5 Unique Surgical Tech Skills You Need to Succeed
The future looks bright for surgical technologists.
The number of surgical technologists is projected to increase 12 percent through 2026, which is faster than the seven percent growth projected for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only that, but also the median wage for surgical techs in 2017 was $46,310 as compared to the $37,040 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 may be eager to launch your surgical tech career, it’s important to know whether you have what it takes beforehand. Because they play such a unique, hands-on role in the operating room, it is critical that surgical techs understand the less-common skills that are needed to become successful in the field. The usual descriptors like “hard-worker” and “dedicated” are all great to have, but these five skills identified by surgical techs will help you stand out.
Surgical tech skill #1: A strong stomach
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.
After all, there will be quite a bit of blood—and smells—in the operating room, says Rasmussen College Program Coordinator Chante Yearby. It might not come easy for everyone, but the initial shock of surgical sights and smells does eventually get easier to deal with.
Surgical tech skill #2: Attentiveness and anticipation
“A good surgical tech anticipates the needs of the operation, whether it is related to surgical hardware or suture,” says neurosurgeon Abhishiek Sharma, MD. “A great surgical tech has not only a basic knowledge of instruments and equipment, but also he or she is actively engaged in the operation.”
It is essential for you to remain calm and focus on your duties, no matter how simple or complex a procedure may be. An alert and attentive surgical tech can make all the difference in the operating room, assisting surgeons and nurses and actively anticipating anything to come.
Surgical tech skill #3: Thick skin
Thick skin is always important when your job involves handling sharp objects regularly. But seriously, mistakes happen and with that, you can expect to receive 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.
Yearby says that because of this, it is a necessity for surgical techs to be even-tempered and not prone to overreaction. You might not agree with the criticism or the tone, but losing your cool will not make it better.
Surgical tech skill #4: Team-oriented mindset
“A successful surgery takes a team. Teamwork is a great quality to have anywhere, but it’s mandatory for surgical techs,” says Rasmussen College program coordinator Sally Vance.
Your job is to have everything in the OR prepared, so you need to be team-oriented in order for everything to go as smoothly as possible for everyone involved. 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.
“A good surgical tech almost becomes an extension of the surgeon,” says Sharma.
Surgical tech skill #5: Adaptability
“Operating rooms can change on a dime,” says Yearby. “Cases can be added or canceled at the last minute. The surgeon could be running late. Procedures may not go as planned.”
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, and the key is to quickly get yourself a step ahead.
Do you have what it takes?
Even if all of these qualifiers don’t quite match you yet, 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 page to learn more.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook [career information accessed August 5, 2018.] Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in June 2014. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2018