How to become a Certified Surgical Technician?

Have you always admired the essential work done by medical professionals? Becoming a doctor can take over a decade of education and training, in addition to being an unaffordable career pathway for many American high school graduates. 

However, becoming a certified surgical technician not only requires a mere 2 years of training, but it also enables you to be at the heart of the action, helping to save and prolong people’s lives in an operating theater.

We will guide you through the role of a surgical technician and the steps you need to take to become a certified professional in this field.   

What does a surgical technician do?

Before we discuss this, it is important to distinguish the different roles within the operating theater. Surgical technicians take orders from both surgical assistants and surgeons.

Surgical assistants have a similar role to surgical technicians in supporting the surgeon during a medical procedure. However, they have more authority in the operating room as they have completed further training and education, in addition to acquiring experience over the course of a couple of years. 

Surgical technicians – who are often referred to as surgical technologists – are primarily responsible for making sure that the operating theater and the patient are ready for surgery. The former involves securing medical supplies and preparing equipment for the operation.

During surgery, the surgical technicians mostly support the surgical assistants, ensuring that they have access to all the supplies and equipment during the procedure. 

After the operation has been successfully completed, it is the surgical technicians who restock and sterilize equipment and prepare the operating theater for the next surgery. 

What skills do I need?

Surgical technicians must be good communicators, as they often work in teams with fellow technicians, surgical assistants, and surgeons. It is important that you are able to listen and take on board instructions from your co-workers. 

They should also be able to demonstrate the ability to remain focused on the task set, even when it may be difficult in the hectic environment of an operating room. 

You need to be prepared to work awkward hours, as emergency situations arise 24/7 in hospitals. 

Becoming a surgical technician – initial steps

Step 1

In order to earn a place on a surgical technician course, it is necessary for you to complete your high school diploma. If you want your application to be successful, it is highly recommended you pick classes that would be relevant in the medical field. 

Subjects that you should study include chemistry, biology, math, and physics. 

Step 2

After high school students have various options that they can take in order to train to be a surgical technician. 

The most common route is to gain an associate’s degree from a community college, which can take 1 and a half to 2 years to complete. 

Here, students will gain a more rounded education as they have the opportunity to study subjects that are not necessarily related to becoming a surgical technician. This could be useful for those who are not 100% set on this particular career pathway and are keen to explore other options.

Step 3

However, for high graduates who know with certainty that they want to earn the surgical technician certification, it may be recommended to look for specialized surgical technician programs that offer classes that specifically aim to train students to succeed in this role. 

As these courses are more focused on a particular profession, students can usually earn their qualification within 1 year.

Step 4

Alternatively, surgical technician aspirants can also complete their training through medical courses designed by the US military. These programs are very intensive and can be completed in just over 3 months.

Step 5

Whichever pathway you choose, it is important that your qualification is accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)

Without holding an accredited certificate you will not be able to move onto the next stage of your educational journey.

Step 6

It is also recommended to find work experience during your studies –whether it is working in a reception at a clinic or shadowing surgical technicians and assistants in an operation theater. 

Certified Surgical Technician (CST) Examination

While not all US states require surgical technicians to take the CST exams, taking and passing it most certainly increases the likelihood of you being able to find jobs throughout the country. 

The CST examination is overseen by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). A lot of the topics covered will overlap with the syllabus from your previous studies. 

The CST certificate is not valid for life. As of 2020, surgical technicians are required to renew their qualifications every 2 years, which involves taking continuing education credits. Failing to do so could risk losing your qualification and having to retake the CST exam. 

It is also advisable to become a member of the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) in order to keep up-to-date with the most recent advances in this field. 

Once you have obtained all your qualifications and certifications, you are ready to start looking for a job as a fully certified surgical technician!

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