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Certified Surgical Technician: Job Description and Information

Learn about the work duties a certified surgical technician performs. Find out education and certification requirements as well as employment outlook and salary to decide if this is the right career choice.

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Career Definition

The majority of certified surgical technicians work in hospitals aiding surgeons and surgical nurses in preparing for and performing surgeries. Surgical techs will set up the operating room with the proper instruments for the procedure, help prep patients and monitor their vitals, and pass surgical tools and supplies to the surgeon during the operation. As a safety precaution, technicians will also keep count of the sponges and equipment used to make sure nothing is left in the open wound. After the operation is complete, the surgical technicians will help transfer patients to recovery, then clean and stock the operating room for the next procedure. A 40-hour work week is typical, but this may include nights, weekends, and holidays and most duties will be performed standing or walking.

How to Become a Certified Surgical Technician

Education Required

A certified surgical technician will need to complete a classroom and clinical program lasting from nine to 24 months, resulting in a certificate or associate's degree. Accredited courses are provided at junior colleges, vocational schools, and hospitals throughout the country. To become certified, which is not required but is preferred by employers, technicians will need to graduate from their program and pass a certification exam given by the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist. A certification can also be obtained through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) after graduating from an accredited program and completing two years of on-the-job training through a hospital, or after working in the field for seven years; in all cases, it is necessary to pass an exam.

Skills Needed

Certified surgical technicians need to have knowledge of surgical instruments and operating procedures in order to anticipate the surgeon's needs. A surgical assistant also needs to keep up with new technologies and techniques to be as effective as possible.

Expected Economic and Career Growth

Job growth for surgical technologists is expected to rise at an above-average rate of 30% between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov). This is due in part to an aging population, as well as ever-changing technology. Median earnings for surgical technologists, as of May 2012, were reported as $41,790 by the BLS.

Alternative Careers

Licensed Practical Nurse

For those who would like to provide more hands-on patient care than surgical technicians, a career in licensed practical nursing is an option. A licensed practical nurse offers basic medical care services such as changing dressings, keeping records, monitoring vital signs, giving baths and collecting lab samples. To enter this field, nursing candidates must complete an approved training program at a community college or technical school and obtain a license by passing the National Council Licensure Examination in practical nursing (NCLEX-PN). Based on data from the BLS, licensed practical and vocational nurses should experience faster than average employment growth of 25% during the 2012-2022 decade. In 2012, these nursing professionals earned a median wage of $41,540, as seen in BLS figures.

Medical Assistant

Another occupation that involves working with doctors but has minimal educational requirements is a medical assistant. Medical assistants usually work in a clinic or doctor's office and provide basic medical care and administrative help. These professionals schedule appointments, administer injections, prepare lab samples, take vital signs, sterilize instruments and organize medical records. No formal education is required to gain a position in the field, but completing a training program could provide a competitive advantage. Professional certification is also available. In 2012, the BLS reported that medical assistants received a median salary of $29,370. The BLS also expects around 163,000 new positions to open up in this field between 2012 and 2022.

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