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Medical Hygienist: Salary Info, Requirements and Career Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a medical hygienist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Medical hygiene is a practice devoted to sterilizing and handling medical equipment in the proper manner to prevent the accidental spread of infection or disease. There are a few different career options for someone to perform this task, such as medical assistant, surgical technologist, or medical equipment preparer.

Essential Information

Medical hygiene is a broad industry term referring to the practice of properly sterilizing, assembling and handling equipment used in medical practices. Though this title can be used to describe numerous positions, medical hygienists are tasked with preventing the spread of disease. Three occupations that commonly require medical hygienist skills include surgical technology, medical assisting and medical equipment preparation. Education requirements range from a high school diploma to an associate's degree. Certification may be required.

Career Titles Medical Assistant Surgical Technologists Medical Equipment Preparers
Required Education Diploma in medical assisting Certificate or associate's degree in surgical technology High school diploma or GED; on-the-job training
Certification Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) None required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 24% 15% 14%
Median Salary (2015)* $30,590 $44,330 $33,330

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Salary Information for Medical Hygienists

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported salary information for several disciplines within the medical hygiene field (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, medical assistants were reported to earn a median annual salary of $30,590, with the majority employed at physicians' offices. At that time, the BLS stated that surgical technologists made a median annual income of $44,330 and worked primarily in hospitals. The BLS listed the median wage for medical equipment preparers was $33,330 per year as of May 2015.

Requirements for Medical Hygienists

Education Requirements

The American Medical Association's Commission on Accreditation of Health Sciences Campus Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits both certificate and associate degree programs in surgical technology. Both program types instruct students on the instrumentation of the operating room and the science of wound pathology. An associate degree is a 2-year program, while students are generally able to complete certificate programs in one year. Both include supervised clinical training in a hospital setting.

The CAAHEP also accredits diploma programs in medical assisting. These programs equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary for employment as a clinical medical assistant, including laboratory procedures, medication administration, equipment management and basic pathology. Supervised clinical experience is also included in this training.

There is no formal education requirement for a medical equipment preparer other than a high school diploma. Most hospitals and laboratories offer brief on-the-job training for this position.

Certification

Upon completion of a CAAHEP-accredited program, graduates are qualified to earn the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. Candidates must demonstrate their successful completion of a training program and apply to the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist to take the exam (www.nbstsa.org). This designation is typically considered the national standard for the industry.

While not required, many employers prefer that medical assistants have the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) credential. Administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants, the CMA exam could be taken with proof of training through a CAAHEP-accredited program and a clean criminal record (www.aama-ntl.org).

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Career Overviews for Medical Hygienists

Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists are part of the care team assigned to each patient during surgical procedures. These technologists ensure the sterility of the procedure room and set up necessary instruments and equipment for medical personnel. All supplies, including solutions and non-sterile equipment, are checked for proper functionality and restocked or adjusted if necessary.

Surgical technologists prepare the patient for the procedure by disinfecting and shaving incision sites, and assist during procedures by tracking needles, sponges, instruments and other supplies used. They might also receive and process any specimens taken from the patient during the procedure. Postoperatively, surgical technologists clean and restock the procedure room and sterilize all equipment that was used.

Job Outlook

The BLS reported jobs for surgical technologists would grow 24%, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2014-2024. The increase was expected as a result of increasing medical needs for the elderly population and advancing technologies that allow more tasks to be delegated to personnel other than physicians. Greater potential was expected for those who've completed certified education programs and who maintain professional certification.

Clinical Medical Assistant

Among other tasks, clinical medical assistants are responsible for the sterile collection and disposal of laboratory specimens and the equipment used in their collection. Medical assistants sterilize and stock basic laboratory supplies and instruments in medical facilities, such as doctor's offices, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and hospitals.

Job Outlook

The BLS reported good prospects for the medical assisting profession, estimating a 15% growth in jobs between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increase was primarily due to the technological advances in the medical industry that extend human lifespans. However, those with specialized experience with specific diseases among some patient groups could improve job opportunities.

Medical Equipment Preparers

A medical equipment preparer's primary responsibility is to sterilize, prepare, install, repair and clean laboratory or healthcare equipment. They typically provide regular inspection and maintenance of equipment. Employees check dates on sterile supplies for freshness, inventory instruments and supplies, maintain autoclaves and purge medical waste. A medical equipment preparer also disinfects respirators, patient beds and dialysis equipment, as well as sets up and calibrates medical oxygen devices and other patient care equipment.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted an increase in openings for medical equipment preparer positions that is faster than the average for all occupations between 2014 and 2024. A 14% rise in job creation was expected during this time period due to the growth in the medical industry.

Among the three jobs mentioned, each is tasked with ensuring the sterilization, preparation and proper delivery of medical instruments. A medical hygienist is responsible for keeping everything clean, an absolutely imperative task in any medical setting.

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