Surgical technologists typically do the following:
Before an operation, surgical technologists prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and equipment. They prepare sterile solutions and medications used in surgery and check that all surgical equipment is working properly. Surgical technologists also bring patients to the operating room and get them ready for surgery by positioning them on the table, covering them with sterile drapes, and washing and disinfecting incision sites. And they help the surgical team put on sterile gowns.
During an operation, surgical technologists pass the sterile instruments and supplies to surgeons and first assistants. They might hold retractors, hold internal organs in place during the procedure, or set up robotic surgical equipment. Technologists also may handle specimens taken for laboratory analysis.
After the operation is complete, surgical technologists may apply bandages and other dressings to the incision site. They may also transfer patients to recovery rooms and restock operating rooms after a procedure.
Surgical first assistants have a hands-on role, directly assisting surgeons during a procedure. For example, they may help to suction the incision site or suture a wound.
Surgical technologists typically need a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree from an accredited surgical technology program. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, offer accredited programs that range in length from several months to 2 years.
Surgical technology education includes courses such as anatomy, microbiology, and physiology. They also learn about the care and safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition to classroom study, students gain hands-on experience in supervised clinical settings.
Surgical first assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as surgical technologists and receive additional on-the-job training to become first assistants.
There are about 500 surgical technologist programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Certification may be beneficial for finding a job. Surgical technologists may earn certification through credentialing organizations.
Certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).” Certification typically requires completing an accredited formal education program or military training program and passing an exam.
Certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title “Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS-C (NCCT).” Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, or work experience. All require documenting critical skills and passing an exam.
Both certifications require surgical technologists to complete continuing education to maintain their certification.
In addition, many jobs require technologists to become certified in CPR or basic life support (BLS), or both.
A small number of states have regulations governing the work of surgical technologists or surgical first assistants, or both.
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants, and the American Board of Surgical Assistants offer certification for surgical first assistants.