How to Become a Surgical Technician

Interested in a career in a hands-on, clinical setting? Explore the steps it takes to become a surgical technician.
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  • A surgical technology program offers a path to a career as a surgical technician.
  • Earning certification may expand career options and increase pay.
  • Surgical technicians help maintain the cleanliness and safety of a surgical environment.
  • Top-earning surgical techs make more than $70,000 annually.

Surgical technicians are an important part of medical teams. These professionals rely on training and experience when providing effective, competent, and compassionate care.

Read on to learn the steps it takes to become a surgical technician. Find out about the professional certification process and the responsibilities of surgical technicians. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to Start Your Journey?

Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Surgical Technician

    Step 1: Apply to a surgical technology program

    Apply to a surgical technology program With a high school or GED diploma, prospective students can apply to a surgical technology program at a community college or technical school. They traditionally submit an application along with academic transcripts.

    Step 2: Complete academic requirements

    Many decide to earn an associate degree, which takes full-time students about two years to complete. Surgical tech students complete various general education and clinical-based classes throughout their program.

    Step 3: Complete hands-on clinical requirements

    Learning theoretical concepts in the classroom is vital. But the hands-on experience gained through internships, practicums, and other activities are the foundation to offering effective clinical care. These experiential learning opportunities may also lead to job opportunities after graduation.

    Step 4: Prepare for the certified surgical technologist exam

    Often, during their last semester, surgical tech students begin preparing for their certification exam. The test allows students to demonstrate a working knowledge of areas like patient care, aseptic techniques, and surgical procedures.

    Step 5: Pass the certified surgical technologist exam

    Professional certification can boost career options and increase earning potential.

Types of Surgical Technicians

  • Cardiovascular
  • Cosmetic
  • Earn, Nose, Throat
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Orthopedic
  • Pediatric
  • Reconstructive
  • Urology

What Is a Surgical Technician?

The world of surgery involves more than just surgeons.

This complex medical environment utilizes the assistance of a team of medical professionals — surgical technicians, nurses, anesthetists, among others.

Surgical technicians tackle countless, vital responsibilities. They use various skills and techniques developed in classrooms and clinical learning environments.

These professionals play a critical role in the efficient and safe functioning of a surgical environment.

What Does a Surgical Technician Do?

Working with a team of surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists, surgical technicians tackle vital tasks during the preoperative, intraoperative, and postoperative stages of a surgical procedure.

Their duties involve sterilizing equipment and operating rooms, helping to prepare patients for their procedure, and preparing various tools required during surgery.

Following medical procedures, these professionals take inventory of the surgical tools used, sterilize operating rooms and tools, and help transfer patients to recovery rooms.

Surgical technicians work in general and specialized surgeries These specialized surgeries include organ transplantation, plastic surgery, and neurosurgery.

Surgical Technician Responsibilities

  • Sterilizing tools, equipment, and operating rooms are vital to maintaining a safe and clean surgical environment.
  • Stocking supplies and keeping an inventory ensures that all necessary materials and equipment are continuously on hand.
  • Being on hand to pass surgeons the various tools they need during a surgical procedure.
  • Applying dressings and bandages after surgery to their patient's surgical site.
  • Helping to move patients to a recovery area. Then these technicians prepare operating rooms for other upcoming procedures.

Requirements to Become a Surgical Technician

  • Earning a high school or GED diploma
  • Applying and enrolling in an accredited surgical technology program
  • Completing coursework while gaining hands-on clinical experience
  • Graduating from an associate degree or certificate program
  • Earning surgical technologist certification (this may not be required in every state)

Certification Process for a Surgical Technician

State licensure is not a universal requirement to begin a career as a surgical technician. However, completing a surgical technology program and then taking an exam to become certified may offer a path to more employment opportunities.

Only three states require licensure to work as a surgical tech: Colorado, North Dakota, and Washington. Additionally, while gaining certification is only required in about a dozen states, earning this professional credential can be helpful in boosting job opportunities and earning potential.

To earn certification, students must first complete an accredited surgical technology program — traditionally from a community college or technical school. During the last semester, students often begin preparing for their exam.

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting administers a certification exam that includes 175 questions. Test-takers must earn a score of at least 70% to pass.

Once surgical technician graduates earn their certification, renewal is required every two years. During this two-year period, surgical techs must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education credits. Those who fall short of continuing education requirements may opt to retake their certification exam.

Surgical Technician Salary and Job Demand

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for surgical technologists — also called operating room technicians — is $49,710, as of May 2020. The top 10% of these workers earn more than $73,000 annually.

From 2020-2030, the job growth rate for these professionals is projected to be 9%. This job growth mirrors the national average (8%) for all U.S. occupations.

Growth Opportunities

  • Surgical tech specializations
  • Bachelor's degree in a healthcare field
  • Pursuit of registered nurse licensure
  • Additional professional certification
  • Other leadership roles

5 Top-Paying Locations

  1. Alaska
  2. Nevada
  3. California
  4. Connecticut
  5. District of Columbia

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Surgical Technician

How long does it take to become a surgical technician?

While programs vary, many students earn a surgical technology associate degree in two years. Students can gain critical foundational knowledge in surgical practices and principles throughout their program. Degree seekers also complete various general education requirements.

In addition to covering topics such as patient safety, surgical procedures, and aseptic procedures, surgical tech students dedicate considerable time to hands-on clinical learning. Before graduation, students complete a practicum or internship.

Is it hard to become a surgical technician?

The path toward this career is open to those with a high school or GED diploma. Common traits and skills for surgical technicians include critical thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate with patients and other members of the surgical team.

Throughout their program, students complete various specialized classes, including introduction to surgical technology, medical terminology, surgical techniques, and pharmacology.

So while this track may lean on more science and math than other specializations, dedicated students interested in pursuing a hands-on, clinical career can find success in this field.

Where do surgical technicians make the most money?

According to the BLS, the five areas offering the highest mean wages include Alaska, Nevada, California, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia. In each of these locations, surgical techs earn a median salary exceeding $60,000 per year.

Additionally, the national median wage for surgical techs nearly reaches $50,000 annually. Often bolstered by experience and specialized knowledge, the top 10% earn over $73,000 per year.

Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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