Doctors and nurses aren’t the only important people in an operating room when someone’s life is on the line – surgical technologists assist them with life-saving procedures. But what, exactly, do they do?
Some pretty important stuff, it turns out.
Surgical technologist duties are varied and may be complicated at times. But with proper training, even the most difficult part of the job becomes easier, says Lori Groinus, Rasmussen College’s surgical technology program coordinator and instructor.
Groinus, who has 20 years experience as a surgical tech, says that although the job can be stressful, there’s one big perk of the operating room – the team.
“We’re in a team, so you’re not the only one responsible for everything going on with the patient,” she says. “You are responsible for your role, and there’s always someone around to help.”
But still the question remains, what is the role? Let’s take an in-depth look at how the skills learned in the classroom translate to the duties performed by surgical techs in the operating room.
How Surgical Technologists Prepare for Surgery
Prior to surgery, surgical techs get a list of supplies that are needed for the procedure. This list also includes details regarding the surgeon’s personal preferences and whether they’re right- or left-handed – the doctor’s dominant hand helps determine how the room is organized.
“No two surgeons like everything exactly the same, even on the same procedure,” Groinus says.
After going through the list, the surgical tech is responsible for transporting supplies to the operating room and arranging them in their proper positions. Once preparation is complete, surgical techs put on their sterile gowns, gloves and protective masks.
While the surgical tech is preparing the operating room the nurse and anesthesia technician will guide the patient onto the operating table, position them correctly and wash the area of skin where the incision will occur. The final piece of preparation for the surgical tech is to apply sterile drapes around the patient.
A Surgical Technologist’s Role During Surgery
During surgery, the surgical tech’s role is to hand the proper instruments and medication to the surgeon.
While this may sound mundane, surgical techs actually need to know the names of hundreds of medical instruments. Learning the names of all the instruments used in the operating room may sound like a daunting task, but it’s something surgical tech students study extensively in the classroom.
Groinus says her students spend their first quarter learning the names of the instruments they’ll be using in the operating room. While there are many instruments to learn, things like abdominal retractor and mosquito forceps, she says the names are not as hard to remember as you might think as around 100 instruments are used most frequently.
And, Groinus says, it’s easier to remember the information on the job than in the classroom because surgical techs aren’t quizzed on the names of the instruments in the operating room.
Sometimes, the surgical tech can even be hands-on with the patient, Groinus says.
“Very often we have an opportunity to assist the surgeon by holding retractors and manipulating tissue,” she says, noting that surgical techs aren’t allowed to actually perform any portion of the surgery.
Throughout the procedure surgical techs need to think ahead and ask themselves important questions – What will the surgeon ask for next? How is this procedure going? Might there be any complications?
Groinus says she prepares her students for things that might go wrong during surgery by hosting classroom discussion about potential problems and the solutions to hypothetical situations.
Post-Surgery Surgical Technologist Duties
After surgery, the surgical tech applies bandages to the patient and assists in removing the patient from the room.
Surgical techs are also a part of the team that cleans up the operating room post-surgery, alongside housekeeping staff and the nurses. This is an important step to lower the risk of infections. Cleaning includes gathering up the used instruments and laundry and preparing for the next procedure by putting everything in place.
A surgical tech’s day doesn’t include much downtime – depending on the facility, surgical techs are often asked to help sterilize instruments or assist other surgeries when they’re done with their own.
After reading about a surgical tech’s duties, is the job not sounding exactly as you had envisioned? Don’t give up on it yet! Training for this specialized role in the operating room means you’ll be able to impact countless lives every day.
Though surgical techs have many duties before, during and after surgery, Groinus says the job is rewarding.
“We’re right there with the surgeon, really elbow-to-elbow with them, so it gives us an opportunity to participate in the greater good,” she says.
Knowing what a surgical tech does in their day-to-day work is an important step in figuring out if this career would be a good for you, but what skills are necessary to take on these daily tasks?
Skills Needed to Be a Surgical Technologist
The following chart illustrates the top 15 skills employers are looking for in a surgical tech, according to Burning Glass, a comprehensive database providing statistics and insights about the current job market.
Groinus agrees that communication skills and an ability to build relationships with co-workers are particularly important for aspiring surgical techs.
“You definitely need to be pretty level-headed and calm under pressure,” she says. “Sometimes the team is a great thing, but teams bring different personalities. So you might work with some challenging people.”
Based on her 20 years of field experience, she considers a high level of ethics, being detail-oriented, and having the stamina to stand for long periods of time skills that are essential to the job.
While surgical techs don’t actually perform surgery on patients, they are an integral part of the surgical team and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.
If you are willing to gain the necessary skills and are interested in surgical technologist duties, our “Healthcare Job Outlook” eBook discusses the job outlook for surgical technologists.