Associate's degree programs in health information technology or surgical technology prepare students for patient care or administrative positions. Students in a health information technology program learn about healthcare coding systems as they prepare to manage patients' medical records. A program in surgical technology teaches students to help surgeons by prepping patients and instrumentation. These programs typically include clinical and laboratory experiences.
These associate's degree programs take 2 years or less to complete. Both require a high school diploma or equivalent for admission. An associate's degree in surgical technology also requires a criminal background check.
Associate's Degree in Health Information Technology
This program can help individuals prepare for careers as health information technicians who process medical records in healthcare agencies. Students learn to code healthcare data for reimbursement and statistical purposes, analyze health information and maintain patient files. They also develop the professional skills required in this profession. Students complete coursework, seminars and supervised clinical experiences to obtain hands-on training coding patient care records. They also prepare to take certification exams. Typical courses may include:
- Anatomy and physiology and medical terminology
- Health information systems
- CPT and ICD-9-CM healthcare coding
- Reimbursement methods
- Visual basic programming
- Quality improvement in healthcare
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Associate's Degree in Surgical Technology
This program teaches students the skills needed to become part of the surgical team assisting surgeons, passing instruments and tending to surgical patients. It also covers communication skills and medical terminology, and runs less than two years. The curriculum combines theory with supervised clinical education. Students also learn through seminars and lab studies. Applicants must submit to criminal background checks prior to clinical rotations. Course topics may include:
- Applied microbiology
- Pharmacology for the surgical technologist
- Surgical interventions and procedures
- Medical terminology
- Surgical instrumentation
Popular Career Options
Graduates of health information technology programs can process and manage data in a variety of healthcare settings, including clinics, hospitals and physician offices. Common career titles include:
- Documentation specialist
- Coding specialist
- Health information technician
- Medical coder
- Medical records technician
Graduates of surgical technology programs are prepared for entry-level positions working in hospital operating rooms, surgical supply departments, surgeon offices clinics and outpatient centers. Some common career titles may include:
- Surgical technologist
- Operating room technician
- Surgical technician
- Certified surgical technologist
Job Prospects and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) collects employment and salary statistics for medical records and health information technicians, including coding specialists and medical coders. According to the BLS, the number of jobs available for these occupations is expected to increase 15% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). These jobs paid a median salary of $37,110 in 2015, per the BLS.
The BLS predicts that the number of jobs for surgical technologists will increase 15% from 2014-2024. These jobs paid a median salary of $44,330 in 2015, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Medical health technicians and coders can join the workforce immediately or advance their education. Earning bachelor's and master's degrees can qualify them for managerial positions in this field. Employers may prefer job applicants with certification.
Eligible applicants can earn the Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) credential by passing a written examination through the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA). Credentialing is also available through the Professional Association of Healthcare Coding Specialists (PAHCS), the Board of Medical Specialty Coding & Compliance (BMSC) and the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC). Both the PAHCS and the BMSC offer specialty coding certifications.
Graduates of surgical technology programs can join the workforce immediately or may choose to further their education and pursue bachelor's degrees in surgical technology or business management technology. Obtaining professional certifications can also improve career opportunities. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) both offer certification for surgical technologists.
To be eligible to take the certification exam, candidates must have completed an accredited program and must have experience or on-the-job training. The NBSTSA offers the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential, while the NCCT offers the Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C). Continuing education is necessary to maintain both titles.
Students who want to pursue a course of study related to healthcare technology can earn an associate's degree in health information technology or surgical technology. Upon graduation, students can seek entry-level employment as medical coders or surgical technologists and pursue certification from related professional organizations.