Educational Requirements for Certified Surgical Technologists
Successful surgical technologists say that the best way to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) is to first earn a degree or certificate through a nine month to two year college or university program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Accredited surgical technology programs make graduates more competitive in the job market by providing them with a solid medical background, thorough understanding of surgical procedures and the technical skills needed in an OR. Programs may include the following courses:
- Medical terminology
- Hands-on training in sterilization techniques
- Surgery procedures
- Equipment handling
- Patient care and safety
Earning Surgical Technologist Certification
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the majority of employers seek surgical technologists who have passed a national certification exam, such as the one administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). This comprehensive certification exam, a multiple-choice test taken on a computer, is open to anyone who has earned a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited degree from an institution. Passing this exam qualifies the tech as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).
The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) also offers a national surgical technologist certification exam. Candidates can qualify to take this exam in one of three ways:
- Complete an accredited degree program
- Finish a 2-year hospital training program
- Gain seven years of experience in the field
Those who pass the NCCT exam are designated as Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C).
After becoming a CST or TS-C, a certified surgical technician is required to keep the credential up to date. Mandatory renewal of CST certification involves the following:
- Enrolling in continuing education classes
- Re-taking the certification exam every four years
TS-C certification is renewed in the same manner every five years.
Becoming a First Assistant
Some CSTs further specialize in their field with additional education and training. For example, they commonly advance to the position of First Assistant, also known as Surgical Assistant. The NBSTSA offers a national certification exam specifically for First Assistants.
To be eligible for this exam, applicants must have completed the following in advance:
- A CAAHEP-accredited first assistant or surgical assistant degree program
- Be a certified surgical technologist with extensive first assistant work experience
A surgical technologist who earns NBSTSA certification officially becomes a certified first assistant (CFA). The National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA) also offers a certified surgical assistant (CSA) credential, which is earned by passing a written, oral and practical certification exam.