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 nondegree award or an associate’s degree. Certification can be beneficial in finding a job. 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 the equivalent.
Surgical technology education includes courses in anatomy, physiology, 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.
Surgical first assistants may complete a formal education program in surgical assisting. Others may work as surgical technologists and receive additional on-the-job training before becoming first assistants.
In 2016, there were about 500 surgical technologist programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
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 provide needed equipment quickly.
Integrity. Because they are trusted to provide sterile supplies and quality patient care during surgical procedures, surgical technologists must be ethical and honest.
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 work well under pressure while providing a high level of care.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Certification can be beneficial in finding a job. Surgical technologists may earn certification through 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 or TS-C (NCCT).” Applicants may qualify through formal education, military training, or work experience. All require documenting critical skills and passing an exam.
Both certifications require surgical technologists to complete continuing education to maintain their certification.
In addition, many jobs require technologists to become certified in CPR or basic life support (BLS), or both.
A small number of states have regulations governing the work of surgical technologists or surgical first assistants, or both.
The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting, the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants, 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 registered nurse. Advancement to other healthcare occupations would usually require additional education, training, and/or certifications or licenses. A technologist may also choose to become a postsecondary teacher of health specialties.