Education and Training: Community college or vocational/technical school
Salary: Median—$34,010 per year
Employment Outlook: Very good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Surgical technologists, also known as operating room technicians, are part of the surgical team. They assist the doctors, nurses, and other operating room workers. They help prepare patients for surgery by washing, shaving, and disinfecting the intended areas of operation. They clean and set up the surgical equipment. They also transport patients to the operating room, position them on the operating table, and cover them with surgical drapes.
Surgical technologists set up the operating room with instruments and supplies. They help the surgical team scrub in and put on their gowns, gloves, and masks. During surgery, they hand instruments and supplies to the proper surgeons. They may also monitor a patient's vital signs. Technicians help keep track of equipment. They may also help to prepare samples of tissues or organs that will be tested in a laboratory. At times they operate some of the machines in the operating room.
After an operation, technicians take patients to the recovery room. They help to clean and restock the operating room and get it ready for the next operation.
Education and Training Requirements
Surgical technologists usually need a high school diploma. Courses in health and science are helpful. Summer or volunteer work in a hospital is also good experience.
Most surgical technologists receive formal training in vocational and technical schools, hospitals, and community colleges. These training programs, which provide both classroom training and supervised clinical experience, last from nine months to two years. They lead to a certificate or a degree. Students take a variety of courses including anatomy, medical terminology, and professional ethics. They also learn procedures such as how to sterilize instruments, handle drugs, and control infections. Two organizations certify surgical technologists via national examinations to become either a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) or a Tech in Surgery–Certified (TS-C). To maintain certification, the surgical technologist must become recertified on a regular basis. Certification is not required to get a job, but most employers prefer to hire certified surgical technologists.
Getting the Job
You can apply directly to the hospital in which you want to work. Also check job listings at state or private employment offices. Newspaper want ads and job banks on the Internet sometimes list jobs for surgical technologists.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Surgical technologists can advance to jobs with more responsibility as they gain experience. They can also specialize in a particular area of surgery such as neurosurgery. With further education they can also move into other health care jobs.
The employment outlook is expected to grow much faster than the average through the year 2014. Growth and aging of the population, advances in surgical techniques, and widespread insurance coverage are expected to increase the number of operations performed. Graduates of postsecondary school training programs will have the best opportunities.
Surgical technologists generally work forty hours per week. Sometimes they must be on call for night and weekend work. They work with doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers. They must be on their feet for long periods of time and remain alert. Sometimes they can be exposed to diseases and to unpleasant sights and sounds. Surgical technologists need to be careful workers and remain calm in emergencies. They should also be in good health.
Where to Go for More Information
Association of Surgical Technologists
6 W. Dry Creek Circle
Littleton, CO 80120
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary depending on education, experience, and location. In 2004 surgical technologists earned a median salary of $34,010 per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.