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Surgical Technician Training Facts

By: CareerFactsheet editors- Updated: Aug 09,2012

Surgical technologists work in places where surgical operations occur, including hospitals and outpatient care centers. They assist surgical teams before, during, and after surgeries to make sure operating rooms, patients, and surgical team members are prepared. They also ensure operating rooms, surgical teams, and patients are sterile and safe during operations. As part of their duties, surgical technologists prepare operating rooms, arrange surgical equipment, prepare patients for surgery, and provide assistance to surgical team members. Surgical technologists may also be referred to as surgical technicians or operating room technicians.

Surgical Technologist Job Outlook

Job growth for surgical technologists has remained at or around the national average for all occupations. Demand for technologists is expected to grow between 10% and 19% from 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. As the population of the United States continues to age at higher rates than in previous years and the number of seniors grow in the near future, the need for surgery will continue to increase. This will help support continued demand for surgical technologists as hospitals and outpatient care centers will be required to hire surgical staff to meet growing demand.

Education and Training Overview

Surgical Technologist Education

Programs in surgical technology are offered by vocational schools, community colleges, and some colleges and universities. Programs are also available through distance education and online learning. Upon completion of a surgical technology course, you can obtain a certificate, diploma, or degree in surgical technology. Earning one of these qualifications gives you the training and education you need to begin as an entry-level surgical technologist.

Students receive the background needed to successfully work in an operating room environment and with other surgical team members during their surgical technology education and training. Through a combination of coursework and practical experience, students learn about maintaining sterile operating rooms, as well as how to work effectively as a member of a surgical team and in an operating room setting. Students also learn critical thinking skills within the context of surgical technology.

Surgical technology programs combine coursework and practical components, including instruction in basic anatomy, biology, and medical terminology. Courses within these programs can include human anatomy and physiology, microbiology, pathology, medical and surgical terminology, medical law and ethics, surgical technology, surgical techniques, infection control, and surgical procedures. Courses also provide an introduction on how to sterilize and how to use surgical equipment and instruments, as well instruction on other technology you might use such as computer systems and surgical robotics.

In addition to coursework, surgical technology programs typically include a practical component. This clinical experience is often obtained through work experience placements in a hospital, outpatient care center, physician’s office, or another medical setting where surgeries take place. During this placement, students are supervised by surgeons, nurses, surgical technologists, or other health care professionals. These practical components provide students with hands-on technical training and exposure to work conditions as a surgical technologist. Placements also provide an opportunity for students to practice how to sterilize equipment and instruments in real-life situations. They also provide practical experience on interacting with and care for patients, and how to work within an operating room setting.

Upon completion of a surgical technology program, students will have the skills needed be employed as a second assistant surgical technologist. Graduates will be permitted to carry out most duties of a surgical technologist, with the exception of certain tasks related to assisting surgical team members with medical procedures. Graduates can also opt to work as a circulator, which are surgical technologists that are involved in non-sterile tasks.

Entry Requirements

Generally, admission to surgical technology programs requires a high school diploma or equivalent. Some schools and colleges may also require students to complete a prerequisite high school level courses, including courses in biology, chemistry, and mathematics. Proficiency in English is also required to enrol in surgical technology programs since communication is a key part of working in an operating room. Some educational institutions may require applicants to successfully pass a test that assesses your English language and comprehension skills.

Upon acceptance to a surgical technology program, students may also be asked to meet further requirements related to working safely in the medical field. For example, you may be asked to complete a CPR training course or receive First Aid certification. You may also be required to submit your immunization records, or be immunized against certain diseases. Educational institutions may also ask that you submit results of tests that determine whether you have certain communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis.

Depending on the program you are enrolling in, you might also be required to submit to a criminal background check, drug screening, and provide proof of personal health insurance and medical malpractice liability insurance. In addition to knowledge and skills in surgical technology, technologists must also be reliable and ethical. These tests help assess the suitability of candidates.

Financial Aid

Surgical Technician Tools

Merit-based financial aid in the form of scholarships and grants are typically available directly from your educational institution. Some educational institutions may also provide interest-free loans on a needs basis. Needs-based financial aid is also available from federal and state governments, such as Federal Pell Grants and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG) program. Loans administered by the United States Department of Education are also available to students requiring financial aid. All federal financial aid is only available to students who are enrolled in a program provided by an accredited school, college, university, or other educational institution.

Choosing the Right Education Path

When choosing a surgical technology program, you should verify that it is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. You should also look for programs that offer a strong combination of coursework and practical experience so you obtain the knowledge and skills necessary to pursue a career as surgical technologist. For entry-level employment as a surgical technologist, completion of an associate’s degree programs is recommended by the Association of Surgical Technologists, as well as the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants, the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and the American Society of PeriAnesthesia Nurses.

An essential part of any surgical technology program is clinical or practical experience. You should ensure that the program you are pursing offers an adequate clinical training component that provides you with the experience needed to become a successful surgical technologist. Practical components provide students valuable experience in working in a clinical setting. These clinical work experience placements allow students to receive hands-on training in a real-life situation. As part of the training, you will learn how to sterilizing equipment and prepare operating rooms, care for patients, assist members of the surgical team, and how to work effectively within an operating room setting with surgical team members.

When choosing a surgical technology program, you should also decide whether you want to complete training online or on-site at a school or college. Online education is convenient if you have family or employment obligations, and gives you the flexibility to complete coursework on your own schedule. Distance education and online learning can also save you money since attending classes in person often requires costs related to accommodation and/or transportation. While online training does not afford the same level of social interaction as on-site learning, new technology is making it easier for students to interact with educators and classmates through web-based classrooms and online study groups. Whether you attend a course in person or online, you should always chose a program that is accredited and offers a practical component in addition to knowledge-based coursework.

Things to Look for in an Accredited School

Surgical technology programs are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP), which uses information gathered by the Association of Surgical Technologists and the American College of Surgeons to assess individual programs. The CAAHEP is recognized as an accreditation agency by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Verifying that a program is accredited by the CAAHEP is essential before you apply or enrol into a surgical technology program. You should also ensure that programs have certain minimum features. For example, accredited programs provide instruction using both coursework and supervised clinical experience. Programs are also at least nine to 15 months in duration for diploma and certificates, and up to two years for programs leading to an associate’s degree.

Certification Overview

Surgical technologist certification is overseen by a number of organizations. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing are the main certifying bodies for surgical technologists. ‘Certified Surgical Technologist’ certification with the NBSTSA and ‘Tech in Surgery-Certified’ certification through the National Center for Competency Testing are possible upon successful completing of a certifying exam. To become certified with the NBSTSA or the National Center for Competency Testing, technologists must also complete an accredited education program in surgical technology. Continuing education is also required to maintain surgical technologist certification.

The National Healthcare Association (NHA) also provides certification in surgical technology. In order to be certified with the NHA, technologists must complete an accredited education and training program or have at least one year work experience. They must also pass a certifying examination. Once certified with the NHA, technologists can use the title ‘Certified Operating Room Surgical Technician (CORST)’. Certification with the NHA must be renewed every two years by either undertaking continuing education or re-examination.

Career Advancement

Advancement opportunities as a surgical technologist are possible by specializing in one specific area of surgery. Examples of surgery specializations where a surgical technologist can focus on include heart surgery, neurosurgery, and orthopaedic surgery. Advancement is also possible with advanced training, which allows technologists to become first assistants and assist with surgical procedures. First assistant surgical technologists require additional training and certification. Once trained and certified, first assistants can help surgeons and the surgical team with medical and surgical procedures, including retracting, suturing, sponging, closing and treating wounds and cauterizing bleeds during surgery.

Useful Resources and Links

To find out more about accreditation of surgical technology education programs and how to become a surgical technologist, visit:
· Association of Surgical Technologists: www.ast.org
· The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting: www.nbstsa.org
· Accreditation Review Committee on Education in Surgical Technology: www.arcst.org
· Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs: www.caahep.org
· National Healthcare Association: www.nhanow.com

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