To be a surgical technologist, you certainly can’t be squeamish. You’ll be on hand to assist the surgeon as he or she cuts into any and all parts of the human body.
For those who can stomach these procedures, participating in a life-saving surgery is one of the most rewarding experiences in the world. What might be gruesome to some signifies to others the immense level of hard work and determination required to make a huge difference in someone’s life.
To get a better idea of what it really means to be a surg tech, I gathered the opinions of students in the middle of the Surgical Technician Associate’s Degree program here at Nebraska Methodist College. I wanted to know what the coolest procedures they ever took part in were as well as why those operations stood out to them more than any others.
In sharing their opinions, these students revealed not just the technical portions of the job they’ve chosen as their careers, but how the work leaves a lasting impression on both them and the patients they’ve helped, even if those patients will never know their names.
Posterior Spinal Fusion
What it is: Fusing together the vertebrae of the back in order to decrease excessive movement that creates pain for the patient.
In this instance, the student spoke about how just a few hours can make a world of difference for an individual.
“This procedure was so cool because we took a kid [whose back] was very crooked and had been for 16 years, and in eight hours straightened his back out to almost perfect. Just being able to see that transformation and be a part of it was incredible.”
Hysterectomy with Salpingo-Oophorectomy
What it is: Removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries, typically as a result of a tumor.
This student appreciated how the patient’s unique needs can dictate different approaches to the surgery.
“Every time this case is different, because every person’s anatomy is different. There are multiple approaches to perform the procedure, LAVH [Laparoscopically Assisted Vaginal Hysterectomy], Robot-assisted, open. The tumors that are removed vary in size, shape, texture and consistency.”
What It Is: Entering the brain of a patient, usually in order to remove a tumor.
During other operations, there will be lengthy periods of time where the surg tech is forced to wait until they’re called upon by the surgeon. Not so with this operation, which is exactly why it appealed to our student.
“What I like most about it is that it’s a lot of busy work, so it keeps us as a surg tech focused…on the procedure. They’re lengthy procedures, but it’s amazing the anatomy you get to see and to experience what they are able to do with these patients.”
Spinal Cord Untethering
What It Is: Often conducted in young children, an untethering procedure involves the release of the spinal cord from tissues that reduce mobility.
Sometimes, it’s the effect on the patient coupled with the mechanics of the human body that make a procedure stand out in our students’ minds.
“I really enjoy neurology, and it was a cool sight to see the spinal cord released and how excited it made the surgeon. Also, it helped the child a lot, which I thought was great.”
What It Is: Removal of excess skin (the pannus), typically for an individual who has lost a large amount of weight.
Our student truly appreciated the opportunity she was given to be a part of an experience that meant so much to the patient.
“This procedure caught my eye due to the fact that it was to help further the progress of someone’s life. My skills as a tech were tested by having two surgeons and two residents scrubbed in with me. It is a fast-paced procedure that can be very bloody. I have to watch the sterility of both cauteries [and] the suction and make sure that the drops of blood do not end up contaminating any part of the field. As they remove the pannus, they split it into two triangles that have to be weighed.
"The amazing part is how much these chunks of skin and fascia weigh. The surgeon had us all guess how much each weighed and how much the total would be. By looking at them, you would guess they weighed more than 2 pounds together, when truly they weighed a total of 14 pounds. It was amazing being a part of an individual’s transformation.”
Never A Dull Moment in the OR
As you can see, a surgical technologist has a front row seat to operations of all kinds. In addition to what’s described above, other students cited amputations and different types of spinal surgeries as their favorite procedures. In all cases, students were fascinated by the anatomy of the human body and what their team was capable of achieving.
These descriptions may be wince-inducing for some. If you find yourself more nauseous than fascinated, life as a surg tech might not be for you. But if you come away realizing that beyond the graphic nature of the job lies a compassionate group of people capable of changing or outright saving a person’s life, then this might be your calling.
Think you can cut it?