You don't have to be a superhero to save lives. You could work in health care instead. If you want to be on the front lines of curing disease and healing injuries, consider a career as a surgical technician. What does a surgical tech do exactly? They often have the following job duties:
- Preparing operating rooms and sterilizing surgical equipment.
- Readying patients for surgery by washing and disinfecting incision sites.
- Assisting surgeons during operations by handing over instruments and other supplies.
- Accounting for surgical supplies, such as sponges and instruments, during a procedure.
- Maintaining a sterile operating room.
How to Become a Surgical Technologist
Surgical technicians can go by different names. They may be called surgical technologists or operating room technicians. However, no matter what they are called, they all follow roughly the same path to their job:
- Earn a high school diploma or GED.
- Understand state licensure requirements. Some states have surgical technician certification or education requirements. Check with your state's licensing board to see if and how this occupation is regulated in your state. Surgical tech schools may be able to help you find this information as well.
- Complete a surgical technician program. You'll need a career diploma, certificate or associate degree for most surgical technologist jobs. If your state regulates surgical technicians, be sure your program meets their requirements.
- Earn a surgical technician certification. Earning a professional credential is a good way to show employers you know how to do the job right.
Part of learning how to become a surgical technologist is understanding the following subjects, all of which are typically covered by surgical tech schools:
- Medical terminology
- Instrument sterilization techniques
Surgical Technology Degrees and Certificates
How long does it take to become a surgical technician? It depends on the type of program you choose. There are several ways you can meet surgical technician education requirements. The option that is right for you will depend on your long-term career goals and your state's requirements:
- Diploma/Certificate: Diplomas and certificates are different names for essentially the same level of education. Both can be earned in about a year and teach all the information and skills a surgical technician must know. A diploma or certificate may be best for those who want to enter the workforce quickly and don't expect to continue their education later.
- Associate Degree: An associate degree in surgical technology can be completed in as little as 18 months at schools offering accelerated programs. An associate degree may include some general education classes and provide additional opportunities for hands-on instruction. Some credits from an associate degree may be transferred toward a bachelor's degree, making this level of education a good choice for anyone who may want to eventually go back to school.
Surgical Tech Schools
There are nearly 400 surgical technology programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. These are offered by community colleges, technical schools and even some hospitals. While there are surgical tech programs online, they usually are hybrid programs that have some on-campus requirements.
A few fully online programs are open to those who already have hands-on experience in the field or who previously graduated from an unaccredited program and need to attend an accredited school to be eligible for a surgical technician certification. These programs may be labeled as an accelerated alternate delivery pathway.
Surgical Technician Certification and Licensure
More than a dozen states regulate surgical technologists in some way although only three -- Colorado, North Dakota and Washington -- require technicians to register prior to beginning work. However, that might change. The Association of Surgical Technologists has been encouraging state legislators to pass laws requiring technicians graduate from an accredited program and become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).
The CST is administered by The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. It is one of two main surgical tech certifications available. The other one is offered by the National Center for Competency Testing and results in the Tech in Surgery - Certified designation, also known as TS-C (NCCT). Both certification programs require applicants pay a fee and pass an exam, but they have different education requirements. The CST is generally only available to those who have graduated from an accredited surgical technician program while the TS-C offers certification options for students, military members and those with previous work experience.
Career Advancement for Surgical Technologists
Surgical technicians can advance their careers in several ways. With experience or additional education, they may become surgical first assistants. These workers play a greater role in operations.
Other technicians may go to become nurses or other health care professionals. Some may find work at surgical tech schools as instructors.
Program Costs and Financial Aid
Skills and Qualities for Surgical Technologists
Surgical techs need to have certain skills and abilities to be successful in their work. These include the following:
- Management of Material Resources: It's usually up to a surgical technologist to keep track of instruments and supplies during operations, a skill known as the management of material resources.
- Active Listening: Technologists must be attentive so they correctly follow instructions before, during and after an operation.
- Coordination: This skill is useful for technologists to quickly hand instruments to a surgeon.
- Manual Dexterity: Along with coordination, manual dexterity helps surgical techs grasp, handle and pass instruments and other supplies.
- Speech Recognition: To be successful, a technologist needs to understand what a surgeon is saying during a procedure.
Career Outlook and Salary Information for Surgical Technologists
How much does a surgical technician make? The answer may depend on where they work, how much experience they have and whether they are certified. However, the numbers below offer a look at the average surgical technician salary. They also give a glimpse of expected job growth for this career nationwide. Like income, your career outlook can depend on factors such as experience, education and geographic location.
Projected Job Growth
Professional Resources for Surgical Technologists
If you plan to become a surgical technologist, you'll want to know about the following organizations.
- Association of Surgical Technologists - Established in 1969, AST is the oldest professional organization for surgical technologists and also one of the most widely recognized. It represents more than 80,000 technologists and advocates on behalf of the profession in all 50 states.
- The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting - Known as the NBSTSA, this organization was established in 1974 and administers the Certified Surgical Technologist credential.
- Foundation for Surgical Technology - The Foundation for Surgical Technology offers scholarships to students. Since its inception in 1999, more than $310,000 in financial assistance has been awarded.