How to Become a Surgical Technician in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for surgical technicians. Get the facts about education and certification requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Surgical Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Surgical Technician?

Surgical technicians - sometimes known as surgical technologists - assist in surgeries by preparing the operating room and equipment. Prior to an operation, surgical technicians make sure that all surgical equipment is sterilized, the operation room is ready, and patients are prepared. During surgery, they hand surgeons equipment. After surgery they clean up equipment, take inventory of supplies, and prep for the next surgery. The following chart gives you an overview about becoming a surgical technician.

Degree Required Postsecondary certificate or associate's degree
Education Field of Study Surgical technology
Key Responsibilities Prepare operating room prior to surgery; clean and sterilize all equipment; prepare patient and set up supplies needed for procedure; count all supplies, sponges, and instruments to ensure all are accounted for after the procedure
Licensure and/or Certification Certification may be required in some states; Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), Tech in Surgery-Certified (NCCT), and Operating Room Surgical Technician Certification (CORST) credentials are available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% increase (for surgical technologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $44,330 (for surgical technologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are the Duties of a Surgical Technician?

A surgical technician is a medical support specialist who assists with surgery before, during, and after an operation. The equipment you work with includes suction machines, sterilizers, lights, and heart monitors. You work under the supervision of a surgeon, surgical nurse, or other medical professional.

Before surgery, you clean the operating room, set up instrument trays and equipment, and help surgeons and other team members scrub and dress. During surgery, you help position and drape patients, handle instruments, monitor equipment, maintain a sterile environment, and make an ongoing assessment of operating room conditions. After surgery, you might help bandage patients, clean and resupply the operating room, and shut down and store equipment.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You will need a high school diploma or GED to gain admission to a surgical technician training program. High school courses in mathematics and natural sciences can help prepare you for surgical technology courses. Courses in English, computers, and health are also recommended.

Step 2: Earn a Certificate or Associate's Degree

Certificate and associate's degree surgical technician programs train you to prepare and properly use operating room equipment and function as part of a surgical team. Program curricula are built around classroom lectures, lab courses, and clinical practicums. Possible courses include medical terminology, surgical technology, surgical procedures, and pharmacology. The main differences between a 1-year certificate and a 2-year associate's degree program are that the latter includes a general education component and sometimes has more clinical courses.

Step 3: Consider Certification

Obtaining the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) could possibly improve your chances of employment. You're eligible if you've graduated from an accredited surgical technology program. The CST certification exam consists of 25 pretest questions and 175 scored questions covering basic science, equipment care, operating room procedures, and administration.

You can also obtain the Operating Room Surgical Technician Certification (CORST) from the National Healthcareer Association. The CORST exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions that address surgical laws and regulations, disease transmission mechanisms, surgical instruments, sterilization methods, and other topics.

The Tech in Surgery-Certified (NCCT) credential is available from the National Center for Competency Testing. The NCCT exam consists of 175 scored items addressing surgical care, intraoperative care, postoperative care, administration, and equipment sterilization and maintenance.

Step 4: Obtain a Job

Approximately 99,800 people worked as surgical technologists in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). From 2014-2024 employment was projected to increase 15% to 114,500. Estimates show about 100,270 were employed in 2015. Hospital operating rooms and delivery rooms are the facilities where you're most likely to find work, but outpatient clinics, physicians' offices, and dentists' offices might have positions for you as well. You could also seek a position directly with a surgeon as part of a private surgical team. The median annual salary of surgical technologists as of May 2015 was $44,330.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Your advancement options include focusing on a surgical specialty, pursuing additional training, or transitioning to a related area. Additional training could enable you to become the first assistant on a surgical team. Certification for first assistants is available from the NBSTSA. Transition opportunities might include managing a hospital's supply department or taking positions with a medical equipment supply firm or an insurance company.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

When considering a career as a surgical technician, a few related alternative careers include dental assistants, licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), and medical laboratory technologists. For dental operations, dental assistants perform many of the same tasks as surgical technicians: preparing equipment, preparing patients, handing tools, cleaning up, and taking inventory. LPNs and LVNs conduct many basic nursing services under the direction of registered nurses or physicians. Though not in a surgical setting, medical laboratory technologists also most make sure equipment is kept sterile and labs are well stocked so that they may conduct laboratory exams on medical specimens.

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