Interested in a new career in healthcare—one that makes a difference to patient safety every single day? Consider training for a career as a surgical technologist. Surgical technologists support surgeons, nurses, and other professionals in the operating room during procedures. They play a role in protecting patients’ safety and keeping surgical procedures running smoothly.
Perhaps one of the most important duties a surgical tech has is to help keep the operating field sterile. Preventing infection is a major part of what surgical techs do. In this article, we’ll examine why that is, and some of the specific steps surgical techs take to help reduce the risk of infection.
Why Infection Prevention Is So Important
Millions of surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. In 2014, the most recent year for which federal statistics are available, patients underwent 21.8 million inpatient and outpatient surgeries. While modern surgery is becoming safer all the time as medical science and practices advance, surgical site infections (SSIs) still occur in 2–5% of surgeries. SSIs cause complications for hundreds of thousands of patients each year, leading to longer hospital stays, lasting effects, and even loss of life.
While everyone in the OR is responsible for helping reduce the risk of infection, surgical techs have specific responsibilities that make them the first line of defense against SSIs.
An instrument that is contaminated can introduce bacteria or viruses into a patient’s body when it is used during surgery. Surgical techs are responsible for ensuring that every instrument used during surgery is sterilized—clean and free of dirt, soil, and microbes. They will:
- Lay out trays of needed instruments before the operation and inspect each one to ensure it is clean and undamaged
- Set aside and record any contaminated, damaged or missing instruments
- Assemble instruments according to manufacturer instructions
- Rinse or wash instruments as soon as they are done being used, in order to prevent tissue, blood or other fluid drying on them
- Decontaminate instruments in autoclaves or other sterilizing machinery, or take instruments to a central sterile processing department if their facility has one
Surgical teams use many different supplies during procedures, including sponges, clamps and other items which, if left in the body, can contribute to an SSI. About 1,500 surgeries per year result in retained surgical supplies.
To help prevent this dangerous situation, surgical techs track and count all supplies used during the surgical procedure. Usually, this counting involves keeping track on a whiteboard, but hospitals are beginning to use scanners and other technology solutions as a supplement to counting by hand.
Another way surgical technologists help prevent SSIs is by cleaning the area of the patient’s body where the surgery takes place. Before the operation, they may scrub the area with an antiseptic cleanser. Afterward, they may paint the closed wound and apply sterile dressings to protect it while it heals.
Surgical techs are also taught a specific procedure for “scrubbing in”—that is, cleaning their own hands prior to the start of the procedure. They may also be responsible for ensuring that all other members of the OR team have cleaned theirs.
Drapes and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The last infection control method we’ll look at includes the use of sterile drapes, surgical gowns, and masks.
Surgical techs will help position drapes before and during the procedure. These sheets of sterile material help to cover the rest of the patient’s body and isolate the incision area. This way, the surgeon and nurses working on the patient are less likely to move bacteria from other areas of the patient’s body into the surgical wound. Surgical techs will inspect drapes before positioning them to ensure they are clean and free from damage.
Surgical techs may also help other members of the OR team put on their surgical gowns, masks, and head coverings after they scrub in.
Each of these steps in the infection control chain reduce the risk of harm to patients during life-saving surgical procedures. By training to become a surgical technologist, you can prepare to play an essential part in keeping surgery safe.
How to Become a Surgical Technologist
To become a surgical technologist, you’ll need to complete an associate degree program and obtain certification. Altierus Career College offers a 24-month Associate of Science in Surgical Technology program that combines online coursework with hands-on lab classes and 500 hours of clinical experience. Tuition for our program also includes scrubs and prep for your certification exam. Learn more about our surgical technology training program today!