What is it?[]

Sterile Field

By: Nate Curtis, Bio-Medical Electronics Student, Western Technical College, La Crosse, WI, 10-17-08

What exactly is a "sterile field" and how do you properly operate around one? It is good to know what the sterile field is, and how to work around one, so you are prepared in the event of being called in during surgery. As students, at Western Technical College, we have the opportunity to view live surgerys, if we chose to, which is a great honor. We need to be especially aware of the sterile field so we do not jeopardize the patients health and/or make the medical staff uncomfortable or even irate with us being there.

Usually the sterile field begins along the wall with setting up the back table or chest tables, and then after the patient's skin is prepped and draped, with sterile drapes, the sterile field moves over the patient. All of the items that are draped, on or around the patient, are considered the sterile field, including the scrubbed personnel who have a sterile gown on.

Any unsterile personnel MUST stay a minimum of 18 inches from any sterile field (as students observing we try for a minimum of 2ft.). When passing a sterile field you must always face the sterile field, so you can see if you brush against it. NEVER have your back towards the sterile field. You cannot reach over a sterile field if unscrubbed and you cannot walk between two sterile items, such as a mayo stand and back table, if unscrubbed.

There are no drawn parameters, just the understood rules stated above, and the understanding that anything draped or covered with blue is sterile and you must stay 18in. or 2ft, for students observing, from it. Also, you must, of course, wear a mask and goggles if in a room with a patient or a room that is "opened" and a sterile field created.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of what a sterile field is and makes you more comfortable the next time you are observing or called into surgery to make a repair.


Joan Martini Miksis
Program Head and Instructor
Surgical Technologist Program
Western Technical College
400 7th Street N K401E
La Crosse, WI 54602-0908