What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Published - December 14, 2023

Surgical technologists play a critical but misunderstood role in modern operating rooms. These in-demand professionals are neither nurses nor instrument technicians responsible for maintaining a safe and efficient surgical suite. Coordinating with surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare professionals, they work behind the scenes and at the operating room (OR) table. Short of surgeons, they may do the most important job on the operating room floor.

What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Surgical technologists, also called surgical technicians or scrub techs, assist surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists before, during, and after surgical procedures. They perform many functions, but their primary responsibility is to safeguard the sterility of the operating room.

Their duties include:

Preparing the OR

Surgical technologists prepare operating suites, ensuring the required equipment, tools, and instruments are sterilized and functioning correctly. Tasks include stocking supplies, setting up instrument trays, testing lighting and emergency equipment, and securing electrical cords.

Assisting with Scrub-In

‘Scrubbing in” is when the surgical team scrubs their hands and forearms before donning sterile attire. It prevents the transfer of harmful microorganisms into the operating room. Surgical technologists prepare gowns, gloves, soaps, scrubbing solutions, and other supplies required to maintain an aseptic environment while monitoring for breaks in sterility. Nothing contaminated can go into the OR.

Patient Preparation

Surgical technologists prepare patients for procedures by shaving and disinfecting incision sites, positioning them on the operating table, and draping affected areas to create a sterile field. When awkward positioning is required, duties may include applying safety straps and positioning devices that secure the patient to the table while giving the surgeon the best possible view of the operative site.

Instrument Handling

Surgical technologists serve as a second pair of hands during operations, passing the doctor’s instruments while counting sponges, instruments, clips, and other supplies to ensure nothing is left inside a patient. Safety is always the top priority.

Emergency Response

As surgical team members, surgical technologists assist in emergency response procedures by protecting the sterile field from contamination. Responsibilities include activating life support personnel while covering instruments and packing open wounds.

Patient Transport

Surgical technologists transport patients from pre-op units to the operating room, providing emotional support while implementing thermoregulation measures. Patients undergoing general anesthesia are at risk for hypothermia. Surgical technologists apply and manage warming devices, from simple blankets to conductive heating pads and circulating water devices.

How Do You Become a Surgical Technologist?

Completing an accredited surgical technologist program is the gold standard. Offered by technical colleges, you can choose a diploma option that gets you into the field faster while building a higher-education foundation. CBD College also offers accelerated program length to accommodate today’s busy students.

What Do You Learn During a Surgical Technology Program?

Technical college programs cover the theory and practical skills required to land an entry-level position in a hospital, clinic, or surgical center. Topics include:

Medical Terminology

Medical terminology is the language of medicine. Students learn to decipher medical terms by examining their parts. You’ll learn how prefixes, suffixes, and root words gleaned from ancient languages combine to create complex, meaningful terms. The emphasis for surgical technology students is on the terminology used in the operating room.

Biomedical Science

Biomedicine is a broad field encompassing biology, microbiology, and chemistry. Surgical technology students are exposed to a wide range of scientific principles related to surgical intervention and advancing technology, offering a look backward and forward in this rapidly evolving field.

Anatomy and Physiology

Surgical technologists are not direct healthcare providers, but their role requires a working knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Students explore the body systems and their functions, including the basic chemical and metabolic processes that apply to surgical procedures.


Surgical technologists don’t administer medications, but they prepare supplies for professionals who do. They also work with patients under the influence of sedatives and anesthetics, so understanding their effects is paramount for safety. Students learn about medications used in the operating room, their therapeutic indications, and routes of administration. Graduates are well-prepared to manage the early recovery process.


Anesthesia provides pain relief during surgery. Agents may be injected or inhaled. Students in this course discuss the use of anesthesia, anesthetic equipment, administration techniques, and safety precautions related to their role in the OR.


Sterilization means to make an instrument or environment microorganism-free. Methods include steam, pressure, chemical, ethylene oxide (ETO) sterilization, and newer radiation-based options that kill chemical-resistant bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Understanding the principles underlying each method is essential for selecting the most appropriate techniques for use in the surgical suite.

Surgical Procedures

Every surgical technology student needs an overview of what happens in the OR, from patient preparation through wound closure. You’ll learn the ropes through a fusion of classroom instruction and practical exercises on simulators and in the laboratory.

Surgical Instrumentation

Surgical technology students learn about surgical instruments based on their functions, shapes, and specific uses. You’ll discover which are used for cutting, grasping, clamping, retracting, and suturing. Topics include instrument names, tool design, handling techniques, and how to set up instrument trays for standard procedures.

Wound Closure

Surgical technologists prepare for and assist with closing surgical incisions. Understanding the characteristics of wounds will help you predict which instruments and suture materials the surgeon will need. Course concepts include types of wounds, wound healing, sutures and staples, and surgical wound dressings. Under the guidance of a seasoned instructor, you’ll try your hand at various closure techniques.

Medical Law and Ethics

This course explores regulatory compliance and ethical decision-making in the operating room. Students learn more about the legal aspects of surgery, such as informed consent and advanced directives, and the government agencies that oversee the healthcare industry. Other topics include patient privacy, cultural competency, scope of practice, and tasks that surgical technologists are legally permitted to perform.

Patient Psychology

Surgical technologists are a source of emotional support for patients in the operating room. Understanding how they may react to what they see, hear, and feel is essential. Understanding the psychological aspects of stress and coping mechanisms related to surgical procedures will help you empower patients while maintaining a safe and productive atmosphere in the OR.

Mock Surgery

Surgical technology programs conclude with a hands-on course where students apply their knowledge in a mock surgical environment. You’ll set up equipment, handle instruments, and drape mannequins. Practicing skills in a simulated but fully equipped OR helps bridge the gap between classroom instruction and real-world responsibilities. Graduates are ready to hit the ground running, confident in their abilities to succeed as surgical technologists.

Final Thoughts

The healthcare industry is booming, so why not turn your passion for surgical science into opportunity? Technical schools offer a fast and lifestyle-friendly way forward from a disappointing job to the career of your dreams.

Surgical Technologist Program

Get Surgical Technologist program training and certification in as little as 14 months, working with doctors, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Train on your feet with professionals in our state-of-the-art mock surgery centers and get real on-the-job experience through our extensive network of clinical externship sites so you can be ready to tackle the field after you graduate.

Contact us now to learn more.

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