Surgeons are sometimes called the "rock stars" of the medical profession, and in some ways it's a good analogy. When your favorite performer hits the stage, a team of technical staff have prepared the instruments and sound system, and work throughout the show to keep things running smoothly. In the operating room, surgical technologists provide surgeons with the same kind of support. Technologists take care of the routine tasks so surgeons can focus on the procedure they're performing.
As a surgical technologist, your role starts well before the procedure begins. You prepare the operating room first, ensuring it's properly cleaned and sanitized and that the room is stocked with all the necessary supplies and instruments. Each surgeon likes those to be laid out in a specific way, so it's your job to remember that and make the surgeon happy. You'll prepare the patient for surgery, as well, by cleaning and sometimes shaving the surgical field. When it's time for the procedure to begin, you'll be responsible for double-checking the patient's ID and verifying that the paperwork is correct. Then, you transport the patient to the operating room.
Some technologists will work within the sterile area at the operating table. That means having to "scrub in," washing and gowning yourself just as the surgeon does, so it's referred to as the scrub role. You'll scrub before the rest of the surgical team, then help them gown up. You'll cover the patient with sterile drapes, leaving the surgical field uncovered. You'll have to understand the procedure well enough to anticipate the surgeon's needs, and have instruments, pads and sponges ready when they're called for. You'll help to keep count of the pads and sponges to ensure they're all accounted for, and you will help to clean up after the procedure.
Other technologists work outside the immediate surgical area, in what's called a circulating role. As the circulating technologist, you'll help to set up the operating room before a procedure, then provide general support throughout surgery. You'll keep records of anything noteworthy that happens during the procedure, and bring any additional instruments or sterile supplies that might be needed by the surgical team. You'll also open the packaging of sterile items, so the scrub technologist only handles the contents. If tissue samples are taken during the procedure you'll package them for the lab. When the procedure is complete, you'll help to transfer the patient to the recovery area or prepare the O.R. for the next procedure.
If you decide to become a surgical technologist, you'll need to spend up to two years in a training program accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. Programs provide a grounding in the basic sciences, as well as medical terminology, surgical procedures and the techniques of maintaining a sterile surgical field. Graduates can earn professional certification through the National Board for Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, National Center for Competency Testing or National Healthcareer Association. Certification is optional, but it is valued by employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 19 percent employment growth by 2020, better than the average for other U.S. occupations.
- Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images