The surgical technologist

86th Medical Squadron Surgical Services flight chief

From its humble beginnings dating back to World Wars I and II, the surgical technologist has occupied a vital role in the surgical environment, which has undoubtedly made a pivotal impact on the successes of military medicine. Surgeons have depended widely on the critical skill, knowledge and competence of the surgical technologist to successfully accomplish the most demanding procedures and ultimately save lives.

Most commonly referred to as operating room technicians, their role not only involves technical support during surgery but also meticulous preparation of the operating room before each surgical procedure.

They must know the logistics, technique and wound management of each case in order to properly allocate supplies, instrumentation, equipment and dressing required for the surgery.

The Air Force OR tech is competent in hundreds of specialized procedures included in orthopedic, general surgery, urology, obstetric/gynecology, ear, nose and throat, and neurology specialties. The most highly skilled OR technicians are selected to be part of more prestigious teams, such as open heart and major vascular specialties.

In recent history, the OR tech evolved from the stalwart professional working in the background of each surgery to the forefront of military medicine.

No longer is the OR tech “operating” behind the confines of prestigious medical centers and forward deployed locations. Now they help provide immediate damage control through life saving surgery in the most remote places as members of special operations surgical teams and the latest Tactical Critical Care Evacuation Teams-Enhanced.

During the past year, the OR tech helped write the next chapter of military medicine. As surgical innovations grow, so do the ways we employ it — even at 30,000 feet. Stemming from the success of a TCCET rotary mission, a new capability was born, thanks largely in part to the capabilities of the OR tech.

This innovation is called TCCETe and is designed to bring all the resuscitative interventions that regular TCCET provides and adds
the surgical component to fixed wing aeromedical evacuation aboard C-130 and C-17 aircraft.

This next evolution and addition to the Air Force’s en route care system brings the “new normal” to surgery in the air. Operating at altitude brings unique challenges where the technician works in confined spaces and without the comfort of support personnel; their role could not be more pivotal in increasing the survivability rate.

From the days of World War I until now the capabilities of surgical technicians have grown dramatically. They are required to operate at a higher level than ever before, as demonstrated with the latest innovation of the TCCETe. The birth of this concept embody U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa’s “Forward, Ready, Now” mission and is a clear representation of the Air Force continuing to be fueled by Airmen and powered by innovation.

There may be no other enlisted medical profession in the Air Force as involved or evolved as the surgical technologist.