Anyone interested in becoming a surgical tech needs to meet the following surgical tech requirements. Also called a “scrub tech” or an “operating room tech,” the surgical tech is responsible for assisting the surgical team in an operating room by anticipating the needs of the surgeon. Surgical techs also assist the surgical team by preparing the operating room and the surgical equipment. They need to have knowledge of operating procedures and sterilization techniques. In addition, they may interact with patients, so a good bedside manner is important. Most surgical techs work in large hospitals, although it is also possible to work in a smaller operating clinic. During any given operation procedure, there will be three to five surgical techs present.
Several skills are important for surgical techs to have. First, they should be detail-oriented. The job of the surgical tech is precise and the tech needs to be able to pay attention to the slightest detail. He or she must be able to anticipate the needs of a surgeon, so attentiveness and precision are of the utmost importance. Dexterity is also essential. The tools of a surgeon are often stainless steel, and tend to be delicate, so a surgical tech should not be clumsy or fumbling. Quick, smooth, and precise movement is essential to success as a surgical tech. Stamina is also important. Surgical techs may spend hours on their feet, with minimal opportunities to stretch or take a break. Finally, it is important for surgical techs to be calm under pressure. Situations in the operating room can range from routine to emergent, and surgical techs need to be able to handle any situation as it arises, and function smoothly even when the patient’s life is on the line.
Employment opportunities for surgical techs are increasing as the population of the United States ages. With a greater proportion of the population over 60 years old, the incidence of surgical procedures will increase, and surgical techs will be required to keep up with this growth. As technology evolves, newly trained surgical techs will be at a premium because of their up-to-date knowledge of the tools used in the operating room. Median annual pay for surgical techs was around $40,000 in 2010, or about $20 per hour. Salaries are decent, considering that surgical techs do not need a bachelor’s degree in order to become certified.
Surgical techs are required to undergo specific training in order to gain their certification. They must graduate from a surgical technology program accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). This agency is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Graduates are certified by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) as “Certified Surgical Technologists”. Those who are looking to fulfill surgical tech requirements should ensure that the program they attend has the appropriate certifications.
Programs for surgical techs range from nine months to fifteen months for a certificate, or up to two years for an associate’s degree. Those with the more advanced associate’s degree are more likely to find employment, because employers are on the lookout for candidates with the most training. There are no prerequisites for surgical tech programs, although familiarity with the requirements of the position will benefit the applicant. In addition, surgical techs will need to renew their certification every four years. The guidelines for frequency of re-certification vary by state, and a renewal can be obtained by passing an examination or by fulfilling a specified number of contact hours. For renewal by examination under NBSTSA, previously certified surgical technologists who are members of NBSTSA can expect to pay about $400 in fees, while non-members can expect to pay around $500. For renewal by continuing education credits, techs must earn 60 credits. Late renewals require additional fees, so techs should keep a close eye on renewal deadlines.
Tuition for surgical tech programs varies from one program to another. It is important to find a school that provides a thorough and high-quality education, not just an attractive cost. At some schools, students can apply for financial aid. Education loans are also available to help cover the cost of the program. Less frequently, medical programs might sponsor a prospective tech’s education, contingent upon the tech’s agreement to work for that institution for a given number of years.
Coursework for surgical techs is broad, covering several medical disciplines to prepare the tech for work in the operating theater. Anatomy and physiology, medical vocabulary, biology, pharmacology, microbiology, and other medical courses are essential, giving the surgical tech a basic medical education. Additional courses address other key tech skills. Patient care, sterility procedures, and other skill-oriented coursework will be elements of the surgical tech’s education.
Surgical techs can be promoted if they have exceptional skill or if they have several years of experience. The highest rank a surgical tech can obtain is that of first assistant surgical tech. This role offers greater involvement in the procedure. First assistant surgical techs may be directly involved with the surgical procedure, doing anything from stanching blood flow to applying bandages and suturing the opening. The first assistant surgical tech may also supervise the sterility of the gowning procedure, which involves the surgical gowns, aprons, masks, and gloves.
The position can be challenging in several ways. It is physically demanding, as surgical techs are often required to spend many hours on their feet. It can be mentally exerting as well, because during an operation a surgical tech may have to concentrate and stay alert for the entire length of the surgery. Surgery times could range from as little as half an hour for simple surgeries to many hours for more complex surgical procedures. Additionally, surgical techs often lack autonomy, because the role is based on an assisting ethic. The surgical tech is present to assist the surgeon, so the prospective surgical tech should make sure he or she is comfortable with the assisting role.
While surgical tech requirements may vary slightly from state to state, the basic requirements are covered here.