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Surgical Technologist

By Jessica Hanley
Published on December 7, 2009.

Job Duties

Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians or scrubs, help surgeons, registered nurses, and other operating room personnel during surgery. Surgical technologists are responsible for preparing the operating room before the team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, and rotating nurses arrives. They must lay out surgical instruments, assemble sterile and non-sterile equipment, and test the equipment, ensuring everything is ready for the surgery to begin on schedule.

In addition to preparing the operating room, surgical technologists prepare patients for surgery. They must wash, shave, and disinfect the incision area of the patient's body, as well as transport the patient to the operating room. Once there, the surgical technologist places the patient into the correct surgical position and covers him or her with sterile sheets known as "drapes." Just before surgery, a surgical technologist checks the patient's chart, helps the rest of the operating staff into their sterile gowns and gloves, and tracks the patient's vital signs. Their tasks continue into the surgery, where they are often responsible for holding retractors, counting needles or sponges, disposing of specimens, and dressing wounds. Some surgical technologists also operate diagnostic equipment, lights, and sterilizers.

Job Skills

In addition to maturity and emotional stability, surgical technologists must have excellent manual dexterity in order to handle surgical instruments with the required speed and precision. They must remain on-task and be able to respond quickly to the surgical team's needs. Because medical technology is constantly evolving, a surgical technologist must stay abreast of news and trends in the surgery field.

Income

In 2008, surgical technologists earned mean annual wage of $40,070 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Earnings varied depending on experience and location, with the top 10 percent of surgical technologists earning $54,000 or more.

Training and Education

If you're interested in becoming a surgical technologist, many training options are available. Community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, the military, and online schools offer a variety of training programs, most of which require completion of a high school diploma. These programs typically last from 9 to 24 months and lead to a certificate, diploma, or associate's degree. Coursework includes anatomy, microbiology, physiology, pharmacology, medical terminology, and professional ethics. Students are also trained to care for patients, administer patient medication, control infection and work with sterilized instruments.

After graduating from an accredited program and passing an examination, technologists can attain certification from the Liaison Council on Certification of the Surgical Technologist. This certification leads to the title Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). Employers prefer to hire CSTs, so getting certified can help your career as a surgical technologist. In order to maintain certification as a technologist, you must complete required continuing education.

Employment

In 2008, there were approximately 90,000 surgical technologists working in the United States. Approximately 63,000 technologists worked in hospitals, while the rest found work in doctor's offices, outpatient care centers, dentist's offices, or specialty hospitals.

Job Outlook

The BLS expects employment of surgical technologists to grow by 24 percent from in the decade ending in 2016, much faster than the national average. This growth is driven by advances in medical technology, population growth, and the aging baby boomer population. Employment growth is especially strong in doctor's offices and outpatient care centers.

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