Interested in training for a career in health care? You’ve probably seen surgical techs at work on TV dramas set in operating rooms, but what do they really do? Also known as surgical techs or scrub techs, surgical technologists play a critical role in keeping the OR running. They help surgeons perform procedures while ensuring patient safety. In this article, we’ll explain the primary duties of surgical techs before, during, and after procedures.
What Surgical Techs Do Before an Operation
It’s possible that a surgical technologist’s most important duties are those that take place before the operation. Surgical techs have primary responsibility for ensuring the operating room and surgical instruments are sterile, and for ensuring the surgeons have all the instruments and materials they will need laid out in an organized fashion.
By preventing contamination, surgical techs guard the patient against potentially life-threatening infections. By laying out all the tools and materials needed, surgical techs ensure that a surgeon does not waste precious minutes or seconds looking for an instrument when a patient’s life hangs in the balance.
Before an operation, surgical techs will:
- Perform a check of sterile processing areas and sterilization equipment, such as autoclaves.
- Check on the day’s surgery caseload to see which procedures are planned and which surgeons are on duty.
- Gather instruments and supplies for each procedure according to a list provided by the surgery team. This list includes information about whether a surgeon is right- or left-handed, which affects where surgical instrument trays are placed.
- “Scrub in” to the operating area by disinfecting their hands and putting on sterile clothes, head and face coverings.
- Set up all instruments needed for the operation, and then perform a count of all supplies, including sponges and needles.
- Help transfer patients to the operating table and possibly wash the incision area, although this may be handled by nurses and anesthesiology techs.
- Confirm the team has the correct patient, is set up to carry out the correct procedure, and has all relevant information about a patient’s allergies to medications or substances.
- Place sterile drapes or sheets around the patient before surgery begins.
What Surgical Technologists Do During an Operation
During the operation, surgical technologists keep the surgical materials moving and the surgical area clean. They will:
- Pass instruments to the surgeon as they are called for.
- Help keep the incision site open or hold organs or other structures in place while the surgeon operates.
- Reposition lights or other equipment, such as robotic surgery equipment.
- Take tissue samples from the surgeon and prepare them for lab analysis.
- Re-count sponges and materials before the incision is closed to ensure nothing is left in the patient.
Surgical techs may also help with washing and dressing an incision site once it is closed. They will maintain sterility of the operating area until the patient is transferred out to the recovery room.
What Surgical Techs Do After an Operation
After an operation, a surgical technologist’s focus will still be on sterility. They will:
- Dispose of gauze, sponges, and other material that may be contaminated with a patient’s body fluids.
- Take reusable instruments back for sterile processing, which can be completed by a sterile processing technologist or the surgical tech.
- Package, label, and transfer any laboratory specimens collected during surgery to the appropriate lab.
- Re-stock the operating room with materials such as gauze and sponges.
- Wash down and sterilize the operating room before later procedures.
All in all, surgical technologists play a key role in ensuring the safety and efficiency of modern surgical procedures. They help make life-saving surgery possible.
Training to Become a Surgical Technologist
If you love the idea of becoming a surgical technologist, it may surprise you to learn you can train to pursue this career in as few as two years of study. At Altierus Career College, we offer a 24-month associate degree program that provides the medical knowledge, hands-on lab experience, and clinical rotations you will need to prepare for opportunities in this field.
There’s growing demand for surgical techs, too. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings for surgical techs should grow by 12% over the 2016-2026 period, considerably faster than the overall job market growth rate of 7%.[i] While the vast majority of surgical techs work in hospitals, there will also be job opportunities available in outpatient clinics and dental practices.[ii]
Find Your Future as a Surgical Tech
Ready to explore surgical tech training? Contact Altierus Career College today to learn more about our Surgical Technologist associate degree today!