What Does a Surgical Tech Do?

If you want to be part of the action in an operating room and aren't squeamish, consider becoming a surgical technologist. 

Surgical technologists — also called surgical techs, operating room (OR) techs or scrub techs — are critical members of a surgical team. They work with the surgeon, anesthesiologist and circulating nurse. 

Surgical techs prepare the operating room before the surgery takes place. They arrange medical equipment and assist doctors during surgical procedures, and they ensure that the room is organized and sterile after the surgery is done. 

Many surgery techs are generalists who assist with routine operations as well as emergency procedures. Others specialize in surgical areas, such as organ transplants, orthopedics or cardiology.

These medical specialists are often the first to arrive in the OR and the last to leave. Their attention to detail is critical for success.

If this fast-paced career sounds like a good fit for you, keep reading to learn more about what it takes to become a surgical tech.

$ 39,600 - $ 75,000
$ 55,500
A surgical technologist works in an operating room with the surgical team
Employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow 6% from 2021 to 2031. (Credit: UfaBizPhoto/Shutterstock)

Job Responsibilities

  • Prepare the operating room for surgery
  • Maintain a sterile environment 
  • Pass instruments and other supplies to surgeon during surgery
  • Set up robotic surgical equipment (if applicable)
  • Count and keep track of all surgical instruments during and after surgery
  • Take inventory of supplies
  • Maintain records of procedures

How To Become a Surgical Tech: FAQs

What steps do I need to take?

Becoming a surgical technologist requires higher education beyond high school. There are several paths to get there. 

Many community colleges, vocational schools, universities and hospitals offer accredited surgical technology programs. Students typically earn a certificate, diploma or an associate degree. 

Program courses will include anatomy, microbiology, physiology, medical terminology, safety and sterilization protocols, patient care and infection control. Surgical tech programs of any length also include supervised, hands-on training in a hospital or another clinical setting.

Look for programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Surgical techs who want to advance their healthcare careers have several options. Some go on to become surgical first assistants, who are one step higher in the surgery room hierarchy. Techs may also become licensed practical nurses (LPN/LVNs) or registered nurses. (All types of nurses are always in demand.)

Are there any other qualifications?

Certification isn’t required in most states, but it’s a way to make sure employers know you’ve mastered a broad range of skills. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) offers certifications and renewals. 

Students who have completed an accredited surgical technologist program must pass an exam to earn their Certified Surgical Technologists (CST) credential. Those who have served in the military can also earn certification through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). Those who want to advance can take the Certified Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) examination. 

Several states require surgical techs to be licensed or registered. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) keeps track of surgical tech legislation. Check your state licensing agency for details. 

Most employers also require that techs earn certification in CPR.

How long does it take to become a surgical tech?

Certificate programs take from several months to one year to complete. Associate degree programs take two years. 

Continuing education is ongoing.

Where do surgical techs work?

Surgical technologists work in hospitals, doctors’ and dentists’ offices, and some outpatient care centers.

Is there a demand for surgical technologists?

The job outlook for surgical techs is bright. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 6% employment growth from 2021 to 2031. 

Baby boomers still make up a large percentage of the population. They are aging, but they are living longer as medical technology has made more surgeries routine. That means the need for surgical techs will continue to grow.

What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

Successful surgical techs often share these traits: 

  • Good listening and communication skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Able to maintain focus 
  • Good dexterity
  • Calm under pressure
  • Able to stand for long periods of time
The bottom line:

If you want to be in a fast-paced hospital career, this job will get you there without spending time and money to earn a bachelor’s degree. This often overlooked position is a hidden opportunity for someone with the right skills. If you’re interested in taking the next step, check out the training programs offered by SkillPointe’s partners. 

Why Becoming a Surgical Tech Is Worthwhile

'My favorite part about my job is knowing that you are making a difference in someone’s life,' said surgical technologist Shana Frazee.

Why Becoming a Surgical Tech Is Worthwhile

To learn about healthcare careers, Shana Frazee took a job in hospital housekeeping so she could see what happened in the different departments. She shadowed a doctor and soon learned about surgical technology.

“I had never heard of one before, but I instantly became interested in the position,” she says.

She trained to become a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) and has been loving this fast-paced role ever since.

Learn more about this satisfying job that keeps the surgery room running smoothly.

Surgical Technologist Training in Your Area

Hutchinson Community College logo

Surgical Technology, A.A.S.

Hutchinson Community College
Hutchinson (138.4 Miles)

A.A.S. Surgical Technology

Metropolitan Community College (MO)
Kansas City (149.7 Miles)
Oklahoma City Community College logo

Surgical Technology, A.A.S.

Oklahoma City Community College
Oklahoma City (156.7 Miles)
North Arkansas College logo

Surgical Technology, A.A.S.

North Arkansas College
Harrison (157.4 Miles)
North Arkansas College logo

Surgical Technology Certificate

North Arkansas College
Harrison (157.4 Miles)
University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College logo

Surgical Technology, A.A.S.

University of Arkansas - Pulaski Technical College
North Little Rock (248.8 Miles)
Des Moines Area Community College logo

Surgical Technology Diploma

Des Moines Area Community College
Ankey (338.2 Miles)
Northeast Community College logo

Surgical Technology, A.A.S.

Northeast Community College
Norfolk (354.2 Miles)
Western Iowa Tech Community College logo

Surgical Technology, A.A.S

Western Iowa Tech Community College
Sioux City (374.1 Miles)
McCann School of Business and Technology logo

Surgical Technology

McCann School of Business and Technology - Monroe
Monroe (376.1 Miles)
Lincoln Land Community College

Surgical Technology, A.A.S.

Lincoln Land Community College
Springfield (376.9 Miles)
Lincoln Land Community College

Central Sterile Service Technician

Lincoln Land Community College
Springfield (376.9 Miles)