How to Become a Surgical Technician in 5 Steps

Surgical technicians assist in surgeries by preparing the operating room and equipment. Learn the education and licensure requirements to become a surgical technician. Schools offering Biomedical Engineering Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Surgical Technician?

A surgical technician is a medical support specialist who assists with surgery before, during and after an operation. The equipment you work with includes suction machines, sterilizers, lights and heart monitors. You work under the supervision of a surgeon, surgical nurse or other medical professional.

Before surgery, you clean the operating room, set up instrument trays and equipment, and help surgeons and other team members scrub and dress. During surgery, you help position and drape patients, handle instruments, monitor equipment, maintain a sterile environment and make an ongoing assessment of operating room conditions. After surgery, you might help bandage patients, clean and resupply the operating room, and shut down and store equipment.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You will need a high school diploma or GED to gain admission to a surgical technician training program. High school courses in mathematics and natural sciences can help prepare you for surgical technology courses. Courses in English, computers and health are also recommended.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or Associate's Degree

Certificate and associate's degree surgical technician programs train you to prepare and properly use operating room equipment and function as part of a surgical team. Program curricula are built around classroom lectures, lab courses and clinical practicums. Possible courses include medical terminology, surgical technology, surgical procedures and pharmacology. The main differences between a 1-year certificate and a 2-year associate's degree program are that the latter includes a general education component and sometimes has more clinical courses.

Step 3: Consider Certification

Obtaining the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) could possibly improve your chances of employment. You're eligible if you've graduated from an accredited surgical technology program. The CST certification exam consists of 25 pretest questions and 175 scored questions covering basic science, equipment care, operating room procedures and administration.

You can also obtain the Operating Room Surgical Technician Certification (CORST) from the National Healthcareer Association. The CORST exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that address surgical laws and regulations, disease transmission mechanisms, surgical instruments, sterilization methods and other topics.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

Approximately 91,500 people worked as technicians in 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). From 2008-2018 employment was projected to increase 25% to 114,700. Excluding those who were self-employed, estimates show about 92,260 were employed in 2010. Hospital operating rooms and delivery rooms are the facilities where you're most likely to find work, but outpatient clinics, physicians' offices and dentist offices might have positions for you as well. You could also seek a position directly with a surgeon as part of a private surgical team. The median annual salary of surgical technicians as of May 2010 was $39,920.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Your advancement options include focusing on a surgical specialty, pursuing additional training or transitioning to a related area. Additional training could enable you to become the first assistant on a surgical team. Certification for first assistants is available from the NBSTSA. Transition opportunities might include managing a hospital's supply department or taking positions with a medical equipment supply firm or an insurance company.

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