Surgical technologists act as surgeon assistants during operations and surgical procedures. Qualified surgical technologists are in high demand and the pay scales are in the $35,000 range. Surgical technologists can work in a doctor’s office, dental, or hospital setting and the salaries vary depending on the field entered. In general, surgical technologists in dental settings tend to earn the highest incomes while hospital surgical technologists earn the lowest incomes.
Salaries vary due to the different tools used during medical and dental procedures. It is a surgical technologist’s responsibility to quickly locate and hand surgeons the proper tools while also handling sterilization of the tools and room following a surgical procedure. There are many duties that a surgical technologist must perform, they include:
- Preparing trays with the necessary tools needed for the surgical procedure before hand
- Assembling necessary equipment following safety procedures
- Ensure surgical equipment is functioning correctly
- Preparing the patient for surgery, including sterilizing the area where the procedure will be performed, shaving the incision site if necessary, and cleansing the incision site with a disinfecting solution
- Help the surgeon and medical/dental team get into their gowns, gloves, and other sterile clothing
- Handing surgical instruments to the doctor or dentist during the dental procedure
- Apply suctioning when required
- Keep track of patient’s vital signs during the procedure
- Monitoring the patient for signs of pain or need for more anesthesia
- Ensure the equipment, including sponges, are all back on the tray before the incision site is closed
- Some surgical technologists also bring the patient to the recovery room and monitor their recovery
- Pick up all tools used in the surgery, and wash and sterilize them for the next time
- Remove all sheets, pads, and other protective material used on the tables and chairs during the surgical procedure
- Set up the surgery area for the next procedure
Surgical technologists work with many patients on a daily basis and can become exposed to communicable diseases from colds to the flu to hepatitis. Smells of disinfectants can be troublesome, so those with allergies to strong cleaners may find the job to be intolerable. Surgical technologists work in bright lights and in a temperature controlled climate, so these situations are to be expected. Finally, some surgical technologists work far more than 40 hours per week. Emergencies and night time procedures are common, so one must have a very flexible schedule and be available weekends, nights, and holidays.
All surgical technologists must complete an accredited program before they can start working as a surgical technologist. It is important for someone entering into this field that they understand they must have strong memorization skills, capable of viewing blood and other bodily fluids, remain alert and often predict the doctor or dentist’s next move, be able to stand for long periods of time, and enjoy working under the close supervision of others. Surgical technologists must pass the CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) certification exam before taking a job as a surgical technologist. The certification must be renewed every four years and requires continuing education and reexamination.
Before one can take the CAAHEP exam, they must complete a Surgical Technologist Certificate or Associate Degree program. Higher pay scales are given to those who take the full two-year Associate program, but the job can be attained after the year long Certificate program. Before one can qualify for any of these programs, they must usually successfully pass a course in Body Systems for Health Professionals, Medical Terminology, and Pharmacology. Other courses that are required include:
- Clinical Practices
- Patient Care
- Surgery Procedures
- Surgery Specialties
- Surgery Technology
On top of this, college settings require all students who are interested in the field of surgical technology to have all immunizations, including Hepatitis, up to date. They also require students to be able to lift and carry 50 pounds and be able to maneuver 100 pounds. They must be able to squat, bend, and kneel, have steady hands, speak fluent English, have good eyesight and hearing, be able to stand for long periods of time, be able to see colors (no colorblindness), be capable of staying calm in high stress situations, remain organized, work well with others, follow orders precisely, and be able to work quickly without error.
Those who enjoy working with people, can think quickly, make few errors, and enjoy helping others will find that working as a surgical technologist is a rewarding career. It does require one or two years of college before starting a career, but this is far less required schooling and job availability is strong. Anyone with an interest in surgery or anatomy who do not want to invest many years in medical school will find surgical technology to be an excellent option.
View a list of surgical technology programs in California.