Certified surgical technologists, or CSTs, and certified first assistants, or CFAs, both assist surgeons and other medical professionals during surgical procedures. Their duties may include sterilizing instruments, handing over the needed instruments during the procedure, moving patients or dressing wounds. The training for CSTs and CFAs is similar, as both must complete a formal education program, such as a diploma or degree, to become certified.

CST Education

The Association of Surgical Technologists website says that the preferred degree for CSTs is at least an associate degree, which takes two years to complete. However, a diploma or certificate program is all that's needed to take the certifying exam. Students must earn a diploma, certificate or degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, or CAAHEP. The curriculum for a CST degree program may include classes in anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, general surgical procedures, pharmacology, microbiology and infection control.

CFA Education

The Association of Surgical Technologists website also says that CFAs must graduate from a training program accredited by the CAAHEP to be eligible to take the certifying exam. Programs can lead to a diploma, certificate or degree and range from one to two years in length. Much of the coursework is similar to programs for CSTs. Other classes may include wound closure techniques, principles of first assisting and anesthesia methods and agents.

Clinical Experience

Both CSTs and CFAs are required to complete a certain amount of clinical experience to graduate from their education programs. The Association of Surgical Technologists does not require CSTs to complete a certain number of hours. However, most degree programs for CSTs include clinical practice each semester. The Association of Surgical Technologists does require CFAs to complete at least 350 verified cases to be eligible to take the certifying exam. Degree programs for CFAs also include clinical experience and labs to provide this experience.


CSTs and CFAs do not have to be certified to begin work. However, the Association of Surgical Technologists recommends that employers require certification, and it is embraced as an industry standard. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting administers the exams for certification. Both exams include 200 multiple-choice questions, and both include questions about pre-operative preparation, intra-operative procedures, post-operative procedures, administrative duties, equipment sterilization and advanced science such as anatomy, physiology and microbiology.

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