What do you want to become?
Alternate Career Titles: Surgical Tech, ST, Operating Room Technician
Career Overview: Surgical Technologists assist in surgical operations by preparing operating rooms, arranging equipment and providing aid to Surgeons.
Career Salary Range: $31,720 to $64,800
Estimated Years of Schooling Required: 1 to 2 years
Required Minimum Degree/License: Postsecondary Non-Degree Award or an Associate’s Degree
Become a Surgical Technologist
Surgical Technologists are members of operating room team who complete tasks before, during and after a surgery. Beforehand, the Surgical Technologist will prepare patients for the impending surgery, as well as prepare the room (by sterilizing equipment and ensuring that all the necessary and adequate equipment is present) for the surgeon and other healthcare professionals who will be present. They may also be asked to cleanse and disinfect the intended incision areas.
During the surgery, Surgical Technologists will assist by providing the surgeons with the tools and instruments they need, and by holding organs in place or using retractors. Then, after the surgery, these professionals will assist in dressing the patient’s wounds and escorting them to their respective recovery room.
“Being a surgical tech is possibly the most rewarding and underrated profession out there. It is not one of the higher paying careers out there necessarily, but every ST I know is bound 100 percent to their career due to the satisfaction they receive at the end of the day,” Keith Maas, CST, who has been a ST for 19 years, said. “When you get home at the end of the day you receive what everyone wants; you feel like you are a part of something, you have accomplished something great and it was a challenge both physically and mentally.”
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Education & Training
To become a Surgical Tech, a postsecondary education, whether it be at a community college, vocational school, college or university, is commonly required. Most Surgical Technology programs take several months to 2 years to finish, and award either a diploma, certification or degree upon completion. These programs are science-course intensive and teach students how to efficiently sterilize, set up equipment, care for patients and control infections through in-class lessons and hands-on experiences.
“Technical colleges offer a surgical tech course and are either a one year or two year. One year offers a certificate when completed and the other offers a certificate as well as an Associate’s Degree,” Maas explained. “Parts of the course are tough because you are not just learning anatomy or physiology, but you are also learning surgical concept, sterile techniques and concepts as well as procedural steps.”
Mass added that, although he found the required schooling to be a challenge, it was not insurmountable. Additionally, because he had previously been trained in the Navy as a hospital corpsman, he feels as though he might have had an advantage over others who were enrolled in the classes fresh out of high school or who were transitioning from a completely different field.
Although only a small number of states have regulations in place to govern the work of Operating Room Technicians, certification is encouraged and certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), whereas certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title “Tech in Surgery – Certified or TS-C (NCCT).
“Although hospitals do not yet require a certification for employment, I would expect that to happen sooner than later,” Maas said. “Being certified also helps you get get hired over someone who is not certified.”
To make career advancements as a Surgical Technologist, professionals can choose to complete additional education, training and/or certifications and licenses. As this additional education amasses, some Surgical Technologists will use their credits to help them transition into other healthcare occupations, such as First Assistants. This title can also be obtained through on-site training.
“When choosing an educational program, I would recommend choosing a 2 year associates program, giving you a foundation for later if you decide to pursue something else,” Maas said. “The surgical tech role is a great foundation, and I have worked with nurses who started as Techs, surgical company reps and even Surgeons who started their career on this side of the operating table.”
Experience & Skills
To be an effective member of any surgical team, Surgical Technologists should be knowledgeable on how to prepare/stock operating rooms for surgery, sterilize equipment and count to ensure there are an adequate number of supplies. They should also know how to maintain a sterile environment and how to apply bandages/dressings to incision sites. Lastly, they should be comfortable preparing patients for surgery by washing, disinfecting and tending to incision sites, and able to transfer them to their recovery rooms post-surgery.
“You have to love what you do and be passionate about it, just like any other career,” Maas said. “Although becoming a successful Surgical Tech requires a couple of career specific abilities, and the first is to be thick-skinned. You are operating on someone’s mother or sister or father.”
Mass noted that this element of the career means that someone has entrusted a Surgical Technician and the surgical team with this person’s life, so they deserve the utmost focus and attention. This also means that the environment can be high-stress and intense, often without courtesies like “please” and “thank you” being used.
Additionally, he explained that it is important to remain passionate about the role, and to allow this passion to translate into a desire to be constantly learning. For example, Maas made note that to be a successful ST, these professionals should take it upon themselves to find answers to all of their questions, learning as much about the role and field as possible.
“Your surgeon knows and understands these things and uses them in their decision making process and in order to be a part of the procedure and act ahead and think independently, then these things are good to know,” Maas said. “Essentially in order to be excellent, you have to make yourself excellent.”
One of the most important traits of a Surgical Technologist should be their honesty and attention to detail, as they are influential healthcare professionals who are trusted to provide sterile supplies and pre-surgery services. Operating Room Technicians should also possess dexterity because they need to be comfortable working with their hands, sometimes quickly. They should also be able to exhibit physical stamina and stress-management skills since surgeries can last for extended periods of time and can produce high-stress environments.
“Again, you have to be passionate, mentally strong and you have to love what you do,” Maas said. “I have worked with ST’s with all personalities, and it seems every personality fits in perfectly in their own way. Your career performance is what makes you excellent and your independent personality is separate.”
Most often employed by hospitals, Surgical Techs tend to be full-time employees and can be on-call during nights, weekends and holidays. They can also be required to work shifts lasting longer than 8 hours, and during which they may be on their feet for long periods of time. Additionally, they wear scrubs while in the operating room, and should be prepared to, at times, be exposed to unpleasant sights, odors and materials. However, the accomplishment of assisting with a successful surgery can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling–especially to those who wished to become a surgeon, but did not want to pursue the lengthy educational requirements.
“It is what you make it,” Maas said. “It can be as many hours as you want, so you can work a 40-hour week and take calls and make a lot of money, or you can be like someone whom I used to work.. She worked in a part-time position working only with the doctors she chose to work with.”
As with other healthcare careers with great purpose in assisting the aging “baby boomer” population, Surgical Technologists are in demand as more and more seniors wish to undergo quality-of-life-enhancing surgeries such as knee replacements or cataract removal. Thus, with 107,700 already recorded Surgical Tech positions recorded in 2016, the profession is expected to grow at a rate of 12 percent from 2016 to 2026. This growth is also being impacted by constant advancements in surgical equipment, and a willingness and trust to resort to surgeries.
“Where a Surgical Technician should consider finding employment varies by the individual,” Maas said. “You can work in a surgical center that is a 7 am to 3 pm type position with no call, or you can work in a trauma center that is high intensity. You can also specialize and work in a private arena like for a plastic surgeon with their own private operating room.”
Currently, the top employing facilities are state, local and private hospitals, followed by physicians offices and outpatient care centers. Additionally, the top employing states are Texas, California, Florida, New York and Ohio.
Leading to a comfort in finances, the median annual wage for a Surgical Technologist in May 2016 was recorded to be $45,160, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $31,720 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $64,800. Ultimately, the highest paying facilities were reportedly outpatient care centers, followed by the offices of physicians, hospitals and dental offices. The top earning states were Nevada, California, District of Columbia, Alaska and Washington.
“The initial earning potential for a Surgical Technologist is so-so,” Maas said. “However, if you are motivated, take call and work a lot you can make reasonably good money depending on the area in which you live.”
Unions, Groups, and Associations
The American Surgical Association is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious surgical organization. The primary mission of the Association is to be the premier organization for surgical science and scholarship and to provide a national forum for presenting the developing state of the art and science of general and subspecialty surgery and the elevation of the standards of the medical/surgical profession.
The Association of Surgical Technologists is the oldest and most widely recognized professional organization for surgical technologists. Representing more than 80,000 surgical technologists, its primary purpose is to ensure that surgical technologists have the knowledge and skills to administer patient care of the highest quality.
“There are a lot of places to get good connections and networking and support. Of course there is the American Surgical Association and Association of Surgical Technologists and the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting which are the professional backbone of our profession,” Maas said. “There are also other palaces via Facebook and other social networking sites that are just a few clicks away and run by peers within the profession.”
- Consider career shadowing a local Surgical Technologist
- Research Surgical Technologist programs
- Apply to a program
“Research and sign up for school. It is never closer than right now,” Maas said.
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Keith Maas
Practice: Piedmont Health Systems
Location: Atlanta, Ga.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Do it. You won’t regret it. It will give you the single biggest form of satisfaction you will ever get from a career.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“It is thinking they know too much. You can always learn more. I have been in the field for 23 years and still I listen to anything someone has to say just in case it is new information.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“How much commitment is required to truly succeed as a Surgical Tech. Anyone can show up and pass instruments when asked, but to truly accelerate, and and be a true professional takes everything you have. Fortunately, this career one in which you can walk away at the end of the day, but when you’re at work you focus is a 150 percent all the time.”
Why did you choose to become a Surgical Technologist?
“I feel the operating room and surgery are the center of everything that happens in medicine. Even over the emergency room. If a patient in the ER needs intervention, they go to the OR. The lab helps to support the OR, as do most units within a hospital, medical offices, etc., require some sort of surgical intervention. I love the high intensity of the operating room, the camaraderie will not be found anywhere else. The career requires a lot of passion, and it is very technical. It is everything I would ever want from a career. When you walk away at the end of a really tough day, you can feel like you have just climbed Mount Everest.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
- National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting