So you have decided on a career as a Surgical Technologist! This is a noble occupation in which there is always a need for additional qualified hands ensuring those who have the passion for it to have a secure future for themselves and their families.
Surgical Technologists are specially educated and typically have either a Certificate in Surgical Technology or a 2 year Surgical Technology Associates Degree. Depending on where you are wanting to practice, and in which field, there are different regulatory bodies and requirements both for education as well as the job itself.
Surgical Technologist Schools
Attending a school that offers an accredited course by either the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) will be very beneficial as you will end up with the title of either a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST from the NBSTSA) or a Tech in Surgery, Certified (TS-C from the NCCT). Both of these are favored by hospitals looking for a surgical technologist as they show that the person holding the certificate has met a high standard and has been trained properly.
Requirements for these programs are as follows:
Certified Surgical Technologist (CST)
- To be eligible to write the exam one must be:
- A surgical technologist who has graduated from a CAAHEP-accredited surgical tech school;
- A surgical technologist who has graduated from a CAAHEP-accredited military surgical technologist training program; or
- A surgical technologist who possesses the Tech in Surgery – Certified (TS-C) designation
- The certification is valid for 4 years, after which it must be renewed.
- Renewal can be obtained via:
- Continuing education credits
Tech in Surgery – Certified (TS-C)
- To be eligible to write the exam one must:
- Be a current student in surgical technology program from a NCCT authorized school;
- Be a graduated student of a surgical technology program from a NCCT authorized school within the past ten years;
- Have 3 years of full-time experience (over 6,240 hours) as a surgical technology practitioner within the past five years;
- Have completed surgical technology or equivalent training during U.S. Military service within the past ten years;
- Have recognition of a related credential;
- Foreign physician or RN with documented U.S. equivalency within the past ten years; or
- Be a surgical technology instructor with ten or more years of experience
- The certification is valid for 1 year, after which it must be renewed.
- Renewal can be obtained via obtaining a certain number of continuing education courses.
Surgical Technologist Job Description
A Surgical Technologist is another title given to operating room technicians, scrubs, or scrub technologist. While there are only a few states that require official certifications, it is definitely beneficial to have these as the pay grade for a general surgical technologist is less than that of a certified surgical technologist (CST) and even less than a CST with specialized training.
This profession requires a person to be intuitive, exceptionally organized, conscientious, emotionally and mentally stable. For a person to be considered in this field they must also possess great dexterity as they will be required to assist in operations alongside surgeons.
Depending on the region, the extent of a surgical technician’s duties and limitations vary. Variances also occur for reasons such as tenure, performance, certifications and training.
There may be limitations on what a surgical technologist is permitted to do. Rules such as the surgical technologist must be supervised by a surgeon or Registered Nurse (RN) at all times around a patient is not unheard of. The patient’s safety, after all, is the number one concern.
Generally, surgical technologists are responsible for preparing the operating room with everything required for the surgery being performed from equipment to instruments and ensuring everything is sterile and accessible at the beginning of the operation. They must also ensure that scrubs are available for all parties involved in the operation and that the patient’s chart has been checked to ensure proper identification, consent, and any contraindications or special instructions are brought to the surgeon’s attention such as allergies.
Once the surgery is over, they are occasionally required to close the incision and to make sure all instruments and supplies are accounted for post operation. Essentially it is the surgical technologist’s job to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible and to have everything that is required by the doctor available to them as needed. They are also responsible for making sure the patient is recovering well in the post-op period.
Other duties which may be asked of a surgical technologist is to be a mentor. As most of a surgical technologist’s learning is done on the job, particularly in states where no certification is necessary, senior surgical technologists may be asked to teach a new hire. In these cases, there is usually a tiered approach taken. As the student shows competence in a set of skills, they are usually allowed to move onto harder cases.
States Requiring Certification
Most states do not require certification, registration or licensure of surgical technologists, however, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas do. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) is pushing for every state to require certification and/or registration to ensure patient safety. Many states are in the process of looking at implementing this and therefore it is important to look up the requirements for your state as to what is needed to be certified in your area.
Surgical Technologist Programs and Degrees
Despite not all states regulating surgical technologists, for the highest chances of hire and a better salary, most surgical technologists opt to acquire a post-secondary certification or associate degree. These certification programs must meet the standards set by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). Certifications can come in one of three forms:
- Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) which is acquired through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA)
- Tech in Surgery – Certified (TS-C) which is acquired through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
The NBSTSA also offers the upgraded version of the CST which is the Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA). This program is more advanced than the standard CST program and usually requires one to have completed the CST program. Exceptions may be waived for those who have graduated from a different approved certification program (such as the TS-C), have extensive hands-on experience or a mix of schooling and experience; this is done on a case-by-case basis.
Surgical Technologist Jobs
Most surgical technologists work in the hospitals as there are a larger number of positions available. Some surgical technologists will work with physicians and even dentists in ambulatory surgery centers, outpatient care centers and surgical centers.
There are many forms of surgical technologists. Every department which provides operations has the potential of hiring specialized surgical technologists. These jobs usually come with a higher rate of pay as it does require further training. Some of the jobs available are:
- Ambulatory Surgical Technologist
- Cardiac Surgical Technologist
- Certified Surgical Technician
- First Assistant Surgical Technologist
- Labor and Delivery Surgical Technologist
- Operating Room Surgical Technologist
Certified Surgical Technologist Salary
The average salary in 2012 for a surgical technologist was $41,790. This included certified, non-certified, specialized and general surgical technologists. Below is a chart which shows a closer picture on the average salaries of surgical technologists.
Surgical Tech Salaries
|Average Hourly Rate
|Average Annual Salary
|Labor and Delivery
|Surgical First Assistant
|Surgical First Assistant
|Certified General Surgery
As you can see, finding a specialty does raise one’s pay scale and obtaining further education helps as well. The outlook for this career is promising as in 2012 it showed an estimated 30% increase for the next 10 years which is much faster than the average growth. What this means is, currently there were 98,500 surgical technologists employed in the United States in 2012 and over the next 10 years (2012-2022) they estimate approximately 29,300 more surgical technologists will be hired. This gives a very favorable outlook to a stable career path.
You can find a more detailed look at surgical tech salaries here.
Online Surgical Technologist Degrees
The regulatory bodies for surgical technology certifications do not offer the classes themselves online as this is a very hands-on career path. The certifications themselves, however, are available either through schools or through the websites of the regulatory bodies. The ability to renew one’s certification is also available on their sites.