Surgical scrub techs play a vital role in the success of medical procedures. Scrub techs, also called surgical technicians and surgical scrub technologists, oversee operating room hygiene and safety. To work alongside doctors and nurses as a scrub tech, you need post-high school training. Completing the necessary education opens up opportunities in a fast-growing medical field.
Surgical scrub techs make sure the operating room and patient are prepped. They count sponges, needles and medical instruments. They also use germicides and sterilizers to wash equipment, and they assemble and test lights, suction machines or diagnostic equipment. Once the operating room is ready, techs turn their attention to the patient, washing, shaving and disinfecting the operating site. They move the patient to the operating table and set up sterile surgical drapes to prevent contamination. Finally, scrub techs help doctors and nurses scrub to clean up, and help them put on gloves, masks and surgical clothing.
Scrub techs are on alert during procedures, looking for any problems that could compromise the sterile field. That means running, adjusting and monitoring sterilizers, lights and suction machines. Plus, they hand instruments or supplies such as scalpels and sponges to surgeons. It’s also the tech’s job to hold skin retractors to keep a site open, and cut sutures after the surgeon closes an incision. When the surgeon takes tissue samples such as biopsies, the tech takes the specimen and preps it for lab analysis.
When the surgeon completes her work, the scrub tech steps in and wraps up the job. The tech prepares bandages and applies them to incision sites, and moves the patient to a recovery room. Next, she counts sponges, needles and instruments once more, to ensure every tool is accounted for. Preparing for the next procedure is important as well: The tech cleans the OR and restocks instruments and tools, placing equipment in the order stated on preference cards.
Nearly 70 percent of scrub techs worked inside hospitals as of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 12 percent worked in doctors’ offices, while 8 percent were employed with outpatient clinics. Dentists’ offices accounted for 4 percent of scrub techs. Surgical techs who worked for hospitals had the toughest schedules, often working long shifts or staying on call overnight and on weekends or holidays. Regardless of where they work, scrubs should enjoy more job opportunities as the population ages and new technologies make more surgeries possible. The BLS projects job growth of 10 percent to 19 percent from 2010 to 2020.
Scrub techs need fine motor skills to handle delicate instruments quickly and under pressure. Hand-eye coordination is key to spotting and grabbing the right tools. Also, because they work on a team with doctors, nurses and other professionals, techs need interpersonal and communications skills. Training in a surgical technology program is required. It can take about a year to complete instruction, which includes coursework in anatomy, patient preparation, medical law and ethics. Students also must complete externships in hospitals or other surgical centers, where they get experience preparing patients and working in operating rooms under experienced techs.