Learn how to become a surgical tech, including details about education, certification, and essential skills for new surgical technologists.
Surgical technologists, also known as operating room technicians, surgical techs, or scrub techs, work alongside surgeons and the rest of the healthcare team before, during, and after a surgical procedure.
Surgical techs are the 19th highest paying job without a degree and the 24th best health care support job, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Surgical tech programs are typically completed in 12-24 months and can serve as an excellent entry point into other healthcare careers such as registered nurse or physician assistant.
If you’re thinking about becoming a surgical technologist, keep reading to learn what they do, how to become one, how much they make, and more.
Steps to Becoming a Surgical Technologist
It takes anywhere from 12 to 24 months (after graduating from high school) to become a surgical technologist.
Many practicing surgical techs chose to obtain an associate’s degree from a community college or technical school.
Two-year degree programs with a concentration on surgical technology can provide a strong foundation for the career, and many programs include some hands-on experience as part of their degree completion requirements.
While there are a few different pathways that a student can take to become a surgical tech, the basic steps to tackling this career are virtually the same.
1. Graduate from High School (Four Years)
First, students should earn a high school diploma or GED.
This is a prerequisite for most post-secondary surgical technologist programs.
High school students who want to pursue this career should take courses in biology, anatomy, and hard sciences in order to prepare for college-level courses.
Pursuing an internship at a local hospital is also recommended to gain general experience in a healthcare environment.
2. Earn an Associate Degree or Garner the Equivalent Experience (Two Years)
Aspiring surgical technologists should enroll in an accredited training program at a community college.
Alternatively, professional training options are available through US military medical programs, which provide surgical training that can be completed in 12 to 14 weeks.
When choosing programs, students are advised to verify that their program is accredited from a proper agency, such as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
Graduates from schools without proper accreditation may not be eligible for certification exams.
3. Get Hands-on Professional Experience (Timeline Varies)
While completing an educational program, it is recommended to get as much hands-on training as possible, through internships, job shadowing, or other means.
These experiences can make a huge difference in practical knowledge as well as professional connections when it comes time to search for a job.
4. Prepare for Certification Exams (Timeline Varies)
After graduation, graduates should prepare for one of the national certification exams through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (details in the following section).
While not all states require certification, having it shows commitment to the profession and greatly increases the likelihood of finding a job.
The exam can be completed in one day, but students should allow approximately three months for their application to be approved and to set a date for the exam.
More information about surgical technologist certification is detailed in the next section.
5. Apply for Jobs (Timeline Varies)
Graduates are prepared to find entry-level surgical technologist positions once certified.
According to the BLS, hospitals employ more than 70% of surgical technologists, with the remainder working in physician and dental offices (BLS 2019).
School career counselors can also help you find work.
A professional organization, such as the Association of Surgical Assistants (ASA) or the National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA), can also provide professional networking opportunities and access to job postings.