How to Become a Surgical Technician: Programs, Certification & Salary

One important yet not-so recognized career in the medical field is that of a surgical technician. Surgical technicians are known by many names, including surgical technologists, operating room technician, surgical assistant, and scrubs tech, among others. Whatever you choose to call them though, there is no denying that they are integral parts in the surgical process.

Safety and efficiency are very important in any surgery, and the skills of surgical technicians are very helpful to achieve these qualities. Since they are so important, what exactly does becoming a surgical technician really entail?

What Do Surgical Technicians Do?

Basically, a surgical technician assists surgeons during, before, and after surgical operations. They are closely monitored by surgical nurses, surgeons, or other medical professionals, and they ensure that the surgeries go smoothly and that the patients come out infection-free. Though it may seem like the job is fairly easy, surgical technicians actually do a lot more than just assist.

The basic duties of a surgical technician would depend on what his/her position is in the company but the most common duties are the following:

A surgical technician is expected to prepare the patient and the operating room before procedures. Apart from prepping the patient and checking the patient’s vital signs and charts, the surgical technician should also be able to provide the patient with emotional support. Surgeries are often very scary for the patient, so surgical technicians should make it as comfortable for them as possible.

He/she is responsible for cleaning and sterilizing all the tools and equipment that will be needed during the surgeries. He/she must also make sure that the tools and equipment are complete before bringing the patient in. To do this, the surgical technician must have a list of all the supplies and equipment needed for the procedure so that he/she will not forget anything. These equipment include sterilizers, light and heart monitors, and suction machines, among others.

It must be noted that to avoid using wrong tools during the surgeries, surgical tools also have proper places. It is also the surgical technician’s job to ensure that the tools are in their proper places and to hand these tools over to the surgeons during the procedure.

During surgery, the surgical technician may also be asked to position the patient, hold the organs in place or to use retractors. They may also be asked to constantly assess the conditions of the operating room to ensure that it is in the best condition for the patients. They may also be needed to operate, troubleshoot, and/or adjust surgical equipment.

After the procedure, the surgical technician may be tasked to dress the wounds and transfer the patients to their respective recovery rooms. Once the operating rooms are empty, it may also be the surgical technician’s job to clean them for the next patient.

If you want to get into detail, a surgical technician can be grouped into three major roles: scrub tech, circulating surgical technologist, or second assisting surgical technologist. Each role would have its own duties and responsibilities but there are also some responsibilities that may overlap.

A scrub tech would focus more on prepping tools and equipment and ensuring cleanliness and sanitation, so their duties would include:

  • Making sure that the operating room and all the supplies in it are sterilized, clean, complete, and working
  • Setting up the surgical tables and trays, and putting the instruments in their proper places
  • Passing the surgical supplies and instruments needed by the surgeon; and
  • Preparing sterile dressings

A circulating surgical technologist, on the other hand, would have more patient interaction than scrub techs. For this reason, his/her duties would include:

  • Transferring the patient from a regular room to an operating room
  • Assisting with placing the patient on the operating room table
  • Assisting with anesthesia
  • Applying necessary surgical accessories on patients
  • Preparing the patient for any procedures needed before the surgery
  • Keeping written records of the patient
  • Assessing the patient’s condition and the team’s progress during surgery; and
  • Caring for specimens that must be tested in the laboratory

Finally, a second assisting surgical technologist’s duties would include:

  • Holding instruments in place, as directed by the surgeon
  • Suctioning or sponging the necessary areas of the surgical site
  • Dressing closed wounds; and
  • Many of the duties of the scrub tech

Though a surgical tech’s job may seem to be based on a surgeon’s commands, it is imperative that he/she knows how to anticipate a surgeon’s needs. It must be second nature to a surgical technician to hand instruments over to the surgeon as they are requested – it must consist of less thinking and more reaction time. A surgical technician must be able to stay focused and on top of things during surgeries, which therefore allows the team to work faster and in a more efficient manner.

Work Environment

Many surgical technicians can be found in hospitals, working alongside surgeons, nurses, and other medical professionals. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 70% of all surgical technicians work in this environment. However, they can also work elsewhere, as long as there are operating or delivery rooms. This means that you can also find surgical technicians in private clinics, dental offices, outpatient clinics, or in ambulatory surgical centers. They may also be part of special mobile surgical teams such as the ones that focus on organ transplants, among others.

Some surgical technicians can also be seen working at animal hospitals, as product representatives, in research and development labs, or teaching future surgical technicians.

The working hours of a surgical technician would depend on where he/she works but more often than not, they will have shifting schedules and may be required to work at any time of the day. The average work week of a surgical technician would consist of more or less 40 hours, including nights, weekends, and holidays. Apart from this, they may also be called upon during emergency surgeries.

Surgical technicians must be physically fit and quick on their feet because their job would require standing for a long period of time. They are also expected to be responsible enough to keep up with the developments in their fields and to take continuing professional education if needed.

How to Become A Surgical Technician

To become a surgical technician, an individual would need to complete surgical technician program that provides both classroom work, clinical and laboratory experience, and hands-on experience in real surgery cases. The classroom setting would include learning about general education and basic medical subjects such as medical terminology, surgical procedures, anatomy, pharmacology, and physiology, among others. On the other hand, hands-on clinical experiences give students the chance to observe certified surgical technicians at work and at the same time try to do the work in a real-life setting themselves. Through the months, students will also be allowed to use the equipment in operating rooms and find out what they want to specialize in through rotations.

To complete the course, some schools would require a cumulative average of at least 2.6. Upon completion of the course, the individual would earn a certificate, diploma, or a degree, depending upon the course that he/she completed. Programs for diplomas and certificates can be completed within a year while an Associate’s degree can be completed in two years.

The costs for completing a surgical technician program would vary depending on the credential you wish to achieve. A certification course would generally cost anywhere from $5,450 to $16,500 while an Associate’s degree may cost anywhere from $16,203 to $43,640.

It is generally not a requirement for students to graduate from a state-approved program but those who do would have better opportunities than those who don’t. For this reason, it may be a good idea to consider programs that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Likewise, most states do not require surgical technicians to be certified but those who have certifications would generally earn more and have better job opportunities than those who don’t.

Basically, an individual who wants a career as a certified surgical technician would have to adhere to the following steps:

Step 1. Earn a High School Diploma

To gain admission to any surgical technician program, an individual would need to have a high school diploma or a GED. The subjects taken in high school, such as English, Computer, Math, and Science, would greatly help in preparing you for the surgical technician program.

Step 2. Earn a Diploma, a Certificate, or an Associate’s Degree

Look for schools that offer diploma, certificate, or Associate’s degree programs on surgical technology. Apply to a program and complete it. These programs prepare and train you to become reliable and efficient surgical technicians, and an integral part of the surgical team. Courses would include those mentioned above, and an individual aspiring to become a surgical technician should get a cumulative grading average of at least 2.6.

Once you’ve earned a certification, you are technically already considered as a surgical technician. However, it is always better to further your career by getting certifications.

Step 3. Get Certified

Again, becoming certified gets you better job opportunities than not doing so. For this reason, it is advisable to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST)—something you can easily do if you’ve graduated from a program accredited by the CAAHEP.

To become a CST, you will need to pass an exam that consists of 200 questions, all of which test your knowledge on all things related to surgical technology. You can get surgical technician certifications from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, and the National Center for Competency Testing. Other certifications that you can get are the Operating Room Surgical Technician Certification (CORST) or the Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C) credential, among others.

Apart from the proper education, surgical technicians would also require special skills. Because they have to hand over the proper instruments to the surgeons, they should be able to have a fast reaction time, both physically and mentally. They should also be physically and mentally fit, because they may be required to stay in the operating room for long periods of time, and in many different conditions. They must also be highly organized, conscientious, proactive, detail-oriented, focused, calm, and must have excellent dexterity in order to do their jobs well. They must also have strong technical skills because they may be asked to control, adjust, and troubleshoot different kinds of surgical equipment.

Keep in mind that a seemingly minor mistake can greatly affect a patient, so mastering all the skills and theories mentioned above is integral to those who are aspiring to become good surgical technicians.


Aspiring surgical technicians would be glad to know that a career in the field can give very exciting earning potentials. The median salary for surgical technicians in 2013 was $42,720 but has grown to $44,330 in the year 2015, with the highest earning technicians earning $63,410 per annum. This average is a lot greater than the average annual salary of all other occupations like patient care technicians or nurses, which only sits at $36,200.

Of course, these figures are just an average of surgical technician salaries all over the state. The actual salary figure would depend on your geographic location, experience, work setting, position, and, of course, certification. Surgical technicians who work in private clinics and outpatient care centers, for example, would generally earn more than those working in public hospitals. Furthermore, a surgical technician who chooses to specialize in a certain area of study would also earn more than a surgical tech with no specialty.

It is important to note that the basic salary figures mentioned above are not the only benefits when you choose to become a surgical technician. Many facilities offer additional benefits such as paid leaves (sick or vacation), health insurances and life insurances, retirement programs, and sometimes even child care assistance or reimbursements for tuition fees.

There are many other ways to increase your salary and benefits as a surgical technician. It is best to explore all of these so that you can work harder and earn the salary that you deserve.

Job Outlook

icon_blue_searchThere is no need to worry when it comes to job opportunities as a surgical technician, especially when you have the credentials. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for Certified Surgical Technologists is expected to grow by 15% through the year 2024. This growth rate is much faster than the average growth rate of other careers.

The expected growth in surgical technician jobs is attributed to the fact that the baby boomers are slowly aging. They are expected to need more healthcare attention in the coming years, and therefore a demand for more healthcare professionals, including surgical technicians. Another factor that is seen to contribute to this growth is the recent and continuous advancements in surgical technology and procedures, such as the laser technology and fiber optics, among others.

As mentioned above, a surgical technician can work in a number of different environments. Surveys show that the fastest growing work environment for surgical technicians are private clinics and outpatient care centers.

Because there is a positive outlook on surgical technicians’ job growth, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a job once you finish a surgical technology program. However, it is best to keep in mind that you will have plenty of competition out there, and you will have to prove yourself worthy of the position that you want. For this reason, many surgical techs start at the lowest position and simply work their way up the corporate ladder. This ensures that they really master their knowledge and skills when it comes to becoming a surgical technician. Others cling to their networks, which is why it is so important to create strong relationships with notable healthcare professionals during your schooling or internships. It also helps to volunteer in hospitals while studying so that you can further experience what it means to be a real surgical technician before actually getting a job.

Surgical technicians also have a lot of opportunities to advance in their careers. Depending on how good you are in your job, you can start going up the corporate ladder in just two to five years’ time. With additional training and education, they can become a surgical first assistant, a circulating technologist, or a surgical technician with a specialization. Some can even choose to become a traveling surgical tech, wherein they can work in various locations for short periods of time. These would require more training and education but they would also give surgical technicians the chance to do more during their work days.

Training Programs

business-training-icon-8A surgical technician’s formal training would take place during his/her practicum or internship. It is through these internships that students can apply whatever they have learned in textbooks to real-life situations. Internships are usually done in hospitals, so students get to experience all kinds of situations, from the lightest surgeries to the wildest ones. This kind of training can be obtained from any accredited surgical technician program available. Of course, more advanced training is needed to further your career.


Certification Programs and Licensing

certificationAgain, many states don’t require for a surgical technician to have a certification, but having one will definitely improve your chances of getting hired faster. For this reason, the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting gives all eligible students the chance to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) as long as they pass the exam and graduate from a program approved by the CAAHEP.

As mentioned above, other certifications include the CORST and the TS-C. The NBSTSA also offers examinations for a surgical technician to become a Certified First Assistant (CFA) or a Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA). The CST is awarded by the Liaison Council for the Certification of Surgical Technologists while the TS-C is awarded by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). The CORST is awarded by the National Health career Association. Each certification will have different examinations and different costs, so you will have to choose which of them you are equipped to take.

It is important to note that getting a certified isn’t the last step. Since being a surgical technician means that you will have many lives on your hands, the government and related institutions would have to make sure that you can handle the job for the years to come. For this reason, surgical technicians would have to continually take professional education courses and retake the licensure examination every four years.


petition_icon_large_blueIf you’ve ever dreamed of being part of the excitement in an operating room but don’t have the qualifications to become a surgeon, the becoming a surgical technician is your next best bet. You will get to experience everything that happens in the emergency room while at the same time helping the surgeon save someone’s life.

As a surgical technician, you will not only earn a considerable amount but you are also assured of exciting and unexpected days. You will never get bored because something different will happen everyday. Apart from that, you get to leave the operating room feeling satisfied for having done meaningful work.

Becoming a surgical technician isn’t easy—you will have to learn all the technical stuff and you will have to master all the skills—but it will definitely be worth it. If you do choose this career, it is best to become certified after earning your degree. This will ensure that you get a good job after, and that you have an easier time advancing in your field.

Remember that it takes more than just one person to perform a successful surgery. Though surgeons get most of the spotlight, surgical technicians are just as responsible as them in ensuring that everything goes smoothly in the operating room. If you think you have what it takes to become a certified surgical technician, look up a program that offers it now and start your journey to the exciting world of operating rooms.

One comment

Leave a Reply