Surgical technologists are members of operating room teams, which include the surgeon(s), anesthesiologist and circulating nurse. Surgical technologists work under the delegatory authority and supervision of the surgeon, unless prohibited by state law or hospital policy.
Surgical technologists primarily fulfill the first scrub role. Before an operation, they help prepare the operating room by setting up sterile surgical instruments, equipment and supplies, such as drapes, gowns, gloves, suction tubing, and receiving solutions and medications from the circulator. Surgical technologists assemble the sterile equipment, check to ensure it is all working properly and make adjustments as necessary.
They assist the surgeon with putting on his/her gown and gloves, as well as assisting the surgeon in placing the sterile drapes on the patient to create the sterile field.
During the surgical procedure, the surgical technologist is responsible for anticipating the needs of the surgeon by passing instruments and providing needed supplies such as sponges, performing counts of the instruments and sharps, providing solutions and medications to the surgeon, receiving tissue specimens to be passed off to the circulator and ensuring there are no breaks in sterile technique in order to prevent the patient from acquiring a surgical site infection.
Surgical technologists may fulfill the assistant circulator role based on state law and/or hospital policy. In this role, a technologist assists in transporting patients to the operating room, helps position the patient on the operating table and prepares the patient for surgery by shaving and disinfecting incision sites. During the procedure, the surgical technologist will assist with obtaining additional supplies that the first scrub surgical technologist needs, such as sponges or suture; assist with counts; replace full suction containers; provide sterile dressings at the end of the procedure; and assist with moving the patient from the operating room table to the stretcher for transport to the recovery room.
When not in the operating room, surgical technologists work in clean, well-lighted, cool environments. In the operating room, however, it can become warm under the surgical lights when wearing the sterile gown and gloves. Technologists and other members of the surgical team must stand for long periods and remain alert during operations. At times they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant sights, odors and materials.
The surgical technologist may have to “pull” emergency call with the other members of the surgical team. If there is an emergency like a car accident or a pregnant mother requiring a Cesarean section, team members on call must come in, no matter what time of the day or night.
Surgical technologists receive their training in programs offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals and the military. A program can take from 12 months (for a certificate) to two years (for an associate degree) to complete. Most programs do not require more than a high school education for program entrance, but many do require applicants to have taken and passed prerequisite courses (usually in the basic sciences and medical terminology).
To be eligible to take the national surgical technology certification examination offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), a candidate must have graduated from a:
- Surgical technology program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES)
- CAAHEP-accredited surgical first assistant program
- Military program
Learn More About a Career as a Surgical Technologist
- Watch a video about a career as a surgical technologist (in the Health Science category).