By ROB W. ANDERSON
When they think of a crowded operating room, most people focus on the surgeon performing the procedure, and view him or her as the most important person in the room.
But also playing a key role is the surgical technologist, who helps establish “the continuity of care to flow for a better surgery and the safety of the patient,” said W.W. Hastings Hospital Surgical Technology Education Program Instructor Tommy Hays.
“A lot of people only think of the surgeon performing the procedure, but there are a lot of other people behind the masks. They’re called integral team members,” he said. “The surgery can’t go on unless you have these other integral team members. It’s a team approach.”
Hays suspects this field has gone unrecognized because the techs are behind closed doors, and behind masks.
“Usually, you don’t see us. If you do, it’s in the morning, getting on the elevator or the evening when we’re leaving. So this is why they’re recognized once a year [through National Surgical Technologist Week],” he said. “Most people just think of the surgeon, but there are other people who play a vital role.”
Each year, the third week of September is recognized as the National Surgical Technologist Week by the Association of Surgical Technologists. The AST uses the week to raise awareness of the vital role of surgical technologists in the operating room.
According to the AST description approved by the American College of Surgeons, the surgical technologist, or scrub tech, handles the instruments, supplies and equipment necessary during the surgical procedure. The ST has an understanding of the medical process being performed and anticipates the needs of the surgeon, and has the knowledge and ability to ensure quality patient care during the procedure, including vigilant maintenance of the sterile field.
W.W. Hastings Surgical Technology Education Program student Amanda Spencer said NST week is important because it shows appreciation and respect for the profession, and educates the general public about a profession some don’t even know exists.
“On the surface, we are the people who prepare rooms and pass instruments to the surgeon, but our role is much more complex,” she said. “The education of a surgical technologist requires assimilation of knowledge, acquisition of skill, and development of judgment through patient care experiences in preparation to work independently by making the appropriate decisions required in practice. For example, a major part of our educational curriculum is anatomy and surgical pathology. We must have a thorough understanding of the human body in order to predict the surgeon’s next move during a procedure.”
Surgical technologists are necessary for the success of the surgery, said Tahlequah City Hospital Director of Surgical Services Teresa Spencer.
“We couldn’t do surgical procedures without them,” she said. “They are highly relied upon by the surgeons to help provide high quality patient care.”
Last May, the W.W. Hastings Hospital Surgical Technology Education Program received national accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and became the first Native American tribe to have a surgical tech program accredited through CAAHEP, according to a new released posted on the Cherokee Nation’s website.
“The success of this program is the direct result of the commitment of the instructors Tommy Hays and Patricia Sumner,” said Health Services Executive Director Connie Davis.
By 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict the ST field is expected to grow by about 25 percent, according to the New York Times Co. About.com.
The CAAHEP accreditation enables students of the Hastings surgical technology program to seek national certification, said Sumner.
“Now that we are accredited, students can sit for the National Certification Exam, which allows them to work anywhere in the United States,” Davis said. “They also have an opportunity to be employed and make a decent salary. The average pay in Oklahoma is $17.40 per hour.”