North Carolina Talking Points
Surgical technologist legislation protects the public by establishing minimum education and certification standards for surgical technologists. No minimum standards currently exist. The legislation requires newly-practicing surgical technologists graduate from an accredited surgical technology education program and earn certification. These programs are typically offered at community and technical colleges and last approximately one-year for a certificate or two years for an Associate’s Degree. The legislation also:
- Grandfathers surgical technologists who are currently employed;
- Provides an exemption for all licensed practitioners; and
- Provides a waiver to facilities unable to meet requirements of legislation.
The Unregulated Practice of Surgical Technology Creates a Risk of Patient Harm. Surgical technologists act as the surgeon’s co-pilots, serving as a second set of eyes and hands in the operating room. The surgical technologist prepares and manages surgical equipment, instruments and supplies throughout the surgery; manages specimens such as cancer, skin grafts, and organs; and oversees the sterile integrity of the operating room, including the hundreds of instruments that are used in even the most basic surgery. Surgical technologists are critical in preventing surgical site infections and preventing surgical never events such as retained foreign objects.
Patients are at an obvious disadvantage during surgery – they are frequently unconscious. Patients never select and most often do not know who is on the surgical team.
Surgeons have a very limited view of the surgical team. Surgeons should not spend precious surgery time training or mitigating the actions of improperly-trained surgical technologists. In addition, not all mistakes may be caught and many mistakes cannot be mitigated. Surgical technologists set-up the O.R. prior to a surgeon’s arrival and a surgeon’s focus during surgery is on the patient. For 95% of the duration of the surgery, no one is watching the surgical technologist. In addition, surgeons have a very limited view of the surgical team, especially when performing laparoscopic or robotic surgeries.
No current regulations are in place that ensure minimum competency of surgical technologists. The Joint Commission, Medicare and state law do not have specific standards in place for surgical technologist education or certification.
Regulation of Surgical Technologists Will Not Create New Costs for Hospitals. For example, wage data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly shows no correlation between higher wages of surgical technologists and states that have regulated the profession, even in states where the legislation passed many years ago. In addition, educated and trained surgical technologists reduce costs related to preventable surgical site infections and foreign-retained objects.