How to Become a Surgical Technologist
Surgical technologists work as members of a healthcare team alongside physicians and surgeons, registered nurses, and other healthcare workers.
Surgical technologists typically need a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. Certification can be beneficial in finding a job as a surgical technologist. A small number of states regulate surgical technologists.
Surgical technologists typically need postsecondary education. Many community colleges and vocational schools, as well as some universities and hospitals, have accredited programs in surgical technology. Programs range in length from several months to 2 years, and they grant a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree upon completion. Admission typically requires a high school diploma or GED.
Surgical technology education includes courses in anatomy, biology, medical terminology, pharmacology, and other topics. Surgical technologists are trained in the care and safety of patients, sterilization techniques, how to set up technical or robotic equipment, and preventing and controlling infections. In addition to classroom study, students also work in supervised clinical settings to gain hands-on experience.
In 2012, about 500 surgical technologist training programs were accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).
First surgical assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as a surgical technologist and receive additional on-the-job training before becoming a first assistant.
Detail oriented. Surgical technologists must pay close attention to their work at all times. For example, they need to provide the correct sterile equipment for surgeons during an operation.
Dexterity. Surgical technologists should be comfortable working with their hands. They must be able to provide the needed equipment quickly.
Integrity. Surgical technologists must have integrity, as they are trusted to provide sterile supplies and quality patient care during surgical procedures.
Physical stamina. Surgical technologists should be comfortable standing for extended periods.
Stress-management skills. Working in an operating room can be stressful. Surgical technologists should be able to work well under pressure while providing a high level of care.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Certification can be beneficial in finding a job as a surgical technologist. Surgical technologists may earn certification through two credentialing organizations.
Certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting allows the use of the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).” Certification typically requires completing an accredited formal education program or military training program and passing an exam.
Certification through the National Center for Competency Testing allows the use of the title “Tech in Surgery-Certified (NCCT).” An applicant must pass an exam and have taken one of several routes to be eligible. These routes include formal education, military training, or work experience, among others.
Both certifications require surgical technologists to complete continuing education to maintain their certification.
A small number of states have regulations governing the work of surgical technologists. In these areas, surgical technologists must have graduated from an accredited education program and earned certification. Certification requirements vary by state.
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Surgical Assistant Association, and the American Board of Surgical Assistants offer certification for surgical first assistants.
Surgical technologists may choose to advance to other healthcare occupations, such as becoming a registered nurse. Technologists may also choose to become operating room managers or educators. For more information, see the profiles on medical and health services managers and postsecondary teachers.