transporting patients to and from surgery
- Passing instruments to surgeons during surgery
- Monitoring patients’ vital signs
- Minor medical procedures
What Does a Surgical Technician Do?
Before an operation, the surgical technologist is responsible for preparing both the operating room and the patient.
The surgical technician first sets up the operating room by sterilizing and laying out the necessary surgical instruments, hanging clean curtains and sheets, and prepping solutions for the surgeon. They also assemble any of the equipment that will be used during surgery, check for any malfunctions, and make any needed adjustments.
The surgical tech will similarly prepare the patient by washing, shaving, and sterilizing the site of the surgery. They will move the patient to the operating room and position them on the operating table.
During an operation, the duties of a surgical technician become more focused on the operation. They hand instruments and other supplies to the surgeon, as well as help the surgeon into fresh gowns and gloves. They may be asked to assist the surgeon in suturing wounds, applying dressing, handling tissue, or cutting stitches. Any specimens taken from the patient for later study will also be cared for by the surgical technologist.
While the surgeon is preoccupied, the surgical technologist is responsible for keeping an eye on the patients’ vital signs and other charts.
After the operation is complete, the surgical technologist transports the patient to recovery and cleans the operating room, re-sterilizing all equipment, surfaces, and materials used during the procedure.
Depending upon the type of training and specialization of the surgical technologist, they may also fill the job description of a surgical first assistant or circulator. As a first assistant, the surgical technician will aid the surgeon in controlling blood flow and protecting the patient from exposure. A circulating surgical tech is responsible for interviewing the patient before the operation, answering the surgeon’s questions about the patient during surgery, assisting the anesthesiologist and creating a written account of the procedure. These roles are slightly more demanding and thus usually earn a higher salary.
Formal training – Most surgical technologists have graduated from a formal surgical tech training program, including an externship. Associate’s degrees, certificates and diplomas are the most common credentials.
Certification – This is not technically a job requirement, but in this highly competitive field, many surgical techs are certified by one or more organizations. Certification is a means for surgical techs to demonstrate their expertise and commitment to ongoing education.
Strong character – Successful surgical techs possess both an iron stomach and a cool head. The surgical technician job description involves witnessing unpleasant and shocking situations, and candidates cannot be squeamish or distracted. Any lapse in duties may be harmful to the patient or the surgical team.
Most surgical technicians work in hospitals, though some work in outpatient surgical clinics and other facilities where surgery is performed. They work primarily in operating rooms, which are kept clean and somewhat chilly. Surgical environments are sterile, and surfaces, instruments, surgical gowns and surgical drapes are frequently re-sterilized.
As with all surgery-related jobs, surgical technologists should expect to be on-call on nights, weekends, and holidays in addition to a regular 40-hour work week.