Surgical Technologist Job Description:
The roll of the surgical technologist is varied. As surgical cases are assigned to us, we are responsible for gathering the supplies, sutures, and needed specialty items and equipment. We are the "sterile" part of the surgical team along with the surgeon and assistant. We wear the sterile gown and gloves. Other team members are not sterile such as the RN and the anesthesiologist.
The primary roll at the operating table is to organize the sterile supplies, select the necessary suture, and hand the instruments to the surgeon and assistant (if there is one), anticipate any changes and make adjustments as needed. It can be fast-paced, complicated and very demanding, both physically and mentally.
In my current employment, I wear two hats. Some days I work as a surgical technologist handing the instruments, and others as a surgical assistant, which is also known as a first assist. When in that role, I ask for the instruments and use them to cut and sew along with the surgeon.
I have a unique position at my hospital as no one else carries these same qualifications. I do the job that a resident or another physician would do if he or she were assisting the case.
How did you choose a life as a surgical technologist?
Originally I planned on being an RN, but the waiting list to get into school was three years. Being unwilling to wait three years to begin my education, the formal surgical technologist program was just getting underway and I was able to get in immediately. This was in 1973. Prior to this, people of varied education were trained on the job.
We had to take the usual SAT's and pre-college exams along with a dexterity test. At that time, training was only one year. I did take more training and became a nationally certified technologist and served on the board of directors of our local organization for many years.
I also returned to college attempting to achieve my RN, but, unfortunately, personal issues prevented me from the luxury of further education and, instead, mandated full-time employment.
Later, I returned to the university to become a Surgical Assistant. The hospital I was working in had surgical residents and, due to program cutbacks in the '80s, the residency program was terminated. The job of the resident was filled by a select group of surgical technologists selected by the physicians.
We were mandated additional education with coursework which was specifically taught by one of our vascular PA's. Further education in anatomy and physiology took place, as did specialty suturing classes. The clinical took a year, but learning never stops.
Later on, I accepted a position as a tissue bank specialist in conjunction with my work as a surgical assistant. I was also one of the few who became certified nationally. We traveled all over the state when families generously donated their loved one's organs, bones, and skin.
These are non-vital donors, and we are the ones that procured the tissues, not doctors. It was an incredible experience which helped to further develop my skills as a surgical assistant.
Can you recall any humorous moments during your life as a surgical technologist?
I used to work primarily with heart surgeons. We had one that was particularly difficult and no one was ever totally at ease. No one talked unless directly addressed by the surgeon and it was usually only the business at hand. One day, someone took shoe polish, or some similar substance, and coated the eye pieces of the microscope so that when he was finished with the scope, he had raccoon eyes.
The laughter was barely contained and, of course, he was not amused in the least when he found out what had been done to him. That led to a daily cleaning by his profusionist to insure that it never happened again, but the staff always chuckled and the story continues to be told over and over.
What advice would you give to those interested in becoming a surgical technologist?
Don't stop with the current associate degree it takes to become a surgical technologist. Go on and get your RN associate degree or BSN and become a truly valuable part of the team. It is all about flexibility and marketability with many more opportunities to further your career. The best in the profession can do both jobs as scrub nurse and circulating nurse.
Take advantage of in-house accreditations and educational opportunities. Learn how to use a computer. Never be satisfied with just doing the job well. Always leave your patients and surgical team with more knowledge than you came to the table with.
Be gentle with those less fortunate and always appreciate what the support staff does. We can't do our best without those in sterile processing, housekeeping, and the clerical staff. They are the backbone yet frequently overlooked.
What is the outlook for surgical technologist job listings?
It will always be limited with little opportunity to move to other areas in the health care profession. Nurses can go anywhere in the hospital and do a variety of specialty patient care. Private employment is now limited due to HMOs. Yet this is a profession that I love, and it has served me well in my abilities to take care of my family.
What factors can affect salaries for surgical technologists?
I used to work in a large metro hospital in Milwaukee and received a good salary with the opportunity for advancement. Subsequently, I transferred to a smaller satellite hospital. Even though it was a so-called lateral move, I took a substantial pay cut.
We do complex cases and have excellent physicians, but someone in administration doesn't feel that we deserve the same pay and career ladders as those in the metro region. Frankly I can't understand why a clinic technologist gets paid little more than a housekeeper, but in fact that is the case. The advantage is no on-call and no weekends. Here in Wisconsin, working in a solo practice as a private scrub is a rarity.
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