5 Steps to Becoming an Operating Room Technician

Research what it takes to become an operating room technician. Learn about education requirements, certification options, job outlook and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Operating Room Technician Do?

Operating room technicians, also referred to as surgical technicians, work with surgeons to facilitate surgery before, during and after a procedure. They must sterilize supplies and be knowledgeable of the tools needed to help surgeons. They are responsible for getting the patient ready for surgery by cleaning the skin where the incision will occur, applying drapes and helping the surgery team prepare. Additional job duties could include holding organs or retractors in place, assisting with sutures and counting supplies.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Education Required Certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Surgical technology
Key Responsibilities Before surgery they prepare and transport patients, during surgery they hand instruments, sponges and needles to surgeons, after surgery they apply bandages and dressings to patients
Certification Certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%*
Average Salary (2015) $45,940*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is an Operating Room Technician?

Before surgery, operating room technicians prepare and transport patients, set up equipment, surgical instruments, and other supplies in the operating room, and help surgeons scrub and dress. During surgery they hand instruments, sponges and needles to surgeons and perform other miscellaneous tasks as directed, such as operating lights and suction machines. After surgery they apply bandages and dressings to patients as needed, clean and restock operating rooms and wash equipment.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

A high school diploma or GED is a prerequisite for admission to a certificate or associate's degree program. To a limited extent the classes you take can in high school also prepare you for the position. Biology, chemistry and mathematics courses in particular are helpful.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or Associate's Degree in Surgical Technology

Universities, community colleges and vocational schools offer programs in surgical technology that train you to perform competently as a supporting member of a surgical team. The curriculum consists of academic courses, clinical labs and often an internship. Course content is likely to cover anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, pharmacology and surgical procedures. Programs are typically completed in two years.

Step 3: Obtain Certification

You can obtain the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) designation from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). To be eligible to take the certification exam you must have graduated from a surgical technology program approved by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. As of June 2011 the CST examination consisted of 200 questions covering pre-operative preparation, intra-operative procedures and post-operative procedures. You need to answer at least 118 correctly to pass.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

Hospitals, physicians' offices, dentist offices and ambulatory surgical centers are your leading employment options. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 100,270 operating room technicians were employed in 2015 (www.bls.gov). A majority worked in hospital operating rooms and delivery rooms. You could also potentially secure employment directly with a surgeon who maintains a private surgical team or work in an outpatient care center, but only a small number of technicians take that step. From 2014-2024 employment is projected to grow 15% to 114,500.

Step 5: Advance My Career

Unless you decide to become a surgeon yourself, you can transfer your credits to a completion program and earn a bachelor's degree in surgical technology. Technicians who do can become specialists in neurosurgery or cardiothoracic surgery. They can also become first assistants, circulating technicians or hospital supply managers. Positions with medical equipment firms, sterile supply services and insurance companies are also a possibility.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several other career options similar to an operating room technician, such as a medical assistant or dental assistant. These options both require a postsecondary certificate or diploma. Medical assistants take notes on a patient's history, take vital signs, help with examinations, keep up with records and complete other administrative tasks. Dental assistants help with the preparation of patients for procedures, assist dentists with tools and also take care of records and appointments.

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