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.
- 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
- Able to maintain focus
- Good dexterity
- Calm under pressure
- Able to stand for long periods of time