Technically Speaking, She’s Instrumental: Marry Technology and Technician and You Have the Heart of a Surgical Technologist

IMG 8168currentphotoBy Michele Howe

Liz Smith was the child who was always taking apart the vacuum cleaner and putting it back together. Even now, as an adult, she says she still fixes things around her own home, easy — for her.

Ms. Smith is one of those rare individuals who understands the principles of how technology works yet is equally skilled as the technician who utilizes medical instruments to assist any number of surgeons from a variety of surgical specialties day in and day out.

Liz Smith is a certified surgical technologist, or CST, at Flower Hospital.

Her role requires her to bring both extensive physiological and anatomical understanding together with swift calls of judgment, anticipating what instruments are needed at every point in a procedure, and precision, selecting the exact instruments and tools best suited to get the job done and choosing those preferred by each surgeon she works alongside.

This is no simple task considering the sheer number of instruments and tools available to Ms. Smith from the hospital’s inhouse store of surgical trays as well as those brought in by outside suppliers for operations involving replacement parts.

This dynamic Owens Technical College graduate considered different areas of medicine before focusing on surgical technology.

Ms. Smith’s natural love of the sciences and her innate mechanical ability make the perfect combination for her career choice as a surgical tech, who daily offers her talents to provide the highest level of patient care while working elbow to elbow with surgeons.

Surgical technologist Liz Smith assisting orthopedic surgeon Dr. Christopher Foetisch (left) during a shoulder resurfacing operation at Flower Hospital in Sylvania, Ohio.

Truly, Ms. Smith’s contributions, along with every other surgical staff member, enable the doctors to successfully do their parts in the operating room.

A surgical tech not only hands instruments and tools to the surgeon as he requests them, she is constantly watching the movements of everyone in the room so that a sterile environment is maintained throughout the procedure. Her eagle eye keeps patients and staff safe.

Working 10-hour shifts, Ms. Smith’s days frequently begin early as she comes in at least 30 minutes before her first case to look over the surgeries she’s been assigned to cover for the day.

She makes sure her trays are properly equipped and makes note of any special requirements or add-ons needed for the patient and the surgeon.

Once Ms. Smith is satisfied everything is set up and prepared perfectly, her rigorous work day starts in earnest. Standing long hours, focused and alert, is not only physically exhausting, it is mentally depleting as well.

Considering how quickly Ms. Smith must shift gears from one type of surgery to the next, I asked her how does a surgical tech ever get comfortable working in a such a highly charged, ever-changing environment. She admits that it took her a good year’s time (she’s been at Flower Hospital for five years) before she stopped operating on “nerve” and felt more relaxed in her position.

Even now as she teaches students entering the field how to become capable surgical techs, Ms. Smith continues to rely on a few basic principles that she used to she develop her own expertise.

Whether new to the field or as a seasoned tech (like herself), students are advised to go back to the basics of what they’ve been taught about anatomy, sterile technique and instrument function. She assures students in training that when they thoroughly grasp how the body functions, this knowledge will aid them in making efficient and effective OR decisions.

She also strongly advises techs to develop and hone their listening skills. Liz shares that she is constantly alert and tuned in to what the surgeon (and others) are saying so that she can better anticipate what they need her to do next.

Watching Ms. Smith work, I can attest to the fact that she’s an expert at this skill of intuitively knowing what’s going to be asked of her (and from her) well before a verbal request is spoken.

This seamless movement that unfolds between the surgeon and the surgical tech is vital to minimizing delays in the procedure that otherwise could keep the patient under anesthesia for a longer time period.

Ms. Smith recognizes that the smoother and more efficient she “operates,” the better for the sake of the patient.

When patients say they were given great care after a medical procedure or a hospital stay, a mental picture comes to mind of a gentle (typically female) figure hovering over the ailing individual in almost angelic fashion. While there’s some measure of truth to this timeless portrayal of sensitive ministrative care, there’s an equally important case to be made for the type of robust, active element of healing that occurs solely in the operating room.

Without an entire team of highly skilled, highly dedicated medical professionals working in concert with each other, the sick and injured among us would stay that way and no amount of passive hand-holding would make a long-term difference in their lives.

While some might say a procedure is routine, Ms. Smith is continually reminded that when you are responsible for people’s lives, it’s never business as usual.

In truth, there is no “routine” when medical professionals are responsible for managing individuals’ health and at times, hold lives in their hands. Thus it is with intentional, focused attention that medical care is given inside the confines of the OR every single hour of every day.

That commitment to excellent care, along with an almost tangible respect, is constantly maintained (guarded even) for the patient, the family and for one’s fellow colleagues who work together to make a positive difference in the lives of everyone who enters their operating room.

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