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How Can I Become a Certified Operating Room Technician?

Explore the career requirements for certified operating room technicians. Get the facts about education and certification requirements, job duties and salary information to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is an Operating Room Attendant?

An operating room attendant is a medical professional who ensures patients undergoing surgery are treated in a sterilized, prepared environment. They are also known as surgical technologists. They are responsible for sterilizing the operating room prior to surgery, and they will also sterilize medical equipment and ensure that there are enough supplies ready for the surgery. Operating room attendants may help wash and sterilize the area on a patient where they will have surgery. During the surgery they may pass equipment to the surgeon. They may also be involved in holding equipment during a procedure and cutting sutures.

Degree Required Certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Life sciences, math, anatomy, medical terminology
Responsibilities Calibrate IVs, provide the surgeon with the proper tools, judge patient conditions,
Certification Required in some states
Job Growth (2018-2028) 9%*
Average Salary (2018) $49,040*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Qualifications and Training Will I Need?

Certified operating room technicians, often called surgical technologists or scrubs, need a strong background in life sciences and above-average critical thinking skills, specifically in math, writing and reading. These basic skills will help you to enroll in a surgical technology program at a vocational, technical or junior college. To earn certification, you need to attend a school that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

You can earn a surgical technology certificate in about nine months or an associate's degree in two years. Common courses cover anatomy, medical terminology, medical utensils and terminology. You also learn about pre-, intra- and post-surgery procedures. Associate's degree programs typically also require you to take courses including psychology, mathematics and biology.

How Do I Get Certified?

As you are attaining a certificate or degree, you can often find internships and start studying for the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) Certification as a Surgical Technologist (CST) exam. Although not required, CST status could make you more attractive to employers.

Many of the highest paid scrubs have achieved the other credential offered by the NBSTSA: Certification as a Surgical First Assistant (CSFA). First assistants have a wider range of duties and can more directly participate in operating room procedures. To qualify for certification, you need to meet educational and experience requirements in addition to passing an exam.

What Will My Work Day Be Like?

Some hospitals require operating room technicians to work on call, meaning you may get called in to work in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. While operating rooms are well-lit, clean and organized, your exposure to blood, bodily fluids and pathogens will be high. These jobs require you to act fast and accurately calibrate IVs, judge patient conditions and provide the surgeon with the proper tools. Calmly and quickly handling these concerns will be a daily duty for any successful scrub. Calmly and quickly handling these questions will be a daily duty for any successful scrub.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Operating room attendants perform some duties that are similar to the tasks performed by licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and dental assistants. Licensed practical nurses provide direct patient care, and may bathe patients. This is similar to the operating room attendant's task of washing and sterilizing patients prior to surgery. Medical assistants may take a patient's blood pressure and vital signs and update their chart before they're seen by a doctor, and this is similar to the operating room attendant's job of helping to prepare a patient for surgery. Dental assistants may assist with X-rays and procedures, which is similar to the operating room attendants role of assisting surgeons during surgery. Licensed practical nurses, medical assistants and dental assistants all need postsecondary training, although they may prepare by completing a certificate or diploma and do not necessarily need an associate's degree.