I was a Surgical Technologist off and on for 12 years, mostly in the US Navy. All together I have about a decade of operating room experience in different settings. The career comes with many rewards, so I’m not just trashing the job.
This article is for anyone thinking about Surgical Technology as a profession. I also have a full write up of a Surgical Tech job description (here). It’s a “day in the life” type of article. Feel free to check it out and share it with someone that might be interested.
I arbitrarily raised my hand to go to “ST” school in 2001 out of curiosity. That’s how the military worked. You raised your hand once and your life changed forever. I had zero idea what I was getting into. I want to be honest here and give you a feel for the downside of being a Surgical Tech. So, these are…
6 Crappy Things a Surgical Tech Deals With
1. Standing, Twisting, Awkward Positions All Day.
The physical demands of surgery are great. You have to carry heavy positioning gear and sets of instruments. You have to hold retractors in the bodies of patients in all types of twisted arm positions.
You may have to half crouch for like two hours sometimes. All of this takes its toll on the bodies of the surgical team. Back health is usually the first thing to go.
2. Long Ass Hours and Call.
During the surgical day, you are trapped inside a temperature and humidity controlled, sterile environment. You have on scrubs, hair cover, goggles, mask, surgical gown, sometimes lead x-ray apron, and sterile gloves for hours. This can lead to a claustrophobic feeling that made me want to go for a nice long hike in the woods after my shift.
Being on call is no fun, either. Many times, I’ve worked a full day, then been on call all night or the next 24 hours. This is mostly in a hospital setting, so keep that in mind.
3. There’s Dangerous, Dirty, Sharp Shit Everywhere.
The main occupational hazard during surgery are sharps. There are contaminated scalpels, needles, instruments, screws, drills, etc. We are trained to assume that every sharp has AIDS or Hepatitis to increase our focus on safety.
4. Verbal Abuse, Egos, and Tempers
Some surgeons (and a few nurses) are simply born dickheads. Some are incredibly arrogant. Luckily this is NOT the majority of them. Since they’re intelligent they can be excellent at making you feel like a piece of garbage. It can wear on the self esteem and make you hate your job. Some surgeons are two faced as well.
They might have incredibly pleasant bedside manner, then walk into the OR and shit all over their coworkers. I never understood this. Next to the blood and guts, this was one of the biggest reasons that I came to not like the job anymore.
5. Cleaning like a janitor on meth!
Some hospitals or surgery centers have a cleaning crew. I’ve never been at one of those. In between surgical cases, we bag up and take out the dirty gear and instruments. We wipe down everything in the room, then mop the floors. Sometimes the floor is totally covered in blood and other pieces.
Next, we bring in new bedding, replenish anesthesia, and grab all the new instruments and items for the next case. Hopefully, this is kept to 15 minutes. Sometimes, you are doing this alone. Then you check to see if you have all your shit together and press on with the next surgery.
6. Blood, Guts, and Gore
Of course, surgery means interacting with blood, pus, pieces of bones, pieces of fat and everything else in the human body. Whenever I discuss the profession with strangers, the common thing I hear is, “I couldn’t handle that.”
There is an adjustment to this when starting out in surgery. For me, the sight of the gore wasn’t a huge bother, but the smells could be. The worst ones can be taking out sections of bowels or infected, pus oozing wounds. Be honest with yourself in this because you will be helping surgeons in the surgical site. Your surgical gown sleeves will be covered in all of this stuff.
All of This Can Strain Mental Health
Assisting with surgery can be a psychological drain. There is a constant undertone of stress, especially when working on kids or in a life and death, trauma surgery. There is an attitude of “suck it up” and “go, go, go”.
This kind of macho attitude can leave you not wanting to talk about any problems in your mind. The majority of OR workers in my experience were heavy drinkers, stressed out, and exhausted. The call and long hours puts a drain on sleep and your personal life, too. This can be a negative cycle into depression, one I found myself spiraling into.
Looking back on my operating room career, I put too much pressure on myself. I couldn’t help it. My last stint in an operating room was a community hospital. Before this, I had taken off a few years and didn’t really want to go back. I ran into an old Navy buddy that moved to my hometown area. He convinced me to go back to the OR, but after seven months, I could see myself falling back into the depression cycle.
I realized after this job that I no longer want to work in a hospital or medical setting. I feel I’ve hung up the scrubs for good. It was satisfying and chaotic while it lasted. I just needed to move on as I no longer fit into that environment.
So, that’s my honest review of the downside of being a Surgical Tech. I hope this helps someone out there in deciding career paths. Please leave a comment about your least favorite (or most favorite) parts about your operating room work experience below. It may help guide someone that is pondering the career.