How to Become a Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Career Guide


What is Surgical Technologist?

A surgical technologist, also known as a surgical technician, scrub tech, or operating room tech, is a skilled allied health professional who works closely with surgeons, nurses, and other personnel before, during, and after surgical procedures to ensure that the operating room environment is safe, that equipment functions properly, and that the procedure is conducted under optimal conditions.

Surgical techs are a vital part of the surgical team and provide assistance in the operating room by preparing the OR, sterile field, instruments, supplies, and equipment. They help set up robotic surgery systems, lights, suction, irrigation, electrosurgical units, and more. During procedures, surgical techs will pass instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons, hold retractors, cut sutures, and help count sponges, needles, supplies, and instruments. They also help prepare, care for and dispose of specimens taken for laboratory analysis.

After procedures, surgical technicians may help apply dressings and bandages, transport patients to recovery rooms, restock supplies, breakdown kits used in operations, and help clean and restock the OR.

Overall, these specialized professionals help ensure seamless surgical operations, prevent delays, minimize errors and complications, and maximize patient safety through their expertise in aseptic techniques, surgical procedures, and the smooth flow of surgeries. Their role is integral to positive surgical outcomes.

What does Surgical Technicians do?

The core duties and daily tasks of a surgical technician include:

  • Preparing operating rooms by setting up surgical instruments, equipment, sterile drapes, solutions, supplies and sterile fields. This includes surgical lasers, lights, suction machines, cautery machines, endoscopes, and more based on the type of procedure.
  • Checking equipment to ensure proper functioning prior to use. Troubleshooting issues and replacing defective tools.
  • Prepping patients for surgery by washing, shaving and disinfecting incision sites. Positioning patients on the OR table. Helping anesthetize patients.
  • Providing surgical instruments and supplies to surgeons during operations. Passing tools, holding retractors, cutting sutures as needed. Preparing specimens for analysis.
  • Counting instruments, sponges, needles and other items used during surgery to ensure no foreign objects are retained in patients after closure.
  • Applying dressings, bandages and immobilization devices to incision sites after surgery. Transporting patients to recovery units.
  • Maintaining a sterile field throughout procedures through the use of aseptic techniques. Adhering to infection control policies.
  • Restocking supplies, disinfecting tools, cleaning ORs after procedures to prepare for the next case. Ensuring biohazard wastes are disposed properly.
  • Assisting in the use and maintenance of robotic surgery systems.
  • Helping document patient records, enter data, transfer info to post-anesthesia units.
  • Continuing education to stay current on medical device technologies, surgical techniques and OR best practices.

In essence, surgical techs provide vital support services before, during and after surgical operations – handling important tasks that contribute to positive outcomes for patients. Their focus, precision and consistency is crucial for safe surgeries.

The goal of surgical techs is to maximize OR efficiency, reduce delays, enhance precision and safety, and contribute to positive outcomes for surgical patients through their supportive role.

How to Become a Surgical Technologist?

Becoming a certified surgical technologist requires proper education, training and passing the national certification exam offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Here are the main steps:

Prerequisites to Become a Surgical Technician

  • High school diploma or equivalent GED certificate
  • Background in sciences – biology, chemistry, anatomy etc.
  • Strong technical and mechanical aptitude
  • Manual dexterity and physical stamina
  • Ability to stand for long periods and lift/move patients
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Detail-oriented with organizational skills
  • Ability to act quickly and calmly under pressure

Education Required to Become a Surgical Technologist

You need to complete an accredited surgical technology program. These are typically associate degree or certificate programs that range from 9 to 24 months long. Programs ready students to sit for the national certification exam.

Associate degree programs last 2 years and include broad coursework in sciences, healthcare, technology, communications and hands-on practice.

Certificate programs last 9-15 months and provide intensive training focused exclusively on surgical technology and direct OR experience.

Coursework covers topics like:

  • Sterile processing and OR sanitation
  • Surgical instrumentation, equipment and technologies
  • Surgical procedures for all major specialties
  • Anatomy, physiology and pathology
  • Pharmacology and anesthesiology
  • Microbiology and infection control
  • Healthcare laws, regulations, safety standards
  • Surgical robotics
  • Healthcare administration
  • Aseptic techniques and sterile fields

Students gain extensive hands-on practice in mock surgery labs plus complete at least 120 cases of clinical rotations in real healthcare settings under supervision.

Programs accredited by CAAHEP or ABHES offer the best education.

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Surgical Technologist?

You need to complete an accredited surgical technology program and obtain a certificate or associate degree in surgical technology. While some roles only require a certificate, having an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree qualifies you for higher level roles and better career advancement.

Steps to Become a Surgical Technologist

Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Take courses in health sciences if possible.
  2. Enroll in an accredited surgical technology certificate or degree program.
  3. Complete coursework and hands-on mock surgeries in a lab environment.
  4. Do at least 120 hours of supervised clinical rotations at a healthcare facility.
  5. Graduate from the surgical technology program and obtain your certificate or degree.
  6. Take and pass the NBSTSA national certification exam to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).
  7. Obtain state licensure if required. Requirements vary.
  8. Search for surgical technician jobs and apply. Look for entry-level openings at hospitals, surgery centers, OBGYN clinics and specialty practices to gain experience.
  9. Consider pursuing higher education to advance, such as a bachelor’s degree in surgical technology or healthcare administration. This widens options.
  10. Maintain certification through continuing education credits and renewing CST status every 4 years.

With proper accredited education, certification and license, you’ll be set to begin your career as a surgical technologist assisting in the operating room. Maintain your credentials through ongoing training.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Surgical Technologist?

The typical timeline to become a surgical technologist is:

  • 2 years for an Associate Degree in Surgical Technology
  • 9 to 15 months for a Surgical Technology Certificate
  • 4-6 weeks of study before taking the NBSTSA certification exam
  • 120 cases minimum of supervised clinical experience

So in total, you can qualify to become a certified surgical technician within 1-2 years of dedicated education and training.

Surgical Technologist Salary

The average salary for a surgical tech in the United States is $48,300 per year or $23.21 per hour according to latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Average salaries can vary by state.

Surgical technologists earn relatively competitive salaries given the short amount of education required and rapid entry into the field. Pay depends on factors like location, experience, certification, working hours, employer size and setting. Here is an overview of the average surgical tech salary:

  • Median Annual Salary for Surgical Technologists: $48,300
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: Above $67,000
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Below $34,000

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for surgical technician is $48,300 per year nationwide. The lowest 10% of surgical techs earn less than $34,000 while the highest 10% earn over $67,000 annually.

Bonus income from overtime work is also common for surgical techs.

Salary for Surgical Technician

Surgical tech salaries can vary quite a bit based on region, city, experience level, certification status, and employer. Here are some salary examples:

LocationAverage Salary
New York City, NY$59,550
Anchorage, AK$63,240
Miami, FL$41,460
Dallas, TX$51,250
Chicago, IL$47,010
Phoenix, AZ$53,400
Atlanta, GA$47,970
Las Vegas, NV$55,300

Surgical Tech Pay by Experience Level

Experience LevelAverage Salary

Surgical Tech Pay by Industry Setting

SettingAverage Salary
Outpatient center$46,200
Plastic surgeon office$50,100
Orthopedic office$49,000

Surgical techs in Alaska, Nevada and metro areas like NYC tend to earn higher salaries. With experience, surgical technicians can earn over $60,000 annually on average.

Factor like education, certification, employer, city/state and overtime strongly influence incomes for surgical techs. Those with in-demand skill sets and willing to take on more work hours can earn higher wages.

Overall surgical technologists make from $15 to $35 per hour on average, with potential for overtime and bonuses.

Metropolitan areas tend to pay more than rural regions. And specialization or experience will increase earnings.

Overall the national median salary for certified surgical technologists falls between $45,000 to $55,000 on average. With overtime, bonuses, skill development and promotions over time, six figure incomes are possible.

Surgical Technologist Schools

There are many accredited programs across the country that offer certificates and associate degrees in surgical technology. Here are some of the top schools for surgical technician training:

Best Schools for Surgical Technologist

SchoolLocationProgram TypeWebsite
Indian River State CollegeFort Pierce, FLAssociate
Pima Medical InstituteMultiple locationsAssociate
Lincoln College of TechnologyMultiple locationsAssociate
Brightwood CollegeMultiple locationsAssociate
Penn Foster CollegeOnlineAssociate
Merced CollegeMerced,
Concorde Career CollegeMultiple
Carrington CollegeMultiple
Branford Hall Career InstituteSouthington,
Lake Washington Institute of TechnologyKirkland,

These community colleges, career schools and online programs offer top accredited programs to gain the education and hands-on training to become a competent surgical technician.

Coursework provides a thorough grounding in healthcare sciences, OR protocols, surgical procedures, aseptic technique, medical equipment and clinical externships. Graduates are prepared to sit for the CST exam.

Online and accelerated options allow earning an accredited certificate in 9-15 months. In-person programs are also available countrywide through community colleges and vocational schools, taking 1-2 years.

Compare program curriculum, national exam pass rates, accreditation, costs, financial aid availability and flexibility of scheduling when choosing a surgical tech school.

Surgical Technologist Accredited

When selecting a surgical technologist program it is highly advisable to choose one accredited by either CAAHEP or ABHES. These accrediting organizations uphold rigorous educational standards.

Attending an accredited program will ensure you receive comprehensive training according to industry benchmarks. This maximizes chances of passing the national certification exam on your first attempt.

Many employers specifically seek candidates who graduated from accredited surgical tech programs as well.

Surgical Technologist Colleges

Surgical technologist programs are offered at community colleges, universities, technical schools and even online. Here are some notable colleges with accredited surgical tech programs:

Best Colleges that Offer Surgical Technologist Programs

Santa Barbara City CollegeSanta Barbara,
Tyler Junior CollegeTyler,
Ivy Tech Community CollegeMultiple
Shawnee Community CollegeUllin,
Lakeland Community CollegeKirtland,
Santiago Canyon CollegeOrange,
Macomb Community CollegeWarren,
Carrington CollegeMultiple
Brightwood CollegeMultiple
Pima Medical InstituteMultiple

Two-year associate degree programs are commonly offered at community and technical colleges. These provide well-rounded foundations in healthcare, science, technology and hands-on labs.

Some career colleges offer accelerated 9-15 month certificate programs focused exclusively on surgical technology. There are also online accredited programs.

With multiple quality options nationwide, it is possible to gain strong surgical tech education suited to your particular needs and circumstances.

Surgical Technologist Program

Surgical technology programs ready students for this vital supporting role in the operating room through targeted education and training. Typical program components include:

  • Principles of surgical technology – overview of role, duties, workplace
  • Basic healthcare sciences – anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology
  • Surgical instrumentation – identification and use
  • Equipment and technologies – electrosurgery, lasers, robotics
  • Surgical procedures for all major specialties
  • Sterilization processes
  • Aseptic technique and maintaining sterile field
  • Safety standards and infection control
  • Healthcare facility administration
  • Healthcare law, documentation, communications, teamwork

This is coupled with extensive hands-on practice in mock surgery labs before completing at least 120 hours of supervised clinical rotations in real-world healthcare environments, which provides invaluable experience.

Programs range from 9 month certificates to 2 year associate degrees. Graduates can qualify to sit for the CST exam and earn the Certified Surgical Technician designation, a key credential when seeking work.

With dedication and proper accredited education, these programs equip students with the array of medical, technical and interpersonal skills necessary to excel in supporting surgical teams.

Online Schools for Surgical Technologist

Online surgical technology programs allow gaining this focused training remotely through distance education. Combining online coursework with in-person clinical rotations in your area, accredited online programs offer flexibility earning your degree or certificate.

Some top online schools include:

Best Online Schools for Surgical Technologist

SchoolProgram TypeWebsite
Penn Foster CollegeAssociate
Fortis CollegeAssociate
Brightwood CollegeAssociate
Independence UniversityAssociate
State College of FloridaAssociate
American National
Concorde Career

These accredited online programs cover the full surgical technology curriculum including healthcare sciences, OR procedures, equipment, sterile technique and more.

Your clinical rotations are completed in-person at a supervised site, letting you gain hands-on experience. Some intensive campus labs may also be required occasionally.

Online delivery allows flexibility for those balancing education with work, family or location constraints. Ideal for dedicated self-starters.

Can You Become a Surgical Technologist Online?

Yes, it is possible to become a surgical technician through accredited online education programs. These distance-based options allow remote completion of coursework and lectures, paired with local hands-on clinical rotations.

Reputable online schools with proper accreditation from CAAHEP or ABHES will qualify graduates to sit for the national CST certification exam just like campus programs.

Benefits of online training include flexibility, lower costs, and accessibility. But students need strong time management and discipline to complete the self-paced learning.

Some employers may prefer candidates from traditional in-person programs. But certified online graduates tend to have equal job prospects if the program is accredited.

How to Become a Surgical Technologist Online

Here are the steps to become a surgical technologist through an online program:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or equivalent. Take science courses if possible.
  2. Research accredited online surgical technology programs. Look for associate degrees or certificates approved by CAAHEP or ABHES.
  3. Apply to your chosen accredited online program. Submit transcripts and any other required documents.
  4. Enroll in the online surgical tech program. Be prepared for self-disciplined distance learning.
  5. Complete online course lectures, assignments, virtual labs, quizzes, and tests. Master technical knowledge and concepts.
  6. Schedule and complete required in-person clinical rotations at a local approved healthcare facility under supervision. Gain hands-on experience in real medical settings.
  7. Graduate and earn your accredited certificate or degree in surgical technology.
  8. Take the CST exam administered by NBSTSA to become a nationally certified surgical technician.
  9. Research state licensing requirements. Some states require licensing or registration beyond the CST credential.
  10. Start applying for surgical technologist jobs! Look for entry-level openings in hospitals, surgery centers and other facilities.

With proper diligent study and an accredited online program, you can become a trained surgical technologist prepared for a vital support role in the operating room.

Advancement Opportunities and Career Paths for Surgical Tech

Surgical technologists have strong potential for career growth into advanced roles with higher pay and responsibility. Some advancement opportunities include:

  • Lead Surgical Technologist – experienced techs who train and mentor others. Requires further certification.
  • Surgical First Assistant – assists surgeons directly with tissue handling and closures during surgery. Require specialized master’s degree programs.
  • Certified Surgical Assistant – works closely with surgeons through all phases of surgeries. Must complete accredited educational programs, intensive training and certification.
  • Surgical Technology Director – manages surgical tech staff and OR operations. May require a bachelor’s degree and management experience.
  • Perioperative Nursing – registered nurses specialized to work in the OR environment before, during and after procedures. Requires an RN degree and perioperative training program.
  • Medical Sales Positions – surgical tech expertise is valued in medical equipment and device sales roles. A business or marketing degree can be advantageous.
  • Surgical Technology Instructor – teach in accredited surgical tech programs after gaining experience in the field. A bachelor’s degree is often required.
  • Physician Assistant – Help diagnose, treat patients and prescribe medications under doctor supervision. Requires a master’s degree and certification.

Surgical technicians have in-demand skills applicable to many healthcare roles. Developing your expertise, earning higher education, and obtaining advanced certifications can all help progress your career.

Conclusion: Is a Career as a Surgical Technologist Right for You?

Recap of Key Points:

  • Surgical technicians play a vital supporting role in the operating room during surgeries. They prepare the OR, instruments, equipment and help ensure smooth procedures.
  • To become a surgical tech requires completing an accredited 9-24 month certificate or degree program, followed by passing the national certification exam.
  • This career offers competitive salary, job growth, flexibility, and opportunities to progress into advanced healthcare roles over time.
  • Surgical technologists need strong medical/technical aptitude, dexterity, stamina, quick thinking and communication skills. They take pride in the details.
  • This is a sound career choice for those seeking an affordable faster education, direct healthcare role, and good job prospects. But requires being comfortable in a high-pressure environment.

Resources for Further Exploration:

In summary, becoming a surgical technologist offers opportunity to start a rewarding healthcare career with only 1-2 years of schooling required. If you have an interest in healthcare, technical precision, helping doctors, and can remain calm under pressure, this could be an excellent path for you. Links provided by Claude may not always be valid or up to date. We appreciate your patience as we work to improve link accuracy.

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