RELATED OCCUPATIONS: Other health occupations
requiring approximately 1 year of training after high school include dental
assistants, licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, clinical
laboratory technologists and technicians, and medical assistants.
Surgical technologists, also called scrubs and surgical or operating room
technicians, assist in surgical operations under the supervision of surgeons,
registered nurses, or other surgical personnel. Surgical technologists are
members of operating room teams, which most commonly include surgeons,
anesthesiologists, and circulating nurses. Before an operation, surgical
technologists help prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments
and equipment, sterile drapes, and sterile solutions. They assemble both sterile
and nonsterile equipment, as well as adjust and check it to ensure it is working
properly. Technologists also get patients ready for surgery by washing, shaving,
and disinfecting incision sites. They transport patients to the operating room,
help position them on the operating table, and cover them with sterile surgical
“drapes.” Technologists also observe patients’ vital signs, check charts, and
assist the surgical team with putting on sterile gowns and gloves.
During surgery, technologists pass instruments and other sterile supplies to
surgeons and surgeon assistants. They may hold retractors, cut sutures, and help
count sponges, needles, supplies, and instruments. Surgical technologists help
prepare, care for, and dispose of specimens taken for laboratory analysis and
help apply dressings. Some operate sterilizers, lights, or suction machines, and
help operate diagnostic equipment.
After an operation, surgical technologists may help transfer patients to the
recovery room and clean and restock the operating room.
Surgical technologists work in clean, well-lighted, cool environments. They
must stand for long periods and remain alert during operations. At times they
may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant sights, odors, and
Most surgical technologists work a regular 40-hour week, although they may be on
call or work nights, weekends, and holidays on a rotating basis.
Surgical technologists held about 84,000 jobs in 2004. About 7 out of 10 jobs
for surgical technologists were in hospitals, mainly in operating and delivery
rooms. Other jobs were in offices of physicians or dentists who perform
outpatient surgery and in outpatient care centers, including ambulatory surgical
centers. A few, known as private scrubs, are employed directly by surgeons who
have special surgical teams, like those for liver transplants.
Surgical technologists receive their training in formal programs offered by
community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and
the military. In 2005, the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health
Education Programs (CAAHEP) recognized more than 400 accredited programs.
Programs last from 9 to 24 months and lead to a certificate, diploma, or
associate degree. High school graduation normally is required for admission.
Recommended high school courses include health, biology, chemistry, and
Programs provide classroom education and supervised clinical experience.
Students take courses in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology,
professional ethics, and medical terminology. Other studies cover the care and
safety of patients during surgery, sterile techniques, and surgical procedures.
Students also learn to sterilize instruments; prevent and control infection; and
handle special drugs, solutions, supplies, and equipment.
Most employers prefer to hire certified technologists. Technologists may obtain
voluntary professional certification from the Liaison Council on Certification
for the Surgical Technologist by graduating from a CAAHEP-accredited program and
passing a national certification examination. They may then use the Certified
Surgical Technologist (CST) designation. Continuing education or reexamination
is required to maintain certification, which must be renewed every 4 years.
Certification also may be obtained from the National Center for Competency
Testing. To qualify to take the exam, candidates follow one of three paths:
complete an accredited training program; undergo a 2-year hospital on-the-job
training program; or acquire seven years of experience working in the field.
After passing the exam, individuals may use the designation Tech in
Surgery-Certified, TS-C (NCCT). This certification may be renewed every 5 years
through either continuing education or reexamination.
Surgical technologists need manual dexterity to handle instruments quickly. They
also must be conscientious, orderly, and emotionally stable to handle the
demands of the operating room environment. Technologists must respond quickly
and must be familiar with operating procedures in order to have instruments
ready for surgeons without having to be told. They are expected to keep abreast
of new developments in the field.
Technologists advance by specializing in a particular area of surgery, such
as neurosurgery or open heart surgery. They also may work as circulating
technologists. A circulating technologist is the “unsterile” member of the
surgical team who prepares patients; helps with anesthesia; obtains and opens
packages for the “sterile” persons to remove the sterile contents during the
procedure; interviews the patient before surgery; keeps a written account of the
surgical procedure; and answers the surgeon’s questions about the patient during
the surgery. With additional training, some technologists advance to first
assistants, who help with retracting, sponging, suturing, cauterizing bleeders,
and closing and treating wounds. Some surgical technologists manage central
supply departments in hospitals, or take positions with insurance companies,
sterile supply services, and operating equipment firms.
Employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow much faster than
average for all occupations through the year 2014 as the volume of surgery
increases. Job opportunities are expected to be good. The number of surgical
procedures is expected to rise as the population grows and ages. The number of
older people, including the baby boom generation, who generally require more
surgical procedures, will ac-count for a larger portion of the general
population. Technological advances, such as fiber optics and laser technology,
will permit an in-creasing number of new surgical procedures to be performed and
also will allow surgical technologists to assist with a greater number of
Hospitals will continue to be the primary employer of surgical technologists,
although much faster employment growth is expected in offices of physicians and
in outpatient care centers, including ambulatory surgical centers.
Median annual earnings of surgical technologists were $34,010 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $28,560 and $40,750. The lowest 10 percent
earned less than $23,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $45,990.
Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of
surgical technologists in May 2004 were: Offices of dentists, $37,510; Offices
of physicians, $36,570; General medical and surgical hospitals, $33,130.
Accreditation Review Committee on Education in Surgical Technology (ARC-ST) -
web site has a directory of accredited educational programs.
Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) - 6 W Dry Creek Circle,
Littleton, CO 80120; 303/694-9130. (
http://www.ast.org, firstname.lastname@example.org) Student membership benefits
($45/yr) include The Surgical Technologist (with job ads) and a discount on the
study guide and certification test. The web site has information on education
and scholarships, with career description on the Profession web page. Jobs
online are by region or members may call 800/637-7433 for help finding
Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist (LCC-ST) - 6
West Dry Creek Circle, Suite 100, Littleton, CO 80120; 800/707-0057. (http://www.lcc-st.org/)
Contact for information on certification.
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for entry level, standard, and executive positions.
Other health occupations requiring approximately 1 year of training after
high school include dental assistants, licensed practical and licensed
vocational nurses, clinical laboratory technologists and technicians, and
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