You’ve come a long way since those early days when you were just starting to consider a surgical tech program. The finish line is drawing closer and you’re ready to move on to what comes next — the beginning of your career as a surgical tech. If you’re like many aspiring surgical tech professionals, you may be thinking about the importance and added value of passing a surgical certification exam before entering the profession.
While taking the exam isn’t a requirement for every job opportunity you’ll come across, being certified can help in securing a career in the surgical tech profession, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Make sure you’re well prepared to ace that exam by knowing what the exam covers, exactly how many questions you should expect on each topic, and what happens after the exam.
Surgical tech certification exam basics
Only those certified through The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) can use the title of Certified Surgical Technologist, or CST, according to the BLS.
To become a CST, you must pass the certification exam. Once you’re ready, you must apply with the NBSTSA to take the exam. Plan ahead as it could take the NBSTSA four to six weeks to process your application. Exams are by appointment only and take place on a computer.
The exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and the NBSTSA allows up to four hours to complete the exam. Don’t forget to take two forms of identification, which the NBSTSA requires. The exam fee is $190 for AST members, and $290 for non-members.
Types of questions to expect
The NBSTSA provides an outline that test-takers can follow to ensure they’re ready for all areas of the test. Test questions can fall into these five categories:
- Pre-operative preparations – How to make sure all equipment is sterile and ready for surgery
- Intra-operative procedures – Identifying instruments and utilizing specialty equipment
- Post-operative procedures – How to clean up the room after surgery and remove equipment from the patient
- Administrative and personnel – Identifying safety hazards and knowing how to update a surgeon’s preference card
- Equipment sterilization and maintenance – Assembling equipment and maintaining records
Thanks to the NBSTSA, we can break the test down even further so you know exactly what to expect each step of the way. First, intra-operative procedures knowledge is essential, as you’ll have to answer 66 such questions during the exam. Anatomy and physiology is the next largest category, with 30 questions, and there are 29 pre-operative preparation questions.
The rest of the exam is made up of 10 questions each of post-operative procedures, administrative and personnel, equipment sterilization and maintenance, microbiology, and surgical pharmacology.
It might look like a lot, but there’s no need to worry; your classes and coursework have more than prepared you for this type of exam. Take the time to study and review what you’ve learned in your courses before exam day to feel prepared for each question.
After the exam
Depending on your exam location, you could get your exam results as soon as five minutes after you complete the test. Knowing you could have your results soon can help eliminate any testing anxiety you may have when taking other exams.
It’s important to note that a CST credential must be renewed every four years. Continuing education credits or retaking the certifying exam are the only ways to renew the credential. Your expiration date will be printed on both your CST card and certificate.
Begin your professional career as a surgical tech
You’ve come so far from when you were first considering your career options, and you’ll soon be tackling those day-to-day surgical tech duties with ease and confidence.
Now that you understand the process to become a CST, you can set yourself up for success. If you’re ready to become a CST, apply to take the test and set up an exam time with the NBSTSA at https://www.nbstsa.org/cst-first-timeretake-applicants