Surgical Tech Overview

Surgical technicians, also known as “scrubs,” “surgical technologists” or “operating room technicians,” are people who assist surgeons during any number of surgeries.

Under the watchful eye of trained surgical personnel, surgical technologists are an integral part of operating room teams which include surgeons, registered nurses (RNs), circulating nurses and anesthesiologists. Without surgical technicians, the operating room would not run as smoothly or efficiently as it does, making the medical field much less safe than it is today.

Keep reading for a general overview of this job title, then dive deeper into the site for more comprehensive information about all the important aspects of the profession.

What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Prior to the start of an operation, a surgical technician will help set up the operating room and prepare the entire setting for surgery. There are a number of ways in which they accomplish this including:

  • Lying out surgical instruments and equipment that will be used by the surgeon(s) during the operation
  • Setting up sterile drapes
  • Assembling equipment, both sterile and non-sterile
  • Ensure proper working capacity of surgical equipment
  • Help transport to and position patients on the operating table
  • Wash, shave and disinfect areas on patient prior to incision
  • Assist surgical team with their sterile wear (gloves, gowns, face-masks, booties, etc.)

But their job does not end there. A surgical technologist’s role goes far beyond just the pre-operative setup. During the actual procedure, “scrubs” also:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Check charts for information as needed
  • Hand surgeons and assistant surgeons medical equipment and instruments as needed (often times anticipating that need due to experience)
  • Hold retractors
  • Cut sutures
  • Operate lights
  • Operate suction machines
  • Keep track and count of sponges and needles
  • Monitor supplies during the operation
  • Assist the surgeons in any way, shape or form necessary to ensure a smoother, more successful operation environment

After the surgery, the surgical technologist has even more responsibilities, completing their role as one of the most integral cogs in the surgical team’s wheelhouse:

  • Transferring patients from the operating table to recovery
  • Operation of sterilization equipment to ensure the sterility of surgical instruments
  • Preparing and disposing of specimens taken for lab analysis
  • Caring for patients in time of need
  • Assisting in dressing stitching wounds and overall post-surgical care
  • Cleaning and restocking surgical operating theaters

In essence, a surgical technologist is the backbone of the surgical team, freeing up the RNs, doctors and surgeons so they can concentrate on the patient’s well-being and the task at hand. Without “scrubs,” many a patient would suffer from lowered levels of medical care and attention.

Job Outlook for Surgical Technicians

The job outlook for surgical techs is very bright, with the U.S. Government Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting an expected 19% increase in job growth between 2014 and 2024. This is faster than the national average job growth expectation of 14%.

The expected job growth in the surgical technician field means job prospects should be steady and solid for anybody now entering scrub training programs or those who have already completed accredited education programs and are maintaining certification.

This is due to a few reasons:

  • Surgery becoming safer with new advancements in technology
  • More operations being done due to our understanding of how to treat them surgically
  • The increasing age of the “baby boomer” generation which translates into more surgeries that typically accompany age (joint replacements, heart procedures, etc.)
  • Surgical technologists are not as highly paid as RNs, which reduces overhead and overall cost in operating rooms, something vital in this rocky economy

The bottom line is that choosing to embark on a career as a surgical technician is a wise choice for those who have an interest in helping people while making a substantial living at the same time.

What Does It Take to Be a Surgical Technologist?

Here are some criteria that you should meet in order to excel as a surgical technician in not only your training and education, but in your career as a “scrub”:

  • Be detail oriented. Because of the attention that must be paid to work at all times, scrubs must be on top of their game constantly. A life hangs in the balance and spacing out for even one second could cause a potentially deadly result.
  • Possess Dexterity. The manner in which operations run is fast-paced and demanding.  Not only physical dexterity is needed for passing equipment quickly and smoothly, but mental dexterity is essential as well for decision making and anticipation of a surgeon’s needs.
  • Have A Strong Stamina. The operating room scenario can be a very physically, mentally and emotionally challenging setting that requires stamina to stand for long periods of time, to see traumatic situations and to emotionally cope with these situations.
  • Possess Stress-management skills. Due to the high stakes of surgery, working in an operating theater can often times be a highly stressful atmosphere. Being able to thrive under that stress is an essential skill that must be possessed by anybody working in emergency and/or surgical care fields.

Education for Surgical Technology

People who succeed in the field of surgical technology often come from strong backgrounds in health, biology, chemistry, and mathematics. If you are currently in high school, take as many courses in those subjects as possible to prepare yourself for your journey as a surgical scrub.

After graduating high school, you will need a post-secondary education typically consisting of attending an accredited program in surgical technology. To be accredited, a training school must be recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). You can find these programs at:

  • Community colleges
  • Technical schools
  • Medical facilities
  • Vocational schools

The typical surgical technologist’s training program consists of:

  • Two years of study resulting in an Associate Degree or certificate
  • Courses in biology, anatomy and medical terminology (amongst other topics)
  • Working in clinical settings under supervision
  • Gaining hands-on experience
  • Training in the safety and care of patients
  • Becoming proficient in sterilization techniques
  • Learning how to prevent and control infections

After completing this training course, you must first be certified to work as a professional surgery technician and then you are free to work at any number of places.

Surgical Technologist Salary

In 2014, the median pay of a surgical technician was $39,920 per year which translates into $19.19 per hour. Of course, depending on geographical location, a scrub just entering the field can make anywhere from $25,342 to $49,708 as of June 2016. This is slightly lower than the average LVN salary.

Becoming a Scrub Tech

For more information on how you can get started on the path towards becoming a surgical tech today, learn about the education requirements on our surgical technologist schools page.