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How to Become a Surgical Tech (Plus: Will it be Right for You?)

Becoming a surgical tech is a one of a kind experience.  I did it in the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman in 2002.  In the civilian world, the school is a trade school or an associates degree program.  You should have a high school diploma to apply.

It is not possible to become a surgical tech completely online.  School is meant to be hands on, lab, and OJT.

There are two parts below.  One is about school and the other is about you.  I want you to look honestly at yourself while reading it to see if this job is for you.  Make a truthful decision about whether you think the operating room is for you.  It is a self assessment type of thing.

This article has a harsh style because surgery is a harsh thing.  So, let’s learn about becoming a surgical tech.

A Brief Description of Surgical Tech School

Surgical Tech Hand SurgerySome of the shortest surgical tech schools are around 10 months, but are generally 12 to 18.  The associates degree usually takes two years like in any other fields.  Everything is compressed in military training, so we did it in six months.  It was intense!

A surgical technologist program is split between didactic (I think that word is still used) and clinic.  Mock operating rooms are set up in the schoolhouse or nearby to learn the flow of surgery.

The curriculum is heavy in anatomy and physiology, learning the names and uses of hundreds of surgical instruments, sterile technique, care of the patient, safety, and infectious diseases, to name the major subjects.

There are plenty of other topics to cram into your head, too.  It is vital to study hard, because you are going to be assisting with open wounds in people at their most vulnerable time.  You need to have a good base of knowledge.

Start your journey by searching “surgical tech schools (your area)”.  Look at the time it takes, pricing, any online reviews you can find, accreditation, and instructor reviews.  Once you’ve made up your mind to become a surgical tech, do your research for the best school experience.  You want to come out ready to confidently stand next to a surgeon, working on a gaping, bleeding wound.

Is Surgical Technology Right for YOU?

Part of the reason for this article is to help you “self select” yourself for surgical technology school.  I want you to avoid wasting your time and money on ST school only to have you hate it or be a liability to the OR.  I also don’t want a school to waste a position in class on you, either.

I’ve run into many workers that should never have been within two miles of an operating room and it sucks.  They hate life and spread it around.  Their negative attitude brings down the whole work environment.  Most importantly, they can be a hazard to the patient and the rest of the crew, especially if incompetence is added in there.

So, here are some truths about working in the OR.  I want you to look at yourself and be completely honest.  There is only a small percentage of people that are able to be effective in surgery.  I won’t sugar coat anything because patient and fellow worker safety is on the line all day, every day in a surgical setting.

Blood and Guts and Feces, OH MY!

For one, you MUST be able to handle gore.  This is obvious.  There is always a large amount of blood around.  You will have your hands and arms inside human bodies.  You will deal with small pieces of fat, muscle and bone flying around and landing on your gown.

You will be in close contact with urine, feces, pus, amniotic fluid, and saliva.  The biggest thing to consider is that YOU will be cleaning all of this stuff, sometimes after it sits around for a couple hours during surgery.

The smell can be overwhelming too.  You will be half way through school before you are allowed into an OR, so you may not know about your own tolerance until you’ve gone through your classroom and lab work.

If you are considering going to surgical tech school, I suggest some volunteer work.  Call around to your local hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, etc. and see if they accept volunteers.  Get in there and get dirty at least three or four times.  See how you handle it.  If you pass out or cannot take something about the environment, surgical technology is NOT for you!

You Need to be in Decent Physical Shape

Being an OR tech is a physically demanding job.  You are standing all day, doing the “quick walk” to get supplies, twisting back and forth, holding retractors in the body, and lifting heavy metal sets of instruments.

This is all done while wearing scrubs, a surgical gown, gloves, hair cover, mask, and sometimes lead x-ray gown underneath.  There is always a sense of urgency, so you need to be quick on your feet and agile.

The operating room is filled with heavy objects to move.  You will be pushing around massive beds and equipment, transferring patients, holding (sometimes massive) body parts, and cleaning like a mad person,  If you are unhealthy, surgical technology is NOT for you.

YOU Need a Mental Toughness that is Rare

Surgery is psychologically demanding on the crew, no two ways about it.  There are many issues to plague your mind in the OR.  You must be stable, mentally flexible, and resistant to many different mental traumas.

There is always an underlying level of stress in surgery.  It’s a very serious matter for the doctors to make someone unconscious, put a breathing tube in them, cut them open, repair something, and sew them back up.  You must maintain focus no matter what you are going through in your personal life.

Long hours and call are often demanded in a surgical setting, too.  You may do an eight hour shift, then have six hours of call.  You may do a 24 hour weekend call with little rest.  You must maintain top performance for your patients, though.

A big addition to the fatigue and stress is dealing with sick patients and death.  Cancer surgery is a big part of the operating room.  It can be very sad if the prognosis is not good.  In the case of trauma patients, they were healthy just an hour ago and may be now fighting for life.

Death and near death are part of the reality of the operating room.  Sometimes surgery can go very bad, but you must clean and turn over the room and move on to be effective for your next patient.  I call this “immediate resiliency”.

Another reality of surgery is verbal abuse.  When things are going poorly, the operating room crew can begin to turn on each other.  Surgeons have yelled, screamed, thrown things, had tantrums, etc. right at me.  This is rare, though, unless the surgeon is simply a basic shithead.

You need to develop diplomacy, improvisation, and a tough skin so you don’t bring the negativity home with you.  Of course, there are a host of other psychological hurdles, but those are the big ones.

I have talked about the negative aspects here because that is part of the reality to face before choosing surgical tech school.  To see the positive side, check out my: 5 Things I Loved about Being a Surgical Tech

Still Sound Interesting?  Go for it!!

So yeah, I over extended the topic of becoming a surgical tech, but I feel it is vital that you know the truth before you commit.  If you feel you are capable of handling this job, I say good luck to you and go for it!  Study hard.  You can start with some online anatomy right now!

The rewards of helping to heal and save lives is great.  Assisting with a C section is an amazing thing.  Knowing your are making a positive impact on your community will also give you a great sense of self worth and respect.  Plus, you will be working with the top medical personnel around.

Thanks for reading and do me a favor by sharing this article with someone you feel would be a good surgical tech. Have a good one.

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