When Your Surgery Goes Smoothly, Thank a Surgical Technologist

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'My favorite part about my job is knowing that you are making a difference in someone’s life,' said surgical technologist Shana Frazee.
'My favorite part about my job is knowing that you are making a difference in someone’s life,' said surgical technologist Shana Frazee. (Credit: Courtesy Shana Frazee)

Shana Frazee is a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) at WVU Medicine in Morgantown, West Virginia — a career that has given her a lot of job satisfaction. “At the completion of a very hard surgery — especially one that last hours and hours — there is nothing better than hearing your surgeon say, ‘Thank you, I couldn't have done it without you.’”

She also works for the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) where she assists with the surgical recovery of organs. In her spare time, the 30-year-old West Virginia native also runs her own home bakery called Shana Cakes.

Why did you become a surgical technologist?

I wanted to find a job in the healthcare field but wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. I started out as a hospital housekeeper when I was 20 years old to get a little bit of experience so that I would be able to see the different areas.

When I was assigned to the operating room during my training, I was put in a heart catheter lab and there was blood everywhere. I was the only one in there, and I was panicking a little because of the blood on the floor. This older gentleman came in and told me that it was all "mind over matter" and that the room needed to be cleaned ASAP. He helped me for about 10 minutes and when I asked him who he was he ended up being the surgeon who was awaiting a patient for that room! I couldn't believe that a doctor was helping me clean.

A few weeks later I saw him in the hallway, and he invited me to shadow him on one of his cases. I took up his offer and that is how I learned what a surgical tech was! I had never heard of one before, but I instantly became interested in the position.

What does a typical day for a surgical tech look like?

I work in the same-day surgery operating room. We start out the day very early in the morning. I clock in at 6:30 a.m. I check my assignment to figure out what room I'm in and what surgeon I am assigned to and what service line I will be "scrubbing." First thing when I get into my operating room is I have to make sure all of the equipment is in there that I will need for the day and any type of items that may be needed. (No surgeon likes to wait on anything.) Then I have to go through our "case carts," which are sent to our department and include everything that we will need for each case. I have to make sure that everything is there and ready and available.

Once that is done, I set up for the surgery. I open all of the packaging ensuring that nothing is contaminated. I have to gather the sutures that we will need for the case and all of the gloves needed for the surgeon and his residents. Once everything is opened, I do a "surgical handwash" that takes approximately 10 minutes! When everything is organized and ready, I have to do a count of items with my circulating nurse.

Anesthesia puts the patient to sleep and when the doctors come in, I gown and glove them. We do a surgical pause to confirm that the patient is who they are supposed to be and then we start surgery. My job is to hand the surgeon anything and everything they need to successfully complete the operation. I have to keep an eye out on everything that is going on so that nothing gets contaminated throughout the case. This goes on throughout the day until all of the cases that are scheduled in that room are finished. We get 20 minutes to "turn" the room over and clean and set up all over again until they get ready to bring the next patient back. This job is very fast-paced.

What do you like most about your job?

Honestly, my favorite part about my job is knowing that you are making a difference in someone’s life. Same-day surgeries are mostly elective surgeries, meaning they’re not emergency cases. I also love that our unit is kind of small compared to the main operating room, so we have fewer nurses and surgical techs. We are all one big family. We all get along and work as a strong team. We all stick together and help each other out, and that is how our unit can move so smoothly and get everything done in a timely manner.

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

I kind of knew a lot about what the job entailed before I started school. I shadowed a lot in the operating room to make sure that this really was what I wanted to do — especially since I was paying out of pocket for it with no student loans or grants.

How did you train to become a surgical technologist? 

To get my job I went to a local technical college. It was a nine-month, fast-paced program. Most programs are spread out in a two-year program. So basically, we had two years of learning crammed into nine months, on top of our clinical hours. After graduation I had to take a board exam to become nationally certified, which I did and passed!

What personality traits would make someone a good fit for this job?

You must have a strong backbone for this job. I spend a lot of my time dealing with doctors. Their job is very stressful and sometimes they take it out on the person closest to them — and that happens to be me! I’ve learned to take it all with a grain of salt. Also, you really need a strong stomach. The smell of the operating room is one of a kind. And the sounds of bones being broken, and noises from drills and suctions. I always say it takes a certain person for this job. And honestly, there aren't a ton of us around!

Where do you see yourself in the future?

In the next five to 10 years, I would really like to be an operating room nurse. It’s just so hard to make it happen when I am the only one providing for myself — mortgage, vehicle and just life in general. But if I’m going to be a surgical tech for a lot of my life, I have to love what I do. And I do for sure love it! That is one thing that makes me not want to go back to school because I really do enjoy this job so much!

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