What Are Surgical Techs?
Surgical technologists, or surgical techs for short, are vital members of the operating room team. They provide doctors and nurses with assistance, both before and during surgical procedures. Surgical techs may arrange the operating room before a patient's operation, taking special care to ensure that the environment is sterile and the surgical instruments and supplies are fully sanitized and well-stocked. Surgical techs may also prepare the operation site on a patient's body and help surgeons and nurses during the procedure by handing over instruments when required. For more information, see our surgical tech career page.
Surgical Technology Program Information
Surgical technology programs can be found at community colleges, technical schools and universities, and they usually culminate in either an associate degree or a postsecondary certificate/diploma. Programs may be campus-based or feature a significant online component. Because of the necessity for specific training in the applied skills of the career, online surgical technology programs usually require on-campus laboratory sections or work experience at a clinical facility that fulfills the requirements of the laboratory curriculum. Some programs also include an internship that provides additional hands-on training.
Surgical technology schools provide students with a strong foundation in healthcare knowledge, teaching them the necessary skills to succeed in a surgical technology career. Courses typically cover the structure and function of the human body, the main bodily systems and how they work, proper care and handling of surgical instruments, biological and chemical foundations of pharmaceutical drugs, the way diseases affect the body and other principles of medicine.
Surgical Technology Program Types
Surgical technology programs are typically found at the following levels:
- Certificate/Diploma: Certificate and diploma programs can often be completed in a year or less, depending on the student's schedule and prior work experience. These programs usually narrow their focus to include only essential surgical technology courses, providing thorough training in medical concepts and hands-on practice with the tools and conditions of the profession without placing much emphasis on general education. Diploma or certificate programs are ideal for students who plan to go straight into the workforce and not continue their education beyond the level necessary for the certificate or diploma.
- Associate Degree: Depending on a student's credit load and the number of general education courses completed prior to enrolling, associate degree programs can generally be completed within two years. In addition to surgical technology courses, associate degree programs typically include a handful of courses in mathematics, language arts, history, social sciences and other general education subjects. Graduates who earn an associate degree in surgical technology usually find themselves in a good position from which to continue their education to the bachelor's degree level or higher, if further education becomes desirable in the future.
After graduating from surgical technology school, individuals can choose to become certified by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting or the National Center for Competency Testing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, graduates who earn certification might have an easier time finding a suitable position than candidates who choose not to certify (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). Certifications have unique educational and experience requirements, so check with the appropriate agency for the latest information.
Surgical Technology Course Descriptions
While surgical technology programs can vary in their instructional methods, most have a fairly similar curriculum. The following is a list of courses that students at surgical technology schools often find on their schedules:
- Introduction to Surgical Technology: Teaches students the roles of surgical techs in the operating room, principles of sterile instrumentation, medical precautions, surgical positions, patient rights and physical diagnosis skills.
- Pathophysiology: Investigates processes associated with disease and responses such as immune response and inflammation that occur in cells, tissues, organs and organ systems.
- Anatomy and Physiology: Provides a broad primer on the numerous systems of the body and how they function individually as well as interact with one another.
- Concepts of Surgical Procedure: Introduces students to various surgical instruments, sutures, needles, wound healing, abdominal incisions and potential complications that can arise during surgery.
Related Career Options for Surgical Techs
With additional schooling and/or experience, a variety of other positions in the healthcare field may be available to graduates of surgical technology programs, especially those who spent the extra time to earn an associate degree. These include:
- Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technician: Analyze specimen samples using sophisticated laboratory equipment and chart results on a patient's medical record to be used by physicians and other healthcare personnel.
- Medical Assistant: Help with medical examinations, take patient history, operate electronic health record (EHR) software, schedule appointments, prepare specimens for laboratory tests and administer injections or other minor treatments as directed by a physician.
- Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN): Monitor patient health, provide for their comfort and administer basic nursing care such as bathing, changing bandages, delivering medication and feeding patients who have trouble eating on their own.
Links to Sources and Associations
Visit the following websites to find out more about surgical technology: