A surgical scrub technician, also known as a scrub tech or operating room technician, is a member of the operating room team. The surgical scrub technician is a college educated operating room worker who performs multiple job duties including providing the surgeon with the instruments needed to perform a surgery.
On television, the surgical scrub tech responds to the surgeon’s request for a scalpel by placing it in the surgeon’s hand, but the job duties go far beyond handing instruments to the surgeon. While a scrub tech’s responsibilities do include participating in the surgery by providing sterile instruments to the surgeon, a scrub also helps prepare the patients for surgery by cleaning and shaving the skin, transferring the patient to the operating table, sterilizing the instruments, maintaining the cleanliness of the operating room, and last, but not least, helping the surgical team “scrub in.”
The process of surgery is done using sterile technique, meaning that the instruments and other articles used in surgery are bacteria-free, to prevent infection. Sterile technique requires the scrub to not only perform their duties without contaminating the sterile field used in surgery, but also to prevent others from contaminating sterile instruments as well. This job also requires an extensive knowledge of surgical procedures. The scrub tech does not just hand the instruments to the surgeon, they must know what instruments, tools, and sutures are needed for a wide variety of procedures, the names of the instruments and to have them ready at a moment’s notice.
After surgery, the scrub tech is responsible for safely gathering sharp and delicate instruments and counting the instruments to make sure everything is accounted for and nothing is accidentally left inside the patient. They also ensure that disposable instruments are discarded safely, or are sent to be cleaned and sterilized for their next use.
In the United States, surgical scrub technicians are trained in multiple ways. Many are trained at technical schools and community colleges, a two-year degree is the most common route to a job as a scrub tech. In the military, scrub techs are often taught on the job and may have the duties of a scrub as well as a circulator without a formal degree.
Scrub tech training and job responsibilities can vary widely in areas outside of the United States; however, in the United States, a scrub tech is certified by passing a test to show that they possess the knowledge necessary to perform the job correctly.
To be a successful scrub technician, attention to detail is essential, as is a strong desire to do things correctly whether or not anyone else will ever know it was done the right way. This is because the surgical scrub plays a significant role in infection prevention as part of their every day work. The job isn’t just handing instruments to a surgeon, the scrub helps set up the operating room for procedures, helps reset the room between procedures, and is the last line of defense between the patient and infection.
The surgical scrub must be able to work independently, holding themselves accountable for quality–sterility. To prevent infections instruments must be entirely germ free, known as sterile, and this sterility must be maintained through a variety of means. For a scrub technician, this can be complicated. Imagine the scrub technician has set up an entire table that is sterile and is covered with sterile instruments. They are in the room alone when they feel a sneeze coming on. Before they know it, not only did they sneeze, but they sneezed on the sterile instruments. The right thing to do in this situation is to start over again, sending the instruments away to be cleaned and setting the whole thing up again, even though no one else saw the sneeze, the surgical tech has to have the personal integrity to fix a lack of sterility even when it is a tremendous amount of work.