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What is a Surgical Tech?

A surgical technician is a medical professional who is part of an operating room medical team. A profession that originally resulted from the lack of healthcare personnel available to assist with surgeries during WWII, surgical technicians are now a vital part of the healthcare system.

Surgical technicians are specialists in preparing, organizing, counting, and disposal of surgical instruments. They will often support the doctors and nurses by handing over tools during a surgical procedure. Surgical technicians ensure the operating room is sterile, or free from bacteria and microorganisms. This job is paramount to decreasing the risk of infection post-surgery. Any lapse in detail can lead to devastating complications and even death.

Although most people use technician and technologist interchangeably, there is a slight difference. A technician typically refers to someone who has been taught the skills on the job or passed a training course. In contrast, a technologist usually has earned a degree from an accredited program. Both titles are frequently shortened and referred to simultaneously as “surgical tech.”

What does a Surgical Tech Do?

A surgical tech is responsible for the sterility and organization of an operating room. They ensure the operation goes smoothly and safely. A seasoned surgical tech will anticipate the needs of the surgeon before they even need to ask.

Typically, surgical techs start their day off by reviewing the operation schedule and noting any special circumstances. They will prepare the operating room by setting up surgical instruments and checking the function of the equipment. Surgical techs can also prepare patients for surgery by discussing what to anticipate.

During the surgery, surgical techs are responsible for maintaining the sterile environment and identifying any breaks in the sterile field. Following the procedure, surgical techs will clean the operating room and properly dispose of biohazard materials. It is a surgical tech’s vital responsibility to ensure all the equipment that was used is accounted for.

What skills does a Surgical Tech need?

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What skills does a Surgical Tech need?

The core skills a surgical tech needs revolves around assisting the surgeon and keeping the operating room sterile and organized. It’s essential to become familiar with the different types of surgeries to prepare the room properly. Some of the necessary skills for surgical techs are:

  • Learning the names of surgical tools and equipment
  • The preferences of each surgeon
  • How to prepare and maintain a sterile field
  • Anticipating patient and surgeon needs
  • An awareness of the different types of surgeries and their equipment needs
  • Becoming an expert in aseptic techniques

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Surgical Techs

Work settings for Surgical Techs

Surgical techs work in an operating room. However, that's not only in a hospital anymore. A growing number of surgical procedures are occurring in surgical centers, outpatient clinics, and even doctor’s offices. Surgical techs can be employed in any of these locations. If there is an operating room, a surgical tech will be needed. Sometimes, surgical techs will focus on certain types of surgeries, becoming experts in one type of surgery or body location.  

Common Cases Surgical Techs Encounter

Surgical techs may be involved in emergent or routine surgeries. From an urgent cesarean section to a routine tonsillectomy, surgical techs may experience a broad range of procedures. Depending on their interests, a surgical tech can specialize in:

  • General surgery
  • Plastic surgery
  • Cardiac procedures
  • Neurosurgery
  • Pediatric surgery
  • Orthopedic procedures

How to Become A Surgical Tech

A non-certified surgical tech can learn the necessary skills in a few months from peers or a surgeon, however, a professional surgical tech is encouraged to complete the following steps:

  1. Graduate from an accredited surgical technology program
  2. Obtain the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting
  3. Maintain the CST credential by completing mandatory continuing education hours

How to Advance Your Career As A Surgical Tech

Unfortunately, being a surgical technician is a career that has marginal room for professional upward mobility. Apart from becoming a certified surgical technologist and working up to a lead surgical tech position, it doesn't offer any specialized certifications or registrations. However, some surgical techs further their career in healthcare using their years of direct patient experience as an advantage.

Education Requirements & Helpful Certification

Surgical technicians may learn their skills from on-the-job training. This route does not require any formal education. At this time, there is no national registry of surgical techs and no standard of certifications from state to state. Some states do not require any formal training or certifications.

However, the Association of Surgical Technologists is attempting to make all states require certification and satisfy baseline education requirements to work as a surgical tech. This goal is to maintain a standard of care for surgical techs, requiring anatomy and physiology classes, as well as proper sterile standards. As with any career, completing formal education and training is recommended to make yourself even more marketable to potential employers.

Average Salary For Surgical Techs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists earn a national median salary of $48,530 per year, which breaks down to $23.32 per hour. California and Alaska pay surgical techs the highest wage rate of $65,000 to $68,000 a year, while Mississippi and West Virginia are the lowest-paying states at around $40,000 a year. Interestingly, surgical techs can make nearly $10,000 a year more working in an outpatient facility compared to a hospital.

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Travel Surgical Tech 101

Interested in a travel Surgical Tech career? Here’s all you need to get started.

What is Travel Nurse?

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What is a Surgical Tech?

Further Travel Healthcare Resources

Here are some broad resources to help you in your travel healthcare career, applicable to Allied health roles as well as travel nursing.

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