Surgical technologists are also known as Scrub techs, OR (operating) techs, and OR specialists. They assist in surgery under the supervision of the surgical nurses, surgeons, or other surgical professionals. Surgical techs are not nurses.
Duties, Activities, and Scope of Practice
The surgical tech participates in many activities involving the surgical process. They assist with prepping patients by performing duties such as washing and shaving the incision site and transporting the patient to the OR. They assist patients in transfer to the operating table and drape them appropriately for the surgery. They lay out the sterile trays of instruments for the surgeons. The set up and check out the equipment and all drapes, tools, and solutions that will be needed for the surgery.
They help the surgical team (the circulating nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists) during surgery by passing instruments, holding retractors, and counting sponges, needles, instruments, and supplies. They may also cut sutures and apply dressings.
After surgery they help to transport and transfer patients to the recovery room. Then they help clean and restock the surgical suite.
Education and Training
Surgical tech programs last from nine to twenty-four months and are offered by vocational schools, the military, hospitals, community colleges, and universities. There are now over 400 accredited programs that lead to either a certificate, diploma, or associate's degree. The programs are accredited by CAAHEP (the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs).
The curriculum includes both classroom and clinical experience. The classroom courses include anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, and medical terminology. Students learn to sterilize instruments, prepare and utilize specialized equipment, and how to handle solutions, supplies, and special drugs used in surgery. They learn about infection control measures, standard precautions, and how to maintain a sterile environment (asepsis).
Most employers prefer certification. Voluntary certification can be achieved in two ways. Graduates of accredited programs can sit for a national certification exam from either the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist or the National Center for Competency Testing. The former provides the title C.S.T. (certified surgical technologist), which must be renewed every four years by meeting continuing-education requirements. The latter is a TS-C (Tech in Surgery-Certified) and is renewed every five years by either continuing education or re-examination.
Work Settings and Salaries
Most surgical techs work forty hours a week and have some on-call responsibility. Their routine shifts may include evening and weekend hours. Surgical techs stand for long hours and must remain alert at all times during surgery. The median salary for 2004 according to the U.S. Department of Labor was $34,010. Salaries typically ranged from $23,940 to $45,990.
About 70 percent of the 84,000 surgical technologists working in 2004 worked in hospitals. They mostly worked in operating rooms or delivery rooms. Others worked for outpatient surgical centers or for physicians or dentists who perform outpatient surgery in their offices.
Career Potential and Additional Information
The number of surgical procedures is expected to rise as the population ages and grows, and therefore the potential for employment for surgical techs is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. Hospitals will continue to be the primary employer.
Surgical techs have opportunities to specialize in certain areas, such as cardiovascular or neurological surgeries. They can also seek additional education and training and advance to roles such as surgical first assistant, who provides additional care and duties under the supervision of the surgeon, like suctioning, cauterizing, and closing wounds.
Surgical techs can advance up the hierarchy of surgical technologists and become supervisors or managers, or move into central supply or medical sales.
For more information about becoming a surgical tech, contact the Association of Surgical Technologists. Their Web site is