A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Surgical Tech Program


Introduction to Surgical Tech Program

Surgical technologist programs are becoming increasingly popular as interest grows in this rewarding allied healthcare career. Surgical techs play a critical role in operating rooms, working closely with surgeons, nurses and other medical professionals to ensure safe and smooth procedures. Choosing the right surgical technologist program is key to starting a successful career in this growing field. This comprehensive guide provides insights into the duties, education requirements, job outlook and other considerations to help you find the best surgical tech program.

List of Top Surgical Tech Programs

Here is a list of 15 top-rated surgical technologist programs across the United States:

SchoolLocationProgram Offered
Santa Barbara City CollegeSanta Barbara, CAAssociate of Science in Surgical Technology
Portland Community CollegePortland, ORSurgical Technology Certificate
Arizona State CollegePhoenix, AZAAS in Surgical Technology
Florida State College at JacksonvilleJacksonville, FLAS in Surgical Technology
Brightwood CollegeSan Diego, CA9-month Surgical Technology Diploma
San Joaquin Valley CollegeFresno, CAAS in Surgical Technology
Pima Medical InstituteHouston, TXSurgical Tech Certificate
Concorde Career CollegeDallas, TXAssociate of Applied Science in Surgical Technology
Lincoln College of TechnologyMelrose Park, ILSurgical Technology AAS Degree
US CollegesMontclair, NJSurgical Technology – Diploma
Chattanooga State Community CollegeChattanooga, TNAssociate of Applied Science – Surgical Technology Degree
Cuyahoga Community CollegeCleveland, OHShort-term Certificate in Surgical Technology
Western Iowa Tech Community CollegeSioux City, IASurgical Technology Diploma
Hennepin Technical CollegeEden Prairie, MNAAS in Surgical Technology
Galen College of NursingTampa, FLAssociate Degree in Surgical Technology

What is a Surgical Technologist?

A surgical technologist, also known as a surgical tech, scrub tech or operating room technician, is a skilled healthcare professional who works directly with surgeons during invasive surgical procedures. Their main responsibilities include:

  • Preparing and sterilizing operating rooms before procedures. This involves cleaning tables, instruments and equipment and ensuring sterile conditions.
  • Setting up surgical tools and equipment needed for specific procedures. Surgical techs are experts in the array of medical devices used during surgeries.
  • Assisting during surgeries by passing instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons. They may hold retractors and cut sutures as well.
  • Monitoring and maintaining sterile field throughout procedures to prevent infections.
  • Handling specimens taken for laboratory analysis.
  • Applying dressings and bandages afterwards.

In addition to the operating room environment, surgical techs may work in outpatient surgery centers, surgeons’ offices, sterile processing departments and other medical settings requiring their specialized skills.

What are the Job Duties of a Surgical Technologist?

The day-to-day job duties and responsibilities of surgical technologists typically include:

  • Prepping the OR – Surgical techs prepare the operating room by sanitizing surfaces, setting up tables, arranging instruments, equipment and supplies according to the surgical procedure. This includes sterile drapes, suction tubing, speculum, fluids, medications and more.
  • Prepping patients – Prior to surgery, the surgical tech may help prepare patients by washing, shaving and disinfecting incision sites. They may transport patients to the OR and help position them appropriately.
  • Assisting during procedures – The tech passes instruments and other items to surgeons in a sterile manner, often anticipating what will be needed next. They ensure the sterile field is maintained.
  • Handling specimens – The surgical tech may remove tissue specimens, label them and transport them to the lab for analysis.
  • Applying dressings – After procedures, the surgical tech applies dressings and bandages to incision sites.
  • Maintaining inventory – Surgical techs keep inventory of supplies and restock as needed. They inspect, clean and sterilize equipment.
  • Documentation – Surgical technologists document procedures, equipment used, specimens collected and other details in patients’ records before, during and after surgeries.

Surgical technologist programs are gaining popularity due to:

  • High job growth – According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for surgical technologists is projected to grow 7% from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. Approximately 5,200 openings for surgical technologists are projected each year over the decade.
  • Good salary potential – The average pay for surgical techs in 2021 was $51,510 per year or $24.77 per hour, as per the BLS. With experience, surgical techs can earn over $60,000 annually.
  • Recession-proof career – Healthcare support roles like surgical techs tend to be more recession-proof than other jobs. Surgeries and medical procedures continue even during down economies.
  • Flexibility – Surgical techs can work part-time or full-time hours in various medical settings from big hospitals to private clinics. Some surgical techs work as travel techs moving between facilities.
  • Rewarding work – Surgical techs play a key support role that directly helps surgeons and impacts positive patient outcomes. They enjoy an exciting, fast-paced environment.

What are the Benefits of Becoming a Surgical Technologist?

Besides a good salary, some advantages of a career as a surgical technologist include:

  • Being part of a valued surgical team and gaining medical experience
  • Getting exposure to cutting-edge medical technology and devices
  • Learning a hands-on, specialized skill in high demand
  • Flexible scheduling options in healthcare facilities
  • Ability to work per diem or part-time
  • Prospects for advancement with experience leading to surgical first assisting role
  • Travel opportunities as a contracted travel tech
  • Job security and good outlook for employment

In summary, surgical technologists play an integral role in healthcare delivery and are the backbone of safe and successful surgical procedures. Their specialized skills and knowledge provide them with reliable employment and career growth opportunities.

Types of Surgical Tech Programs

Those looking to start their surgical technology education have several program options to choose from, including:

Surgical Technologist Associate’s Degree Programs

An associate’s degree in surgical technology (AST) takes about two years to complete at a community college or technical school. This is the most common path to become a surgical tech.

These accredited programs provide classroom education in sciences like anatomy, microbiology and pharmacology as well as lab training in surgical procedures, equipment and instruments. Supervised clinical rotations at hospitals provide hands-on workplace experience.

After completing an accredited AST program, students qualify to take the national certification exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).

Surgical Tech Certificate Programs

Certificate programs in surgical technology provide concentrated training to become a surgical tech in 6 to 15 months.

Certificate curriculum is very similar to an associate’s degree, comprising science coursework, lab practice and clinical experience. Graduates still must pass the certification exam to become a CST.

Certificate programs allow those who already have some college credits or an existing healthcare certification to transition into a surgical technology career more quickly.

Surgical Tech Online Programs

For added flexibility, some schools offer accredited online surgical technologist programs.

Students complete course lectures and assignments remotely through online learning platforms. Then in-person labs and clinical rotations are arranged at partner healthcare facilities near the student’s location.

Distance learners must be prepared to organize their own clinical externships to gain hands-on experience. Online programs allow students to earn AST degrees and certificates on their own schedule.

Surgical Tech Hybrid Programs

Hybrid surgical tech programs blend online coursework with on-campus lab sessions and clinical rotations.

By learning theory online and getting hands-on practice on-site, hybrid programs offer flexibility without compromising experiential learning. These can take 1-2 years to finish depending on pace.

Hybrid models are great for students who want flexibility with learning schedules but also require close instructor access, supervision, and networking opportunities.

Admission Requirements

While each school may have specific prerequisites, standard admission requirements for surgical tech programs include:

High School Diploma or GED

Having a high school diploma or equivalent GED certificate is mandatory for admission into surgical tech programs. Strong academic performance in high school prepares students for the advanced coursework.

Minimum GPA

Most programs require a minimum 2.0 to 3.0 high school or college GPA to ensure students have the study skills to succeed. The curriculum is rigorous.

Science and Math Prerequisites

Basic high school classes in biology, health science, chemistry and algebra provide the foundation to grasp advanced concepts. Programs may require applicants to have taken some prerequisite math and science courses.

Other Requirements

Some common prerequisites include:

  • Basic computer skills
  • Healthcare experience or job shadowing
  • CPR certification
  • Immunizations
  • Drug testing/ criminal background checks
  • Interview with program director

Meeting all program prerequisites ensures admitted students have the right abilities and knowledge to complete training.

Program Duration and Curriculum for Surgical Tech Program

The length of education and specific courses in surgical technologist programs prepare students for certification and career success.

Program Duration

Most surgical technologist programs take 9 to 24 months to complete depending on the type and pace of the program:

  • Certificate programs take 9 to 15 months.
  • Associate’s degree programs take 18 to 24 months.
  • Accelerated options may take 1 year.

In addition, an externship or clinical rotation is required, lasting around 500 hours or 14 weeks. This provides on-the-job training under supervision of experienced techs.

In total, it takes about 1 to 2 years after high school to complete all requirements and be eligible for certification.


Surgical technologist programs teach the specialized knowledge and hands-on abilities needed to work in the operating room. Typical courses include:


  • Anatomy and Physiology – Understanding body systems and structures
  • Microbiology – Preventing and controlling infections
  • Pharmacology – Drug classifications and uses


  • Surgical Equipment and Supplies – Tools used during surgeries
  • Surgical Procedures – Interventions for different specialties
  • Operating Room Techniques – Rules and protocols

Technical Skills

  • Medical Terminology – Vocabulary for clinical settings
  • Patient Care – Caring for pre-op and post-op patients
  • Sterilization – Maintaining sterile surgical environments

Career Skills

  • Communication and Teamwork – Working with surgical teams
  • Surgical Safety – Following standards and guidelines

This comprehensive curriculum covers everything from science fundamentals to practical techniques readying students for the operating room.

Job Outlook for Surgical Techs

The job outlook for surgical technologists is very strong. Here are key facts about the growth and demand for this career.

Growth of the Surgical Tech Profession

According to the BLS, employment for surgical technologists is projected to grow 7 percent over the 2021-2031 period, faster than the average for all occupations. Approximately 5,200 openings for surgical technologists are projected each year over the decade.

This steady job growth is attributed to:

  • Aging population needing more surgical procedures
  • Advances in medical technology requiring specialized technicians
  • Ongoing healthcare labor shortages

Additionally, many currently employed techs are expected to retire in coming years, increasing demand.

Demand in Different Industries

Most surgical techs work in hospital operating and emergency rooms. Ambulatory surgery centers and specialty hospital departments also have need for their services during procedures.

Plastic surgeons, optometrists, dental offices, OB-GYNs and other outpatient facilities employ surgical techs to assist with minor surgeries performed in these settings.

The job outlook remains strong across industries employing surgical technologists.

Salary Potential

Surgical techs earn competitive wages in this stable healthcare career.

Average Salary

According to 2021 data from the BLS, surgical techs earn:

  • Average Annual Salary: $51,510
  • Average Hourly Wage: $24.77

This translates to $1,959 average weekly pay. Overtime is common and provides opportunity for higher pay.

Factors Affecting Salary

Several criteria impact a surgical tech’s salary potential:

  • Experience – Techs with 5+ years earn up to 20% more than new grads.
  • Certification – CST certified techs are paid 5-10% higher on average.
  • Work Setting – Hospital ORs tend to pay more than outpatient centers.
  • Geographic Location – Wages vary across states and metropolitan areas.
  • Specialization – Expertise in specialty surgeries like open-heart can increase pay.
  • Overtime – OT hours result in time-and-a-half wages.

Surgical techs willing to take on more responsibility and training have strong opportunity to advance salary over time. Those with drive and skills can earn over $60,000.

How to Choose the Right Surgical Tech Program

Selecting an accredited surgical tech program that fits your goals and meets your needs is key to launching a successful healthcare career.

Accreditation and Certification

Attending an accredited program is highly advisable as it makes you eligible to take the national certification exam to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). Many employers prefer or require the CST credential.

Two key accreditation agencies for surgical tech programs are ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools) and CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs). Look for schools accredited by them.

Cost and Financial Aid

Tuition for surgical tech programs ranges from $5,000 to $30,000 based on duration and whether it is offered by a public community college or private institute. Many programs offer financial aid for those who qualify.

Also, research scholarship opportunities specifically for aspiring surgical techs such as those from AST (Association of Surgical Technologists). These can help lower out-of-pocket education expenses.


Look for surgical tech programs at community colleges and technical schools in your desired geographic area. Distance education offers flexibility but hands-on clinical rotations are better sourced locally.

Program Reputation

Schools with higher graduate pass rates on the CST exam and proven job placement track records have strong reputations. Connect with current students for insights.

Faculty Experience

Instructors with years of real-world surgical technology experience provide valuable knowledge of what to expect on the job. They make strong mentors.

Choosing the right program is key to getting the skills, networking and qualifications to advance your career as a surgical technologist.

Clinical Training and Internships

Gaining hands-on experience in real surgical settings is a critical component of surgical technologist education. This is accomplished through clinical rotations and internships.

  • Clinical Rotations – These supervised onsite training shifts allow students to apply classroom learnings in an actual healthcare facility, such as a hospital OR. Faculty and preceptors provide oversight and feedback.
  • Internships – The externship is a more immersive multi-week experience in a surgical department for more independent on-the-job training. Students get exposure to diverse procedures and build skills.
  • Hours – Programs require around 500 hours minimum of clinical and internship experience to graduate. This equates to about 3 months of full-time work.
  • Specialties – Students get practice in a range of surgical areas such as general, OB-GYN, orthopedics, cardiovascular, neurology, ophthalmology and more.
  • Locations – School faculty organize rotations at partner healthcare organizations. Students may request certain hospitals or cities.
  • Performance – Students are evaluated on skills like sterile technique, procedure assistance, equipment handling, documentation and communication.

This real-world experiential learning is invaluable preparation for a career as a confident, qualified surgical technologist.

Conclusion and Summary

Becoming a surgical technologist offers secure employment, lucrative pay, opportunities for advancement and the deep rewards of helping save lives.

To get started in this growing career, here are some key tips:

  • Review prerequisite requirements for surgical tech programs. Take science courses.
  • Look into accredited programs and weigh factors like cost, location and reputation.
  • Learn about scholarship opportunities to lower education expenses.
  • Make sure to gain hundreds of hours of hands-on clinical experience.
  • After graduating, obtain CST certification to boost hireability.
  • Build up your skills and experience. Consider specializing in certain procedures.

The demand for skilled surgical technologists continues rising. Following this guide will help prepare you to launch a stable, high-paying and meaningful allied health career improving patient outcomes in the surgical setting.

Further Reading


What is the difference between a surgical technologist and a surgical assistant?

The key difference is surgical technologists assist surgeons during operations while surgical assistants have more advanced skills to help perform procedures.

Do I need to be certified to work as a surgical technologist?

Most states and employers require certification as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) to work in the role.

How difficult is the CST exam? What is the pass rate?

The CST exam has a national pass rate around 65% so advanced preparation is recommended.

Which state has the highest average salary for surgical techs?

California has the highest average salaries for surgical techs at over $60,000 annually.

What soft skills do surgical tech employers look for?

Important soft skills include communication, focus, attention to detail, stress management and teamwork.


  • “I enjoy the fast pace and hands-on nature of surgical technology. It’s rewarding to be part of a team that impacts patient care.” – Sarah D., CST
  • “As a career changer from business to healthcare, becoming a surgical tech provided me with job stability and a sense of purpose.” – James T., Surgical Tech Student

Resources for Students

  • Association of Surgical Technologists – www.ast.org
  • National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting – www.nbstsa.org
  • Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools – www.abhes.org

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