Career Info for a Degree or Certification in Surgical Technologies

Nov 08, 2021

Surgeons rely on the assistance of surgical technologists and nurses to perform a smooth operation. Even dental surgeons rely on assistants. This article covers a few surgery-related occupations that require certificates or associate's degrees.

Essential Information

There are many medical technology certificate and degree programs that teach students how to provide assistance to senior medical personnel during various medical procedures. Graduates of surgical technology programs, for example, have the training to work in operating rooms where they can assist surgeons, sterilize equipment, and monitor surgical robots.

Training programs related to medical technology fields are generally offered through vocational schools and community colleges, and many programs can be completed in less than two years. Medical technology programs require students to attend classroom lectures and participate in hands-on learning during clinical training sessions. Possible job titles in the broad medical technology field may include surgical technologist, licensed vocational nurse, or dental assistant.

Career Titles Surgical Technologist Licensed Vocational Nurse Dental Assistant
Education Requirements Surgical technology certificate, diploma, or associate's degree Licensed Vocational Nurse certificate, diploma, or associate's degree Dental assistant certificate or diploma
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 7% 9% 7%
Average Salary (May 2019)* $50,110 $48,500 $41,170

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Surgical Technologist

Also referred to as surgical or operating room technicians, surgical technologists assist surgeons, operating nurses and other members of surgical teams during surgeries. Their duties usually include handling and passing instruments, preparing solutions, washing patients and observing medical equipment and vital signs during surgery. Experienced and certified surgical technologists can advance to such positions as circulating surgical technologist or first surgical assistant.

Educational requirements for this career include formal training, which may come through certificate, diploma or associate's degree programs. Course topics may include medical terminology, surgical procedures, microbiology, anatomy, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), first aid and patient care skills. Students complete a significant component of clinical training under the supervision of instructors. Although not a requirement, most employers prefer to hire certified surgical technologists. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offers a certification exam that results in earning the credential of Certified Surgical Technologists (CST). Certification can be maintained by completing 60 hours of continuing education every four years.

Licensed Vocational Nurse

Licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) offer support to physicians and registered nurses. LVNs provide patients with basic medical care, and they also gather information from patients as needed. These professionals may also help patients with basic care needs, such as getting dressed or bathing.

Educational preparation for LVNs includes completing a structured certificate or diploma program. All state-approved programs must include clinical training hours. Licensure is required for graduates, and in most states the licensure process includes passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nursing (NCLEX-PN). Voluntary certifications are available for LVNs who want to specialize in different areas of the profession, such as eldercare.

Dental Assistant

These professionals have a wide range of duties that include both administrative tasks and patient care duties. Dental assistants make notes about patient treatments, take X-rays of patients' teeth, sterilize dental tools and work areas, provide dentists with assistance during procedures, educate patients about dental care, communicate with medical billing services, and set up patient appointments. Some states place restrictions on what tasks dental assistants can complete, but these restrictions vary.

Each state has different education and training requirements for dental assistants. The majority of states require aspiring dental assistants to complete training programs through accredited institutions, and in most cases these are certificate or diploma programs that take less than two years to complete. To work as a dental assistant, most states require individuals to pass exams as part of a licensure or registration process. Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) may also be required by some states. Applicants for CDA certification must be CPR certified and they must have completed either a formal dental assistant training program or a supervised on-the-job training program.

Career and Salary Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgical technologists were expected to experience an employment growth of 7% between 2019 and 2029. The BLS stated that surgical technologists holding up-to-date certification would see the best employment opportunities. BLS predictions during the 2019-2029 decade also indicated that LVNs and dental assistants could expect an 9% increase in available positions.

As of May 2019, surgical technologists earned average annual salaries of $50,110, reported the BLS. Data from that same year and same source showed that LVNs earned average annual salaries of $48,500, and dental assistants earned $41,170.

With faster than average growth over the next decade, job prospects look good for surgical technologists, dental assistants, and LVNs. Even so, applicants trying to get into the surgery room can benefit from holding advanced certifications.

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