How To Become a Surgical Technician (With Helpful FAQS)
Updated June 8, 2023
Surgical technicians are essential to the surgical team as they help prepare operating rooms (ORs), maintain surgical instruments and assist physicians and nurses during surgical operations. If this sounds interesting to you, learn about the specific education and additional training to help prepare yourself for the health care role. Understanding the requirements and daily duties of a surgical tech may help determine if this is the career path for you and your interests.
In this article, we discuss what a surgical tech is, their primary duties, steps on how to become a surgical technician and various specializations.
What is a surgical technician?
A surgical technician or tech, also known as a surgical technologist, operating room technician or scrub, assists surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses and other medical experts with surgical procedures. Generally, these individuals perform various tasks and assist the surgical team throughout the three stages of surgeries to help provide safe, sterile procedures for patients, which are:
What does a surgical tech do?
A surgical tech's job responsibilities can vary based on their employer or specialty, but their tasks may involve:
Sterilize and organize operating tools and equipment, including any medications or sterile solution
Ensure the equipment is working before surgery
Transfer the patient to and from the OR
Prep the operating room and the patient for surgery, such as sterilizing the incision sites
Check the patient's medical charts and records before surgery to ensure accuracy
Monitor equipment and pass operating tools to the surgeon during surgery
Assist during surgery by using tools to hold organs in place or clasp retractors
Clean the patient and the operating table post-surgery
Help with a patient's dressings or bandages
Dispose of all leftover materials in the operating room properly
Restock the OR
How to become a surgical technician
Here are four steps to become a surgical technician:
1. Earn a high school diploma or GED
A high school degree or equivalent, such as a GED diploma, is typically the minimum educational requirement for surgical tech programs. While in high school, you can prepare for postsecondary work by taking science and health courses, such as biology, chemistry and anatomy.
During high school, it can also be helpful to pursue internships at local hospitals or outpatient centers to help you learn more about surgical technicians and gain experience in a health care setting.
2. Complete a surgical technologist programs
After high school, enroll in a postsecondary surgical technology program at your local community college, university or vocational school. Generally, these programs award students a clinical associate degree, certificate or diploma. Depending on your program choice, it may take between 12 and 24 months to complete. When researching degree programs, seek ones with accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), which meet industry standards to allow you to pursue certifications after graduating.
Many surgical tech programs combine classroom learning with hands-on experience in a clinical setting. During your training, you learn about surgical operations, procedures and surgical tools and their use. Some subjects you may study in the program include:
Human anatomy and physiology
Patient safety and care
3. Get certified and pursue additional training
Some states require surgical technologists to become certified before they can practice. Even if your state doesn't have this requirement, earning a certification can show employers your expertise and commitment to the field. There are two main certifications surgical techs can pursue:
Certified Surgical Technologist (CST): The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) offers this certification. It requires you to complete an accredited program, provide proof of graduation and pass a credentialing exam.
Tech in Surgery–Certified (TS-C): The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) administers this credential. To earn this certification, you're required to meet the education or experience requirements and pass a national certification exam.
Both certification exams assess your theoretical and practical knowledge and evaluate your competency as a medical specialist. After obtaining certification, renew it on time by completing continuing education credits and minimizing disruption to your career. Keeping your credentials current can help you remain up-to-date on new processes and best practices in the surgical field. You can pursue career development courses, workshops and conferences to stay up-to-date with the latest advancements and techniques to advance your career.
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
4. Apply for surgical tech positions
Once you complete your education and training, apply for surgical tech positions at clinics, outpatient centers, doctor's offices, surgical facilities or hospitals. Prepare a cover letter and resume highlighting your education, certification, clinical experience and relevant skills. Review job descriptions to customize your document for each job and to align with the employer's requirements or desired qualifications for its preferred candidates. Additionally, use keywords or phrases from job postings on your resume to pass applicant tracking systems (ATS).
You can also apply for internships to gain clinical experience before applying for surgical tech roles. In addition, networking with other medical specialists may help you find jobs and learn valuable skills to apply in your position.
Specializations for surgical technicians
While many surgical technicians work in general surgery, they can also assist in various surgical specializations. There are 14 surgical specialties as recognized by the American College of Surgeons:
Colon and rectal surgery
Gynecology and obstetrics
Oral and maxillofacial surgery
Plastic and maxillofacial surgery
Frequently asked questions
What's the work environment like for surgical techs?
Many surgical techs spend their careers working in hospital ORs. Others may work in outpatient care centers or private practices with doctors who perform outpatient surgery. They wear sterile clothing, such as scrubs, in the operating room. Typically, scrubs include long, thin robes, latex gloves and surgical masks.
During their shifts, surgical techs may stand for extended periods, especially when assisting with surgeries. They're often the first member of the surgical team to begin working in the OR and be the last to leave. Surgical technologists also interact regularly with critically ill or injured patients.
What's the difference between a surgical technician and a surgical assistant?
The difference between these two occupations is that a surgical assistant, also known as a surgical first assistant, helps the surgeons, nurses and other medical experts during the surgery. They create incisions, maneuvers clamps and other tools and close incisions or surgical sites.
Surgical techs, in contrast, prepare the OR for the surgery before the medical experts arrive, and they can help the surgeon and surgical assistant. A surgical tech seeking to become a surgical first assistant requires having at least seven years of OR experience, obtaining the educational requirements, completing an accredited surgical first assistant program and passing a national certification exam.
What is the salary and job outlook for surgical technicians?
The national average salary of a surgical tech is $111,622 per year. Your earnings may vary based on your location, experience, employer and education. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% employment growth for surgical assistants and technologists between 2021 and 2031. This growth rate is about average with many occupations in the U.S. You may expect about 9,600 annual job opportunities for this position.
What are the required soft skills for a surgical technician?
Surgical technicians use soft and hard or technical skills to complete their job tasks efficiently. Some soft skills for these medical specialists include:
Teamwork: Everyone in an operating room has a specific role, and surgical technicians may collaborate with nurses and surgeons, anesthesiologists and others to ensure a successful surgery.
Communication and interpersonal skills: Surgical technicians actively listen to others in the OR and provide information quickly and accurately, while also use their verbal communication skills when interacting with surgeons, patients and family members.
Attention to detail: These health care specialists use their attention to detail skills to ensure they're keeping patients and staff members safe, which includes sterilizing medical tools.
Ability to work under pressure: Emergency surgeries often require staff to react quickly to unexpected events and remain composed. Completing a surgery successfully requires surgical techs to remain focused and engaged.
Dexterity: A surgical technician's manual dexterity can help them assist the surgical team by performing tasks accurately and with as little delay as possible. They use dexterity to execute procedures and tasks precisely to help achieve successful surgical outcomes.
Professionalism: As health care specialists, surgical technicians uphold high standards of professionalism and ethical behavior, such as adhering to a code of conduct for health care and the specific employer.
What are some technical skills these technicians use?
Other technical skills, abilities and characteristics for this role can include:
Vital sign knowledge
Acute patient care
Basic life support
Intensive care unit (ICU) experience
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being a surgical technician?
With many occupations, you can experience several advantages and disadvantages of being a surgical or operating room technician. Some benefits include enjoying a lucrative career with steady job growth while spending less time in the classroom to earn the credentials. You can also help make a difference in someone's life, like the patient and their loved ones, by educating relatives, assisting in the surgery and providing comfort to the patient throughout all surgical stages. Additionally, you have the opportunity to advance in this position, such as becoming a first surgical assistant.
The disadvantages you may encounter include having long days while standing for the majority of it and completing stressful work. This role may also come with stressful or emotional days. To help with these challenges, take time for self-care before and after work and take breaks during the day when you can.
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