What is a surgical technician?
The surgical technician is a very important part of the surgical team. They are the medical professionals who make sure that the surgical procedures being done in the operating room or delivery room are done under sterile conditions and are handled efficiently. They are also known as “scrubs,” “scrub techs,” and “surgical technologists.” They also work closely with the registered scrub nurses. What a surgical technician does will vary according to the medical facility where they are employed and the country where they are working. The role of a surgical technician began on the battle fields of World War I and II when the medics in the United States Army were used to work under the direct supervision of the surgeon doing the operation. In the United States Navy the medical corpsman were the ones used.
Job description of a surgical technician
On any given day a surgical technician will be responsible for:
- Cleaning the surgical instruments to make sure they are sterile before the next operation
- Handing scalpels and other instruments to the surgeons as they need them
- Keeping an inventory of all the surgical instruments
- Making sure that the operation room is clean and sterile after every operation
- Holding the retractors when the surgeon needs them to do so
- Taking specimens that will be sent to the laboratory for analysis
- Helping the surgical nurses and surgeons prepare to go into the sterile operating room by helping them on with their gowns, gloves, shoe coverings, and hair nets.
The surgical technician will also need to anticipate which instruments that the surgeon will need for the operation and have those instruments placed where the surgeon can reach them easily. They can also assist the surgeon in any type of surgical operation from the easiest to the hardest, even cardiac surgeries. A surgical technician may also be responsible for transporting the patient to the recovery room. They may also have the job of shaving the area where the operation is going to be performed and sterilizing the incision points. They will also have to keep a close eye on the vital signs of the patient during the entire surgery and alert the surgeon and registered scrub nurses.
A surgical technician should also have the ability to pay close attention to detail and be able to remember what instruments are needed, what is involved in the particular surgery being performed, etc. You should also have patience, be a people person, have a calm nature in order to help a frightened patient relax, and a desire to help people. You also need to be comfortable working around medical equipment along with knowing all the safety procedures to protect the medical staff and patients from contamination or developing an infection. This is why it is so important to know how to sterilize and clean the operating room and surgical instruments.
A surgical technician must also be able to work in situations that could at times be high stress, especially if the operation is being done to help save a person’s life. You will also need to be use to death as sometimes patients die, especially ones who come into the operating room with a life-or-death emergency. You also must be able to follow directions without asking a lot of questions. You will also have to be knowledgeable about the hundreds of surgical procedures and what instruments are needed for each surgery.
How to become a surgical technician?
Before you make the choice to become a surgical technician you should make sure that you are comfortable being around blood, body fluids, and seeing people cut open for an operation. In high school you should take as many courses as you can in the science field like biology, general science, chemistry, etc. In order to work as a surgical technician you will need to have a diploma, certificate, or associate degree. If you opt for a certificate or diploma this program can be completed in 12 months or less and for an associate degree it will usually take 24 months. Most of the programs to become a surgical technician can be found in community colleges or vocational schools. To get into a surgical technician program all you will need is to have a GED or high school diploma. Make sure that you are looking at the school’s accreditation, how long the program is, how much it costs and where the school is located before making your decision where to pursue your surgical technician degree.
While pursuing your end goal of becoming a surgical technician you will take courses in anatomy and physiology, surgical procedures, pharmacology, and medical technology. If you are going for an associate degree you will also have to complete science and general education requirements. In addition, depending on the program you are taking, you may have to complete an internship, clinical work, externships, or a practicum to give you hands-on training to teach you the proper sterilization methods, how and where to properly place the surgical instruments, and the proper procedures to follow in the operating room.
By the time you complete your training you will know what surgical instruments are required for the different operations, how to prepare the patients for their particular surgery, how to follow surgical directions, how to apply dressings to different wounds, lighting techniques, etc.
It is advisable to complete a program that has earned accreditation from the commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Although this is not a requirement to become a surgical technician completing a program that is CAAHEP can help you be eligible for other important professional certifications. If you are going for an associate degree you will also pass a national exam in order to earn the title of Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). The University of Akron located in Akron, Ohio and the University of Montana located in Missoula, Montana are two of the top schools in the nation that offers this program and it is a 4 year program instead of the normal 2 year program.
Other top schools that offer a surgical technician program include:
- Community College of the Air Force in Montgomery, Alabama
- Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale, Virginia
- Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona
- Austin Community College in Austin, Texas
- Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah
Although being certified as a surgical technician is not as important as having a license there are some of the states that do require surgical technicians to be certified. There are different certifications that you can pursue such as certification from the National Health Care Association or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). You can also take an exam that is conducted by the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist to receive a certificate that will require taking continuing education courses.
Unlike many degrees you can earn in a medical field online it is rare to be able to take a surgical technician program online because many programs require that you complete an internship or do clinical work to hands-on experience.
If you decide to utilize training in military schools the surgical technician would perform the duties of the technician and the circulator with most of the training being done in the actual operating room. In this type of training the surgical technician would be trained by being given progressively more difficult surgical cases to scrub for until they are able to scrub for any type of surgical procedures. Training this way could take several years before becoming a certified surgical technician.
In today’s world a surgical technician can work a variety of different setting that can include:
- Outpatient clinics
- Physician offices
- Dental offices
- State hospitals which is where two-thirds of all surgical technicians are working.
- Field hospitals
- Working for the military in hospitals around the world or on the battlefield
When working as a surgical technician you must be comfortable being on your feet for long periods of time. There may be times where a surgical technician will be required to stand in one place for an extended period of time while other surgical procedures may require you to move around a lot. A surgical technician also has to be alert at all times. Being a surgical technician you most often will not have a regular 8 hour shift. It could be as many as 12 hours a day. Most surgical technicians will work a 5 day work week Monday thru Friday but there may be some who are employed by a hospital or work for a surgeon who is affiliated with the hospital and when the surgeon is on-call they may be on-call also which can mean weekends nights, days, etc.
There are some surgical technicians who have a private practice and work directly with different surgeons on their specialized surgical team such as ones who do liver transplants, heart transplants, etc.
Surgical technician salary
What a surgical technician’s salary will be depends on a variety of factors such as location, degree of education, and how many years of work experience they have. In the United States the average surgical technician yearly salary is around $40,048 but after taking in all the factors it could be more or less.
Some of the best paying surgical technician yearly salaries are in:
- District of Columbia–$47,390
In addition to the salary there are also the benefits such as paid vacation and sick days, health insurance, dental insurance, vision care, personal days, 401K, pension plan, social security, short and long term disability, and life insurance. If you work a swing shift, weekends, or on-call you would also get shift differential. If you are on-call you may also get some reimbursement on your cell phone or be given a cell phone to use while on-call. If you work in different facilities you may also be reimbursed for mileage.
Surgical technician salary in Canada, Australia, and UK
In different parts of the world the salary for a surgical technician differs from what you could earn in the United States.
- Canada—their yearly salary is approximately CAD $40,000 with the highest paid hourly wage being around CAD $27.75. The lowest hourly wage is approximately CAD $17.40.
- Australia—their yearly salary is around Au $61,000 with the average hourly wage between Au$40-Au$45.
- UK—their yearly salary is around 45,000 pounds
Conclusion on surgical technician salary
Yes, a starting surgical technician salary is not that high but it is a growing field and there will always be a need for a surgical technician. In the United States there are over 90,000 surgical technicians. You also have to take into consideration the benefits that are offered. By the year 2018 it is expected that the need for surgical technicians will grow by 25 percent. It is a profession that is growing faster than any other technician profession. Another benefit to being a surgical technician is that it does not take that long to become a certified surgical technician. Depending on whether you are pursing your diploma, certificate, or associate degree it can take from 12 to 24 months.
For some people who are surgical technicians this may just be the first step toward other positions in the medical field. The salary that a surgical technician makes may also depend on whether they have specialized in a particular medical field like an open heart surgical technician or have a supervisory position such as senior surgical technician who helps to train staff and supervises other technicians.