Surgical technology is a growing field in the allied health care industry. Medical school is extremely expensive, and many people cannot afford to go. In contrast, allied health care careers usually cost less than $10,000 for a degree. A degree in surgical technology takes about two years to earn, and you can take classes at a local community college. Surgical technologists are very helpful to surgeons, who rely on teams of medical experts. If you are interested in working as a surgical tech (also called a “scrub”), read on to find out how you can start your journey today.
If you are still in high school, focus on your science and math courses. Writing classes are also necessary in surgical tech programs, so do not neglect your English assignments. Work on getting your high school diploma or GED, and aim for high grades to increase your chances of getting scholarships.
Look for surgical technology programs in your area. Most of them are offered through community colleges, but some are available online. An online course may or may not be less expensive than a traditional school, but make sure it has the proper credentials. It should be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. These are the only two credentialing agencies that are accepted by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. Do not attend a school that does not have one of these accreditations, or else you may not be able to take the surgical tech exam.
Start looking for scholarships as soon as possible. Some of them are for students who have already been accepted by a surgical tech program, but others are for high school seniors. Most scholarships are given to students who demonstrate high grades, community leadership, financial need, and interest in the surgery profession. Look at national surgical tech associations for scholarships.
Attend the school of your choice. Your classes will consist of general courses at first: English, writing, communication, math, etc. When you get past the first year of classes, you will start getting into the specialized surgical tech courses. Finally, the last semester of the program is dedicated to internships. Your school may assist you with getting a job at a local hospital. The job should provide college credits. Most surgical tech internships are not paid positions, so make sure you have enough money to get through the semester. About 75 percent of all surgical techs find employment in hospitals, but some work in labs or colleges.
The certification process comes last, after you have accumulated several months of work experience as a surgical tech. The test you need to take is called the CST exam (Certified Surgical Technologist). It is entirely computer based with multiple-choice questions related to the field of surgical technology. While the certification is not a requirement in most states, it will help you get more job offers, since hospitals prefer to hire CSTs over non-CSTs.
Certified Surgical Technologist: Job Outlook Through 2020
One of the most important facts you should know about your career is the expected job outlook. You can find studies online that will tell you how fast a certain job should grow, how many expected openings it should have, and so on. It would be a waste of time to study for a profession only to learn that positions are getting outsourced, outdated, or are declining.
Studies suggest that jobs in the health care industry will do very well in the next 10 years. One reason is that hospitals are interested in hiring allied health workers that are well educated yet cost less than medical doctors. Another reason is that the “baby boomer” population is growing older and will need more medical care in the coming years.
So, what is the job outlook for future surgical techs? Fortunately, the field of surgical technology is growing rapidly, which bodes well for students currently in surgical tech schools. The biggest employer will continue to be hospitals, but there should be ample job openings in small offices, labs, colleges, and outpatient centers. New advances in medicine mean that surgical techs will need to constantly update their job skills and learn new equipment.
According to the authoritative Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists should continue to see many new job openings in their field through 2020. Like other allied health jobs, surgical technology is a career that will grow much faster than the average job. In fact, the number of job openings for surgical techs should grow about 25 percent between now and 2018. The main reason is that the number of surgical procedures is expected to rise. More people than ever before are getting elective surgery and cosmetic surgery, due to the new, less invasive technologies that are available.
The best way you can stay on top of your competitors is to stay educated in your field. A certification in surgical technology (CST) is practically a requirement for most jobs, as specified on almost every job ad. If you do not yet have a certification, now is the time to get one. As a CST, you will have more job choices and higher starting pay. Take continuing education classes as expected. The classes are required for certification maintenance, and you will learn about new surgical procedures.
Another way that you can remain competitive is to move around for better jobs. Small towns and rural areas usually do not employ many surgical techs, since most surgical procedures are still performed in hospitals. If you do not want to work in a hospital, you can find jobs in ambulatory surgery, small doctor’s offices, and even in universities. The best jobs will go to people who are willing to relocate.
As Western medical care advances, there should be more opportunities for you to grow into your job as a surgical technologist. You can work your way up to a surgical assistant, nurse, or even doctor. The first step, however, is to get that CST designation.
How to Get Your Surgical Tech Degree & Certification Online
The traditional method of going to class every night (or day) is slowly waning. Online education is taking its place. A degree in surgical technology cannot be completed entirely online, but you can take most of your classes through your computer. Surgical technology is a career that requires hands-on learning, but practical training comes after you take your core classes.
Online learning is an excellent way to get your degree without having to worry about transportation or daily commutes. Surgical tech courses taken online are usually more flexible with scheduling. You may have to take your exams at a specified date, but some degree programs are “go at your own pace.” Remember that your online school should be approved by one of two accrediting bureaus.
What You Will Need
You are going to need a few basic tools for your online surgical technology degree program. Of course, you need to have a reliable, newer computer with Internet connectivity. Laptops are portable for those days when you want to take your classes on the couch. You will also need an email address and a credit card to pay for your classes. Books are the most expensive tools for surgical tech training. A new science or math book can cost upwards of $100. You may need to buy special software for your degree, but it is usually included with the tuition.
Just like with traditional classes, online courses also need you to participate in group discussions. Your online school may provide forums and chat rooms to facilitate communication. Online classes are different from ordinary classes because they force you to be more self-reliant. It is easy to forget about logging into class sessions. If you stay on top of your courses, however, online lessons can be a very rewarding experience.
You also need to have focus and discipline. Working from home is not as easy as it sounds. There are numerous distractions surrounding you. If you must, tell your household members not to disrupt you during certain hours. Do not allow yourself to get up and wander around during your study sessions or class lectures. If you start to lag behind your classmates, the workload can quickly become overwhelming or impossible to complete.
The best way to stay organized is to keep a calendar. It can be a paper calendar or an electronic one on your computer or phone. Plug in the times and dates of your important classes and tests. Carve out some study time for each class and stick to it. Successful students use this little secret all the time.
What to Do After Your Degree
Once you have completed your online surgical tech degree and work requirements, you are ready to take the CST exam. There are different study tools that help you refresh the information you learned in school. One of the best tools to use is a set of flashcards. They are portable, easy to use, and cards allow you to study alone if you have no study partner.
The CST lets people register and pay for the exam online. Just be sure to check the requirements before you open your wallet. You will pick a test date and go to your scheduled exam at a proctored site. The exam is taken entirely online and you even get your pass/fail notice at the end!
When you get your CST designation in the mail, you can start applying for jobs with the knowledge that you are better equipped to deal with emergencies.
The Daily Duties of a CST
A Certified (CST) performs many of the same duties repeatedly. Although the average day of a CST can be unpredictable, medical professionals follow certain rules and protocols for infection control and operation room setup. CSTs need to have the ability to predict the surgeon’s needs and the patient’s needs at the same time. Surgery can be exciting, yet life threatening at the same time. A good surgical team should be adequately prepared to take care of any emergencies that arise.
Becoming a CST
CSTs are well-educated medical professionals. In order to get into an OR, you must have a degree in surgical technology as well as a CST designation. Getting that certificate is the last step for becoming a CST.
Surgical Prep Procedures
Sterilization is an extremely important word in the surgical room. Everything in the room must be as germ-free as possible to prevent infections. The CST is often in charge of sterilization. They are the first professionals to enter the room before anyone else. The CST must wear scrubs and gloves and start preparing the equipment needed for a scheduled surgery. He or she must neatly sterilizes and choose the tools to arrange them on a tray for the surgeon. Everything must be set up for the surgeon well ahead of time. Drapes and bed cloths are also important. Drapes prevent moisture from contaminating the bed or equipment.
As the other medical professionals enter the room, the CST helps them get ready by helping them with gloves and other clothing equipment. Everything must be sterile, from the gloves to the eye goggles and shoe coverings.
While the surgical assistant is actually the surgeon’s “right hand person,” the CST is the extra pair of hands. Their first duty is to keep everything sterile during the operation. CSTs also help the patients get ready for surgery. They might get the medications for the patient and administer them. They only do this under the direct supervision of a senior medical personnel.
During surgery, they are responsible for handing tools to the surgeon and surgical assistant. Having the appropriate tools handy is important during time-sensitive procedures. If a certain tool is not readily available or too dirty to use, the procedure could negatively affect the patient’s operation.
CSTs are also responsible for the surgical room’s cleanliness post-surgery. They must gather all the tools and have them sterilized. They need to account for every tool used during surgery and make sure nothing is missing. There are some reports of tools accidentally left behind in patients, causing extreme pain or even death. The CST is the one responsible for making sure this does not happen.
The CST is usually the team member to suture open incisions post-operation. They should properly dispose of any instruments that cannot be used again, such as sponges, needles, gauze, etc. Since there are usually several operations in one day, a surgical tech’s job is never over. Once a procedure is over, the OR must be properly sterilized once again for the next patient. The CST takes the scrubs from the team members and makes sure everyone is following sterile procedures.
Typical CST Salaries around the Country
Certified Surgical Technologists (CSTs) earn significantly higher salaries than non-certified surgical techs. The reason is that employers value certifications very highly. Someone who has spent the time, money, and energy pursuing a certification shows that he or she is serious about a career in surgical technology.
According to SalaryExpert.com, surgical techs earn between $34,000 and $49,000. The lowest salaries are reported in Orlando, FL, at $34,922, while the highest salaries are in the New York/Manhattan area. These salaries are only for certified surgical techs. A non-certified tech generally makes less money.
Since the cost of living is higher in big cities, it makes sense that the salaries are also higher. Bigger metro areas also have more job openings for surgical technicians. Hospitals are the most common employer of surgical techs, but colleges and labs also employ CSTs. It costs more to live in a city, but the job opportunities are much better than in a rural setting.
When you are browsing through surgical tech job ads, you may notice a recurring requirement: They want to hire CSTs only. The other common requirements are that the employee is able to lift at least 35 pounds, as well as squat, kneel, bend, crouch, push, and pull heavy objects.
Hospitals increasingly prefer to hire CSTs. If you already have an accredited degree or certificate in surgical technology, you might be eligible to take the exam. Your degree/certificate needs to have accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. You can find a list of acceptable schools on accrediting agency websites.
Once you have your degree and the required amount of job experience, you should think about taking the CST exam. It is easy to apply online. You can pick a date and time that is right for you and plan your study sessions accordingly.
Study for the CST exam is extremely important. People have different methods of studying, but the best technique is using repetition. Flash cards can help you learn dozens of vocabulary words in a matter of weeks. A study partner can also help you with the flash cards. When you want to see if you are ready to take the actual exam, go to the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting website to download free practice exams. Exams can pinpoint the exact subject areas where you are the weakest.
A certified surgical technologist has more leeway than a non-certified tech when it is time to negotiate salaries. A new CST usually makes under $40,000, but you may be able to get a higher starting pay. Full time employees should get health care and vacation pay, although more employers are cutting benefits these days.
If you are ready to take the next step and become a surgical assistant, you will have to get another certification. Assistants make more money than surgical techs, and they have more patient interaction and job responsibilities. Of course, your pay should rise as well.