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 How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Considering a high-paying job as an operating room technician? Discover what it takes to become one and how to chart a path to becoming a surgical technologist. 

Surgical technologists provide crucial assistance in medical teams that comprise surgeons, doctors, and nurses. As a result, candidates looking to get hired will need qualifications and qualities that are in high demand in operating rooms and hospitals. To obtain these skills, aspiring surgical techs attend top vocational trade schools rather than traditional universities.

  • Surgical technologists have the potential to earn upwards of $70,000 annually. 
  • Additional certifications and training increase your chances of qualifying for higher salaries. 
  • A basic surgical technology degree or program is required before you get hired as a surgical technologist (in most states).
  • Surgical technicians play a pivotal role in the physical and assistive aspects of any major surgery in the operating room. 

Uncover what it means to serve as a surgical technician, the qualifications you may need, and the prospects of what the future holds. 

Becoming a Surgical Technologist: A Comprehensive Step-by-step Guide

  • Step 1: Enroll in a Surgical Technology Course

Choose from different surgical technology programs being offered at universities, colleges, or technical centers that provide training on this subject. You’ll need at least a high school diploma to apply (Alternatively, many colleges accept a GED certificate, too). 

  • Step 2: Complete Your Course

Perform the necessary work and requirements of the course to earn the surgical technician’s degree. A combined associate’s degree may take about two years to complete, while a general certificate may take about 12 months. 

Most courses will include components on general medical theory, followed by elements of applied medicine in the context of surgery and operating room protocols. 

  • Step 3: Gather Critical Practical Experience and Skills

The theoretical elements of your degree remain important, but the most crucial learning will take place during hands-on training and experience. 

Internships, fieldwork, practicums, and any apprenticeship opportunities should be taken in all seriousness and sincerity. Developing adept skills for the operating room will set you apart from other aspiring candidates when applying for open positions. 

  • Step 4: Prepare and Clear the Course or Certificate’s Final Assessment

Your certification course, associate degree, or any related qualification will include an exam or assessment that tests your proficiency in the subject. Prepare for this test/exam as you approach the time. 

These exams will check your competency in general medical practices, surgical techniques, operating room procedures, handling and managing tools, etc. 

  • Step 5: Gather Additional Certificates or Training

In addition to your basic certificate or degree, any enhancement courses that up-skill your proficiency in surgical technology will make you a better candidate. 

Look for training that fine-tune your skills and knowledge. Consider extra certificates that add a sense of additional competency to your resume. 

Medical Industries That Require Surgical Technicians

Any medical practice that requires surgery will employ surgical technicians for their labs and OTs. That implies that excellent surgical technicians remain sought-after in most areas of medical practice. 

Here are some common areas:

  • Neurological Surgery
  • Cardiovascular surgery
  • ENT departments
  • Orthopedic practices and surgery
  • Reconstructive surgery
  • Urology
  • Pediatric surgery
  • Gynecological surgery

What are Surgical Technologists?

The surgeon performs all acts of incision and access, handling tissues, hemostasis, tissue closure, etc. However, the surgical technician, along with the nurses, provides vital assistance required for the smooth execution of all these actions.  

The surgical technician uses medical knowledge as well as practical skills to create an environment where doctors and nurses can perform their surgical tasks with ease. 

Surgical technologists deliver critical assistance and support that enables the surgeon to perform surgical actions without hassle, problems, or mishaps. 

Breakdown of What Surgical Technologists Do 

Three broad categories of tasks represent what surgical technologists do to assist surgeons. 

Preparation and Pre-Surgery Tasks

The surgical technologist will ensure that all surgical tools and equipment remain clean and sterilized before surgery. He will also prepare the operating theatre, making necessary arrangements. The surgical technician will also help prepare the patient for the procedure. 

Assistance During Surgery

Along with the nurses and assistants, the surgical technician will help in handling, passing, and readying the surgical tools and items that the doctor requires. In some cases, surgical technologists may even assist with surgical actions like retracting tissues if requested by the surgeon. 

After Surgery

Surgeries require many single-use tools and items that need clearance and cleaning after the procedure. The surgical technician will collect and discard these items once the surgery is complete. He will also help sterilize the surgical site and assist in dressing. 

The surgical technician will then relocate the patient and begin preparing/sterilizing the room for the next procedure. 

Qualifications Required to Become a Surgical Technician

You can expect the following requirements to be demanded by most hospitals and medical centers before hiring you as a surgical technician.

 You’ll need to have at least a high school diploma before you can apply for certified surgical technician programs. If you don’t have one, an equivalent qualification like a GED will also do. 

Then, you’ll have to earn a surgical technician’s certificate or associate degree from a university or center that offers a verified course. 

Most medical centers will also check if you have verifiable experience as an intern or placement before hiring you. 

Certificate Process and Requirements 

Washington, Colorado, and North Dakota are the three main states where authorities demand specific licensing before you can work as a certified surgical technologist.

However, don’t let the liberty in other states prevent you from earning a proper degree. The right certification will open up more doors and employment opportunities across different states and regions.  

The industry’s premier council National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) conducts a periodical certification course that you need to clear with at least 70% points to be awarded a certificate. Plus, you’ll have to reappear the test every two years to maintain the legitimacy of your certificate. 

Surgical Technologist: Salary and Job Market

The average (median) salary for serving surgical technicians may range from $45,000 to about $50,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics. However, this data is from 2021, so rates and earnings may be higher now. 

Even back in 2021, surgical technicians in high demand and employed gainfully enjoyed yearly earnings of over $71,000. 

The job market for surgical technicians is expected to increase by about 9% in the coming years. Opportunities for furthering your career will open up easily if you continue excelling at your appointed position. 

States and markets in California, Alaska, the District of Columbia, and Nevada enjoy the reputation of being the highest-earning locations for surgical technologists.  


What is the duration of a surgical technician certificate?

Most basic certification courses for surgical techs will last for about a year. However, expect specialized studies like associate degrees to go on for two years. 

How difficult is a surgical technician’s course?

Experienced surgical technologists agree that the certification course is moderately difficult. However, it remains a viable course for individuals willing to put in the work and prove themselves worthy of a degree.