A surgical technologist – or surgical tech – is someone who gets an operating room and patient ready for surgery and helps hand the surgeon their supplies during an operation.
Before surgery, a surgical tech sets up the equipment and tools a surgeon needs and checks that they’re all working. They also prepare any medication or sterile solutions needed for the operation.
The surgical tech then takes the patient down to the operating room, sets them up on the table and helps them get into a surgical gown. They also clean and disinfect the body part that will be cut open.
During the operation, a more senior surgical tech might hand the surgeon any equipment they need. They may turn on robotic equipment or hold a cut open with special tools while the surgeon works.
Surgical techs need to work with difficult people – including stressed surgeons or scared patients – and must be comfortable seeing blood and open wounds. The job is not for the faint of heart, but a surgical tech also has to be kind and compassionate when the situation calls for it.
The work is pretty hands-on – surgical techs need to operate machinery and tools and touch specific parts of a patient’s body, so fine motor skills are crucial. A surgical tech might have to do several jobs at once, so they should also be a good multitasker who enjoys being busy.
An operating room is a high-stress environment where everyone is laser-focused on their task. You have to embrace the chaos at times but still keep your wits about you. You’re also working face to face with medical patients, so it’s important to have a professional attitude.
There are many reasons why you might choose to become a surgical tech, such as:
You want to take on responsibility in a high-stakes scenario.
You want to make a real difference in the lives of people who need surgery.
You want the personal satisfaction that comes from helping with a procedure from start to end.
You want a variety of future career paths to choose from.
You want an opportunity to move up in salary.
Surgical techs have to complete a surgical technology program, which can take anywhere from a few months to a couple of years, depending on the program. You can opt for a diploma, a certificate or an associate’s degree from an accredited institution, and the certification opens up opportunities for higher pay.
Once you get experience as a surgical tech, you can choose to specialize in a certain area of medicine, depending on your interests, but you’ll probably need additional training. For example, you can focus on brain surgery or heart surgery. You can then work your way up to become a team leader in that area.
You can also earn a certificate to become a first assistant – a more senior surgical tech who works under the direct supervision of a surgeon and acts as their second pair of hands. First assistants tend to help more during the actual surgery, whereas junior surgical techs tend to do the prepping beforehand.
If you find that being a surgical tech is not for you after all and want to change careers, there are plenty of options:
Most hospitals will pay for you to train as an operating nurse.
You can move up to become a physician’s assistant.
You can retrain to become an anesthetist or cardiac perfusionist.
You can get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to become a sales rep for a surgical company.
Surgical techs are highly respected, so experience on the job will help when you’re applying for other healthcare roles. Even if you don’t like your job or company, don’t burn bridges because your current network could help you get to where you want in the future.
MedCerts’ surgical technologist online certification training offers virtual teaching from industry experts, 3D scenarios and interactive activities to kick-start your career. If you’re considering our course but not yet certain of whether it’s for you, our online career training readiness quiz can help.