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How Can I Become a Certified Surgical Technician or Technologist?

Research what it takes to become a certified surgical technologist. Learn about education requirements, job duties and career outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Are Certified Surgical Technicians/Technologists?

Surgical technologists, also called operating room technicians, provide technical assistance before, during and after surgery. Prior to the procedure, they prepare the operating room, sterilize equipment and ensure that all necessary supplies are available. They also get the patient ready by washing and disinfecting the parts of the body that will be operated on. During the operation, they hand the surgeon instruments and supplies. Afterward, they return the operating room to a sterile state. Although certification is not required for this career, optional professional certifications are available, and certified surgical technologists may have better job prospects than others.

See the table below to learn more about required education and expected salary for this career.

Degree Required Diploma, certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Surgical Technology
Certification Several certifications available; each require completion of an approved program and passing an exam
Job Growth (2018-2028) 9%*
Median Salary (May 2018) $47,300*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Surgical Technician or Technologist?

Surgical technicians are part of the surgical team. As a surgical technician, your duties before the operation would include arranging the surgical instruments, positioning the patient and preparing the surgical site. During the surgery, you would be responsible for maintaining the sterile environment and aiding the doctors by adjusting lighting or monitoring equipment. When the procedure is finished, you would count the instruments, help transfer the patient and clean the operating room.

What Education Do I Need?

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools accredit surgical technology training programs at the diploma, certificate and associate's degree levels. You would study anatomy, surgical procedures and medical terminology. You would combine your classroom studies with clinical experience, and you may also participate in an externship to further your practical knowledge of surgical technology.

How Do I Become Certified?

You can seek your voluntary certification from one of three credentialing agencies. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offers the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designation for which you are eligible to test after you have completed your accredited training program. The National Center for Competency Testing offers the Tech in Surgery - Certified designation after you have completed a combination of education and experience requirements. The National Healthcare Association offers the Operating Room Surgical Technician Certification, which you can take after you complete your training program.

How Could I Advance My Career?

With additional training, you could become a surgical first assistant, helping to control blood flow and other functions during surgery. After gaining your CST certification, you can work to build up enough experience to take the certifying exam to become a surgical first assistant.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are interested in helping with surgical procedures, you might also want to consider a job as a cardiac technologist specializing in cardiac invasive procedures. These professionals assist physicians during open heart surgeries and other heart-related procedures, like cardiac catheterizations and pacemaker insertions. These professionals usually need a postsecondary certificate or associate's degree, and certification can boost job prospects. Alternatively, you could become a medical assistant. Assistants work in hospitals, doctors' offices and other healthcare facilities, performing administrative tasks and offering basic clinical care, such as taking vital signs, administering medications and assisting with examinations. To become a medical assistant, you usually need to have at least a postsecondary certificate or diploma.