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Surgeries—both big and small—can be life or death situations. Although surgeons perform surgeries, their entire health care team is crucial to ensuring a successful outcome and the well-being of patients. The primary objective of a surgical technologist is to prepare everything in the operating room for surgeons.
In this career guide, we’ll discuss how to become a surgical technologist in detail to help you pursue your goals in the right direction.
What Is a Surgical Technologist?
Surgical technicians, also known as surgical techs, make sure that everything goes smoothly in the OR (Operating Room). They prepare the OR for surgery, help the healthcare team and surgeons during the operation, and clean the room after the surgical procedure.
Surgical technologists need to learn human anatomy, principles of surgical procedures, and rules and application of sterile techniques. They work as a surgeon’s right hand and help them perform surgery without hiccups and hurdles.
How to Become a Surgical Technologist?
First, you’ll need to earn a GED or high school diploma as it’s compulsory for most surgical technologist programs. You should opt for hard sciences courses such as anatomy and biology in your high school. It’ll allow you to prepare for your surgical technologist course.
Once you have your high school diploma, you can use the following steps to become a surgical technologist.
1. Apply to a Surgical Technologist Certificate, Diploma or Degree Program
Surgical techs typically need a diploma or certificate from a surgical technology program to enter the profession. According to surgical technologists polled by O*Net, 41% of respondents said that an associate’s degree was required to work as a surgical technologist and 23% claimed that a post-secondary certificate was sufficient. Some states regulate surgical techs, but most don’t. Surgical technologists typically need a certificate or an associate’s degree. Certification can be beneficial in finding a job. A small number of states regulate surgical technologists.
Accreditation of Surgical Technology Program
Keep in mind that not all surgical technology programs and associate degree courses are accredited by a reputable and recognized agency. You’ll need to make sure that you choose a program that has proper accreditation. Otherwise, you might not be able to apply for certification exams.
You should look for a program that’s accredited by ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools) or CAAHEP (Allied Health Education Programs). You can go to the ABHES or CAAHEP online directories to find accredited surgical tech programs.
2. Find a Job
Once you have completed your associate degree course, you should look for an internship to get hands-on professional experience. Not only will it help you gain practical knowledge but it’ll also allow you to make valuable professional connections. These connections can help you a great deal while looking for a job.
3. Get Certified
The next step in your journey to becoming a surgical technologist is to get the certification. It’s important to note that it’s not compulsory to work as a professional surgical tech in all states. However, it’ll stand your resume out from the crowd and will reflect your dedication and commitment.
So, getting a surgical technologist certification will make it easier for you to find a job. You can prepare for your certification exam through NCCT (National Center for Competency Testing) or NBSTSA (National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting).
4. Advance Your Career
There are two main paths for advancing your career as a surgical technologist. The first is to pursue further specialization, such as neuro, open heart or vascular. The other is to increase responsibilities in the operating room.
- First Assistant: As the first assistant, you are the primary surgical tech in the operating room and often perform more advanced duties.
- Central Supply Supervisor: As a central supply supervisor, you are responsible for managing and sterilizing everything in the operating room
Pursuing either path requires additional training or experience, but will also result in increased pay and responsibilities.
How to Become Certified?
As mentioned above, you can become a certified surgical technologist through NCCT or NBSTSA.
NCCT (National Center for Competency Testing) Certification
In order to get NCCT certification, called Certified TS-C (NCCT), you need to prove (certificate of completion) that you have completed an accredited surgical tech program. You’ll also need to provide the organization with your valid GED or high school diploma and a surgical tech program transcript.
The organization will ask you to fill out a Critical Skills Competency form so that you can appear in the certification exam. Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to submit your documents before the exam. However, you won’t get the certification until you provide these documents to NCCT.
NBSTSA (National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting) Certification
Surgical techs also need to complete an accredited associate degree program to qualify for the NBSTSA certification. You’ll need to mail your documents along with the application form to the NBSTSA. After six weeks you’ll receive the ATT (Authorization to Test) from the organization.
However, you can opt for emergency processing by paying an additional fee to receive the ATT letter within three to five working days. Then, you’ll need to appear in the exam and clear it to get your certification.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgical Tech?
An associate surgical technology program, just like most associate’s degrees, is typically based on 64 to 66 credits. You’ll need to undergo full-time enrollment for two years in order to complete it.
However, some certificate programs and diplomas can be completed within 12 months.
Keep in mind that all surgical tech degrees include classroom instructions that you need to attend. Some courses such as dermatology and pediatric surgical technologist programs involve specialized training as well.
Who Should Become a Surgical Technologist?
A person who wants to work closely with a surgical team to save human lives should become a surgical technologist. This career will also suit people who want to enter a professional field quickly to start earning.
Keep in mind that this profession requires attention to detail to prepare the operating room and equipment for surgeries. It also requires teamwork skills, active listening, focus, and problem sensitivity.
This profession has above-average earning potential but you’ll need to prove yourself by making a difference on an everyday basis.
What Does a Surgical Tech Actually Do?
Surgical first assistants or surgical technologists work closely with a surgical team and perform the following duties.
- Sterilize surgical tools and prepare the operating room for surgery.
- Prepare patients for their surgeries by disinfecting and washing incision spots.
- Select the right surgical equipment for the surgery.
- Help surgeons during the surgery by providing them with surgical instruments and supplies to carry out operations seamlessly.
- Hold medical equipment or internal organs during the surgery if needed.
- Count the number of instruments after surgery.
- Make sure that no surgical item is retained in patients.
- Minimize the risk of infection by keeping the environment clean.
- Apply dressings and bandages to help patients recover.
What Is the Difference Between a Surgical Technologist and a Surgical Technician?
Some people use the terms Surgical Technologist and Surgical Technician interchangeably. While there are some similarities between these two roles, they’re actually different.
Surgical technologists need to acquire more education and they’re also more involved with the surgical team as well as patients than surgical technicians. They prepare the operating room, aid surgeons, during the surgical procedure, and monitor patients’ health before, after, and during the surgery.
On the other hand, a surgical technician is a person who usually has on-the-job training and experience and needs to provide emotional support to patients. They may also need to provide updates to the patient’s family before and after the surgical procedure.
A surgical technician also transfers patients to the operating room before surgery and takes them to the recovery room once the operation is completed. They’re also responsible for the operating room’s cleanliness and they usually report to surgical technologists or nurses.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Surgical Technologist?
The following are the pros and cons of being a surgical technologist.
- The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the field of surgical technology will grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030, which ensures job security.
- It allows people to enter the field quickly as the surgical technology course can be completed within 12 to 24 months.
- According to ONET Online, the average annual salary of a surgical technologist is $48,530 ($23.33 per hour). It’s the 17th highest paying job without a degree.
- The role of a surgical technologist provides you with opportunities to make a difference every day by saving human lives. So, it has a high level of job satisfaction.
- The role of surgical tech is very demanding and it can be exhausting at times. You need to stay on your feet during your entire shift. You might also need to reach your workplace for an emergency during weekends.
- You need to work with sharp tools like needles and blades and hazardous materials like bodily fluids and blood. It can be extremely dangerous if you’re not careful.
- You won’t have room to make mistakes. The surgical procedures are extremely critical and require you to be extra careful while preparing the operating room, which can be stressful.
While becoming a surgical technologist isn’t as time-consuming as other specialized medical professions, it requires dedication and hard work. If you want to enter the field quickly and have a passion to help save human lives, a career as a surgical technologist may be the right path for you.