FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska –
It’s a common scene in movies and television – a surgeon stands over a patient focused on the surgery being performed, sticks out a gloved hand and without looking up asks for scissors, forceps, or suction. Across from the surgeon an unknown medical assistant, picks up the instrument being called for and efficiently places it in the surgeon’s outreached hand.
The surgeon is credited for performing a successful surgery, but without that unknown assistant, there would be fewer positive outcomes for patients going through surgery.
That unknown assistant is a surgical technologist, or surgical tech, and how well they perform their job is crucial to the team effort it requires to perform a successful surgery.
September 18 through 24 marks National Surgical Technologist Week, and Medical Department Activity - Alaska is celebrating the often-overlooked work performed daily by these dedicated professionals at Bassett Army Community Hospital.
“Surgery is a team sport, and the surgical technician is an integral member of that team,” said orthopaedic surgeon Maj. Anthony Mustovich.
There are, on average, five surgeries a day completed at BACH and each of those surgeries can a surgery tech to know more than 120 surgical instruments by memory.
“For the team to function effectively, the tech must be intimately aware of the instrumentation involved and the steps of the procedure,” said Mustovich. “This in and of itself requires a lot of knowledge and skill, however, simultaneously, the tech anticipates the instrumentation and steps to keep the surgeon working efficiently and focusing on the task at hand. This reduces the surgical time and improves patient outcomes. In this way, the technician is invaluable to the surgeon and procedure. I have seen an experienced tech and surgeon complete a case with very minimal dialogue – amazing!”
Yet, the job of a tech goes well beyond simply handing instruments to the surgeon.
First and foremost, surgical techs at Bassett ACH oversee the sterilization process for the entire hospital. They ensure instruments are sterile and therefore safe to be used in the surgical room.
In preparation of a patient having surgery, techs prepare the sterile field using sterile technique in a room, set up and inventory surgical instruments, assemble surgical equipment and make sure equipment is working properly. Their skillful pre-surgery preparations protect patients from surgical site infections, malfunctioning equipment, and unneeded delays during procedures.
On the completion of a surgery, techs are responsible for performing a count on sponges and other supplies with another member of the surgical team to assure nothing remains inside the patient, ensuring the safety of the patient.
The 14 surgical techs currently at BACH are all military personnel and go through nine weeks of didactic learning and a 12-week clinical practicum before being assigned to a military treatment facility.
“Surgical technologists have the ability to work under stressful and emergency situations, pay attention to details and have both stamina and patience,” said Maj. Latoya Blade, chief of Perioperative Nursing Services at MEDDAC-AK.
“They are the first ones in the operating room and the last to leave, making them a crucial part of the surgical care team.”