The History of Surgical Technology

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Surgical technologists are not as well known as other healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses, yet they play the all important role of assisting surgeons during surgical procedures.

Surgical technology is a recent profession that resulted from the need for trained medical personnel after the succession of wars that plagued the world in the last century severely decimated their numbers. Many nurses and doctors were called to serve during theses wars to attend to medical needs of the soldiers on the battlefront, and those wounded and confined in medical camps and hospitals as well.

Surgical technology rose from the ashes of the succession of world wars participated in by the United States: World War I (1914-1918), World War II (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the Vietnam War (1945-1975). During World War I, Army medics were conscripted and trained to give emergency services. Nurses were not allowed to serve on the battlefield but were confined to medical stations. The Army medic’s counterpart in the Navy was the medical corpsman since women were not allowed aboard combat ships at that time.

Thus the role of operating room technicians, or ORTs, was thus created. ORTs took the place of female nurses in the battlefield. They received training through an accelerated nursing program that emphasized on operating room technology and received on-the-job training in the surgery department. Their studies included sterilization of instruments, care of operating room patients, suturing, draping and instrumentation. They likewise received Emergency Room training.

After the Korean War, the shortage of nurses to work in operating rooms in the United States led to the hiring of ex-medics and ex-corpsmen to work in civilian hospitals. These ex-military men performed. Over time, this arrangement led to the evolution of the title of ‘operating room technician’ to ‘surgical technologist’.

Improvements in surgical technology that started in the late ’60s led to the formalization of the role of surgical technologists in the ’70s. More and more institutions began designing and developing surgical technology programs. In 1968, the Association of Operating Room Technicians was created. This was composed of two committees: the Joint Committee on Education, and the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist. Successful examinees to the first certification test that was given in 1970 were bestowed the title of Certified Operating Room Technician (CORT or OR Tech). In 1973, the Association of Operating Room Technicians changed their name to the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST), now an independent body. They changed the title Certified Operating Room Technician to Surgical Technologist, thus creating a new name. Since 1973, the AST has been diligently working to promote excellence in the surgical technology profession.

In 1974, an accreditation body was created to ensure quality education for the surgical technician. The Accreditation Review Committee for Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting imposed as an entry level to surgical technology education a two-year associate’s degree. Today, aspiring surgical technologists are required to take the national certification examination designed by the National Board of Surgical Technologists and Surgical Assistants (NBSTSA) in order to qualify as Certified Surgical Technologists, or CSTs. This certification is renewable by reexamination.

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