Surgical techs must be able to immediately identify surgical instruments.

You don’t want to be the one asking the surgeon, in the middle of an operation, “What are Metzenbaum scissors again?”

There are literally thousands of surgical instruments, so it’s no wonder that many find it particularly daunting to what they are and what they are used to do. But it gets much easier once you realize that surgical instruments are essentially classified by the way the surgery and its use in that particular surgical procedure.

Here’s an introduction to different types of surgical instruments. It’s by no means comprehensive or definitive, and you can see how categories may overlap. But it will give you an idea of the fascinating variety of tools available to today’s medical professionals.


Cutting, incising or dissecting instruments

These can also be called “sharps,” because, well, they’re sharp! We’re talking about scalpels, knife handles and blades of various lengths. They can be really heavy-duty, like bone scissors. Or they can be used on delicate tissue, like Metzenbaum scissors, which have a thin, curved tip.


Grasping, holding and clamping instruments

There are many different kinds of grasping, holding and clamping tools. They may be adapted for a particular part of the anatomy, such as bone holders or intestinal forceps. In fact, there are many different kinds of forceps, which are scissor-like tools used to hold things that may be too difficult for the fingers to grasp. Hemostats are important clamps that compress vessels to control the flow of blood. Hemostats also look like scissors but instead of blades they have flat tips to grasp the vessel, and a locking mechanism to keep the vessel compressed.


Retracting and exposing instruments

Retractors basically hold things open, like organs, ribs or tissue, in order to provide access to the operative site. Retractors can be self-retaining, meaning they are able to hold something open on their own, or manual, meaning they need to be held in place by hand.


Suturing or stapling instruments

Surgeons use suturing or stapling instruments to close a wound or rejoin tissue after an operation. They include needle holders for suturing, or sewing up a wound. Stapling devices are a frequent choice for surgeons for the same purpose, because surgical stapling can be much quicker than suturing.


Suctioning and Aspirating Instruments

These handy instruments include suction tips and tubes to remove fluids—like the suction tube at the dentist’s office.


Dilating and Probing Instruments

Probes can be used to enter a natural opening, like a bile duct. Or they might dilate, or expand an opening, to provide access to a narrow passage. Probes are also used to search for foreign objects during surgery.


Measuring Instruments

Accurate measurements are critical for many medical procedures, and surgery is no exception. There are many kinds of measuring devices, such as the bone compass or the vascular measuring caliper. Doctors might use a ruler to measure the size of scar or a special kind of long, thin caliper for neurosurgery.


In addition to the above categories, some include the many tools available for the introduction or draining of fluid from the body. This can include instruments like cannulas, catheters, needles and syringes. Finally, many medical professionals prefer to categorize surgical instruments as atraumatic, meaning they are minimally invasive tools that cause little or no damage to tissue, or traumatic which means the opposite.

As you can see, the concepts behind the categories are pretty straightforward. There are just a lot of them. However, with the right Surgical Technology Program you’ll be able to identify surgical instruments blindfolded. Okay, maybe not blindfolded, but really quickly.

If you’re interested in an Associate of Science Degree in Surgical Technology, check out City College. We offer an excellent Surgical Technology program in Florida at our Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Altamonte Springs campuses. For more information on how you can get started as a surgical tech, click here!