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Becoming a Surgical Technician: Surgical Tech Career Information

How to become a surgical technician

What is a Surgical Technician?

Surgical techs, aka scrubs (amongst other terms like surg tech and O.R tech), work in operating rooms as part of the surgical team. Before surgeries, the surgical technologist will prepare the operating room by creating a sterile environment, set up the tools and equipment, and help the doctors and nurses change into their operating garments.

During active surgery, the surgical tech will handle equipment, watch the monitors, and position the patient, all while maintaining that sterile environment necessary to surgeries. After the surgery is complete, surgical technologists have to clean the operating room and replace the equipment used, store the equipment, and shut down the operating room, leaving it ready to go for the next operation. A surgical technologist may also be asked to bandage the patient, post-surgery.

The team a surgical technician is part of includes the anesthesiologist, circulation nurse, registered nurses, and the surgeon. But basically, the surgeon is their boss unless otherwise stated either through state or hospital regulations.

Find a surgical tech program near you.

Qualities of a Successful Surgical Tech

  • Team Player: As a surgical technologist, you’re part of a team. For those surgical operations to run smoothly, you need to work effectively alongside the rest of the team.
  • Calm, cool, and collected: If high stress stresses you out, then you may not want to even set foot in an operating room. Surgery is stressful on those performing the procedures, so you need to try to maintain a calming presence.
  • Communication skills are top notch: Operating rooms don’t allow much time for a question and answer match. You need to be able to communicate, as well as comprehend, and respond effectively.
  • Strong stomach: You’re in an operating room. Sometimes, it can be a little bloody and gory. Throwing up and fainting from gruesome sights is frowned upon, especially in the operating room.
  • Can deal well with the unexpected: Day to day, a surgical technologist has vastly different experiences. You need to be able to roll with the changes, think quickly, adjust accordingly, and perform with or without instruction.
  • Eager to learn: You’re working with surgeons and nurses who have a bit more experience than you (most often but not always), take those opportunities to learn from them and apply that information to your daily work.
  • Work ethic: There are a lot of people relying on your presence in the operating room, as well as the hospital. To succeed as a surgical technologist, you must have a love of your job and a strong work ethic.

How to Become a Surgical Tech

High school students who are contemplating a career as a surgical technologist can get a head start by focusing on science classes such as chemistry and biology, computer technology courses, and basic math like algebra and geometry. Having an in-depth background in those classes will prepare you for the college or trade school curriculum, and also for the actual career.

To be accepted into any surgical technologist program, you must be 18 and have your high school diploma or GED. In some instances, the surgical technologist programs require a minimum of a 2.5 high school grade point average.

To work as a surgical technologist, you have needed either a certificate or diploma from an accredited surgical technology program through a trade school or community college. The Commission should accredit programs by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). An accredited program may not be a prerequisite to getting a job as a surgical technologist but it could create problems when trying to get certifications.

Diploma Programs: Diploma programs take about one year to complete and have anywhere between 37-49 credit hours. Classes can either be done on campus or through an accredited online course. With a diploma program, you focus only on the courses specific to surgical technology; there are no general education requirements.

Associate Degree Programs: Associate’s degree programs take two years if you attend on a full-time basis. To get into an associate’s degree program for surgical technology, you must have a high school diploma or GED and carry a cumulative GPA of 2.5. In an associate’s program, the curriculum includes around 32 credits of general education courses, plus 60 core class credit hours.

Diploma/Certificate Program

Associate’s Degree Program

One Year

Two years w/full-time attendance

37-49 Credit Hours

45-92 Credit Hours

$5,450-$16,500

$16,048-$43,350


Classes in a Surgical Tech Program

The main difference between surgical tech schools that offer diplomas and associate degree programs, aside from the time it takes to complete them, is the fact that associate’s degree programs include general education courses such as math, English, social studies, and electives. Whereas, diploma programs go right to the nitty gritty and focus specifically on the courses that are relevant to the surgical technologist career.

Both types of surgical tech programs include clinical experience which will give students the opportunity to do rotations in a variety of surgical settings. This will include experience in specialties such as dentistry, orthopedics, and vascular.

Associate’s degree program courses go more in-depth into many topics because there is more time to do so.

Courses Required

Diploma/Certificate Program

Associate’s Degree

Anatomy and Physiology I and II

Computer app and business system

Microbiology for Surgical techs

Career development

Intro to Surgical Terminology

Medical terminology

Surgical Pharmacology

Human anatomy and physiology I, II

Surgical Procedures I and II

Surgical Procedures I, II, III

Clinical Practice I and II

Surgical Tech Practicum I, II, III

Medical Terminology

Surgical Theories I,II,III

Clinical I, II, III: Surgical Tech/Technology

Surgical Microbiology

Intro to Computer Systems

National Certification Exam Prep


Surgical Tech Certifications

Certification is not a hiring requirement for surgical technologists. However, more employers are starting to look for certified candidates, so it is highly recommended to get a certification, particularly because surgical technology is becoming competitive.

Both exams must be renewed every four years, and there are continuing education requirements that must be met to be eligible for the surgical technician certification renewal.

  • National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows students who graduated from an accredited surgical technology program to sit for the Certified Surgical Technologist exam. The fee exam varies. It is $190 for Association of Surgical Technologist (AST) members and $290 for non-members if you are taking the certification exam for the first time. Renewing the certification will cost anywhere between $399 and $499. Membership for the AST is $45 for students and $80 for working surgical technologists. To be certified, you must graduate from a certified training program and pass the certification exam.
  • National Center for Competency Testing costs between $155-$195, and applications will be valid one year after submission. This certification exam is nationally recognized. For current graduates of accredited surgical technology programs, you will need proof of high school graduation or a GED, along with a copy of your school diploma or degree, or an official school transcript.

Difference Between Surgical Tech & Surgical Assistant

When it comes to surgical tech and surgical assistant careers, there is some confusion regarding their differences. Some seem to assume surgical technology and surgical assistance are interchangeable when, in fact, they have completely different training and job requirements.

Surgical technologists, aka surgical techs, prepare the doctor’s, medical staff, and the operating room for surgery. They may also get the patient ready by transporting them to and from the operating room and preparing the area on the body where surgery will be performed.

Surgical assistants assist the surgeon while they are performing the surgery. A surgical assistant may hold the open the incision while the doctor operates, they suction and swab the blood to keep the surgical area clean, and they assist with sutures to close surgical incisions. The surgical assistant is part of the sterile surgical team who is prepared by the surgical technologist and is not permitted to leave the operating room before the surgery.

The surgical assistant is usually a registered nurse who has additional training in surgical assisting, which lasts 10-22 months. The minimum requirements for surgical assistant training are either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in a related field, three years of experience in allied healthcare, and three years experience in the operating room. Depending on the range of experience, surgical assistants make average salaries of $75,000 to over $200,000 annually.


Surgical Tech Jobs

The demand for surgical techs expected to grow by 12 percent through 2026. To put this number into perspective, the average job growth for professions is between five and seven percent. So, surgical technology is a rapidly growing field with plenty of job prospects. But, keep in mind, as the employment outlook grows, more people will enter surgical technology fields and it will create a highly competitive job market. Job prospects will be greater if you have went through an accredited program and have a certification.

Part of the reason behind the growth in surgical technician careers is the fact that as medicine advances, surgery becomes safer so more operations are performed. Also, as the baby-boomers age, it will increase the need for operations, thus increasing the need for surgical technicians being hired.

States with Highest Level Of Surgical Tech Employment

State

Employment

Salary

Texas

10,800

$46,330

California

9,750

$59,490

Florida

6,940

$42,350

New York

5,560

$52,380

Ohio

4,050

$42,060

Industries With Highest Level Of Surgical Technology Jobs

Industry type

Employment

Salary

General Medical and Surgical Hospitals

73,540

$46,310

Offices of Physicians

12,170

$47,770

Outpatient Care Centers

11,390

$48,410

Offices of Dentists

3,820

$44,570

Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals

1,330

$49,320

Surgical Tech Salary

Surgical Techs usually work full-time positions, and it’s not uncommon to be scheduled for odd hours, nights, weekends, and holidays. After all, things happen and hospitals are a 24/7 operation.

The median annual salary for surgical technologists is $45,160. The top 10% earn close to $65,000 per year while those in the lower 10%, or newbies, will bring in under $32,000. However, salary is heavily reliant on such factors as geographic location and the employing industry.

Top Paying Industries

Industry

Annual Median Salary

Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories

$61,300

Employment Services

$52,500

Other Ambulatory Health Care Services

$51,670

Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools

$51,290

Specialty (except Psych and Substance Abuse) Hospitals

$49,320

Top Paying States

State

Annual average Salary

Nevada

$60,640

California

$59,490

District of Columbia

$55,240

Alaska

$55,200

Washington

$55,000