The future looks bright for surgical technologists.
The number of surgical technologists is projected to increase 30 percent from through 2022—a number that dwarfs the 11 percent growth projected for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only that, the median wage for surgical techs in 2012 was $41,790 compared to the $34,750 median wage for all occupations. If that doesn’t catch your interest; the fact it doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree should.
While you might be chomping at the bit to get started, it’s important to understand some of the less-common skills needed to be successful in the field. Surgical techs play a unique, hands-on role in the medical field and the skills needed to succeed are just as unique. The usual descriptors like “team-player” and “dedicated” are all great to have, but these five skills identified by surgical techs will help you stand out.
Surgical tech skill #1: Nerves of steel
“You need to remain calm in the operating room,” surgical tech Nicole Gumke says. “When you’re tense, everyone else in the room becomes tense too.”
A shaky hand is a surgical tech’s worst nightmare. It is essential for you to remain calm and focus on your duties, no matter how simple or complex a procedure may be. You’re more likely to make a mistake if you’re jittery and even if you aren’t the one making the mistake, nervous energy can become infectious in an operating room.
Surgical tech skill #2: A strong stomach
“You’re going to see and touch some pretty amazing things in the OR—organs, bones, brains, tumors, cysts … you name it, you’ll probably see it,” Gumke says. “But with that comes a strong stomach, so if you’re squeamish this isn’t the right job for you.”
Any hands-on healthcare job has unpleasant to downright disgusting moments, but as a surgical tech you will be smack dab in the presence of more exposed innards than you’d probably care to share. It’s important that you keep your cool and don’t get woozy in the middle of an operation if things get messy.
Surgical tech skill #3: Attention to detail
There aren’t many jobs where knowing whether your coworker is left or right handed is important, but knowing these seemingly minor details are crucial to being an effective surgical tech. Your job is to have everything prepared so operations go as smoothly as possible, so you need to have an eye for detail. You need to pay close attention to the surgeon and be absolutely sure of your actions in the operating room in order to ensure patient safety.
Rasmussen College surgical tech program coordinator Lori Groinus encourages would-be surg techs to keep a personal perspective.
“Precision and accuracy are the goal one hundred percent of the time,” Groinus says. “You need to provide the type of care you’d want for your loved ones, because every patient is somebody’s loved one.”
Surgical tech skill #4: Thick skin
“There isn’t always the time to applaud or compliment a job well done—besides, doing a good job is the expectation,” Groinus says. “It’s true there are some tough doctors and nurses out there, but it’s just like any workplace—some are just fine, some are not so nice and some are awesome.”
Thick skin is always important when your job involves handling sharp objects regularly. But seriously, mistakes happen and with that you can expect to catch some strongly worded criticism from the operating surgeon. You need to be able to take criticism without getting flustered and learn from your mistakes. It may seem like a tongue-lashing for a small mistake is harsh, but a mistake in surgery can be the difference between life and death.
“When you’re new and finding your way you’re going to mess up and get yelled at,” Gumke says. “You have to take it with a grain of salt and learn from it as it takes a while to learn all the likes and dislikes of each surgeon.”
Surgical tech skill #5: Adaptability
“Thinking on your feet is very important for a surgical tech,” Groinus says. “There isn’t time to wait and be told what to do.”
Everyone in the operating room would love for each procedure to be a perfectly orchestrated series of snips and slices followed by some tidy stitching. Unfortunately reality tends to get in the way—things can go wrong and unexpected issues can come up. When this happens you need to be able to think on your feet and keep calm, no matter how intense the situation can be.
The unexpected is inevitable in the operating room, the key is to quickly get yourself a step ahead.
Do you have what it takes?
This list may seem a little intimidating, but the good news is that these skills can all be improved with practice and experience, even developing a strong stomach. You will see and experience some truly amazing things as a surgical tech and have the opportunity to help save lives on a regular basis. That’s what makes all the blood, guts and pressure worthwhile. If you’re ready to get on the fast track to a surgical tech career, visit Rasmussen College’s surgical technologist program page to learn more.