September 15-21 is National Surgical Technologists Week. During this week, we celebrate the important contribution surgical technologists make to operations every day. If you’re not familiar with what surgical technologists do—or if you’re interested in pursuing a surgical tech career—this article describes their daily duties and responsibilities.
While every operation is different, there are common tasks surgical techs perform for each one in order to keep patients safe, surgeons focused on their task, and operating rooms—well, operating. In this article, we describe the tasks surgical technologists carry out before, during, and after every operation to ensure that patients receive the care they need.
Starting the Shift: Case Briefing and Assignments
At the start of the day, a surgical technologist will arrive at the hospital to change into sterile scrubs and then head to a pre-shift briefing. This meeting is usually run by a registered nurse, who reviews the current patient cases and the day’s surgical procedures with all the surgical techs. The nurse then assigns each surgical tech the operations they will work on that day.
Some surgical techs will work only with specific types of surgeons—for example, OB/GYNs who perform C-sections to deliver babies. Others may work wherever there is the greatest need that day, from emergency surgeries to cosmetic procedures to hip replacement operations.
Before Surgery: Confirming Procedures, Ensuring Sterile Environments
Once assigned to a procedure, a surgical tech will proceed to prepare the instruments and operating room. The goal is to ensure an orderly working environment for the surgical team and a safe, sterile environment for the patient. Specific tasks will include:
- Gathering surgical instruments such as scalpels and consumables such as sponges and gauze
- Counting each item needed for the surgery to ensure nothing is left in the patient that should not be
- Setting instruments out on trays in the order in which the surgeon will need them
- Preparing sterile drapes to isolate the area of the patient’s body where the surgery will occur
- Dressing the surgeon and assistants in their sterile scrubs and gloves
Then, before the patient is anesthetized, the surgical tech will take time to confirm the patient’s identity, the type of procedure, and the area of the body where the procedure will take place. The surgical tech will ask questions of the patient, check the consent forms the patient (or parent/guardian) signed, and may also make a mark on the patient’s body indicating the area where surgery will take place.
Once the sterile environment is prepped, instruments are laid out, and details of the procedure are confirmed, it is time for the operation to begin.
During Surgery: Helping Things Run Smoothly (and Safely)
Once the operation begins, the surgical tech is there to support the surgeon and assistants. Techs will hand instruments to the surgeon as requested or required. They will retrieve used instruments, sponges and gauze, keeping count of what has been used and comparing it to their pre-op inventory. They may assist with holding open surgical incisions, cleaning wounds once sealed, and applying post-surgical bandages. If the surgery’s purpose includes collecting tissue samples for testing, the surgical tech will also collect and prepare those specimens to be sent to the laboratory.
After Surgery: Restocking Instruments and Transferring Patients to Recovery
Once the operation is finished, the surgical technologist will gather the instruments used and compare them to the pre-operative count again to ensure nothing was left inside the patient. Then, they will safely dispose of used drapes, gauze, and sponges before taking reusable instruments to be cleaned and re-sterilized for later use.
In some hospitals, surgical techs may also transport patients to the recovery room, giving the nurse on duty full details of the procedure plus any instructions from the surgeon regarding the patient’s care. Once the operating room is cleared from this procedure, surgical techs will then begin the process of preparing for the next, once again helping to make safe operations possible.
Training for Surgical Technology Careers
Variety, challenges and the opportunity to play a part in healing others. If surgical technology sounds like an interesting career path, Altierus Career College can help. We offer a 24-month Associate of Science in Surgical Technology that provides the clinical knowledge and hands-on skills you need to pursue surgical tech roles. While at Altierus, students will complete a minimum of 120 cases during clinical training. If you want to train for an exciting career with a school that supports you every step of the way, contact us today!