How to Become a Surgical Tech: Step-by-Step Career Guide

November 11, 2022

The operating room is a world of precision, collaboration, and life-changing events. It is the intersection of the art and science of medicine, and skilled professionals play a critical role in ensuring that surgeries are performed safely and effectively.

If you’ve ever been fascinated by the fast-paced world of surgery and dreamt of being an integral part of it, then the journey to becoming a Surgical Technologist may be the path for you.

In this comprehensive guide, we will take you through the intricate steps, the demanding training, and the rewarding experiences that come with pursuing a career as a Surgical Tech. Whether you’re a high school graduate exploring your options, a healthcare enthusiast looking for a career change, or someone driven by a deep passion for surgical procedures, this blog is your key to unlocking the door to the operating room.

What is a Surgical Technologist?

Surgical technologists, also called scrub techs, operating room technicians, or surgical technicians, ensure that surgical procedures proceed smoothly and efficiently.

The duties of a surgical tech include:

  • Preparing the operating room for surgery.
  • Ensuring a sterile environment.
  • Preparing the patient.
  • Assisting the rest of the surgical team during the procedure.
  • Cleaning and restocking the operating room after the surgery.

What Do Surgical Technologists Do?

Surgical techs work closely with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals during a surgical procedure and have several responsibilities before, during, and after an operation.

Scope of Practice

A surgical tech must complete several tasks as they work alongside the rest of the surgical team within the operating room. The primary responsibilities of a surgical tech can be divided into three stages: preoperative or before the surgery, intraoperative or during the surgery, and postoperative or after the surgery.

Preoperative duties include:

  • Ensuring a sterile environment in the operating room.
  • Prepping the patient.
  • Ensuring that all the necessary surgical tools are in order and sterilized.

Intraoperative duties include:

  • Keeping the area sterile throughout the surgery.
  • Handing surgical equipment to the surgeon.
  • Assisting the rest of the team as instructed.

Postoperative duties include:

  • Gathering all the surgical tools and equipment used during the surgery.
  • Restocking the operating room.
  • Disposing of used needles, gauze, and other medical waste.
  • Applying dressings.
  • Moving the patient to the recovery room.


Although most surgical techs usually work in general surgery and play a role in various procedures, they can specialize in a specific surgical field. Specializations for surgical techs include orthopedics, cardiology, organ transplantation, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, and pediatric surgery.

Work Setting

Surgical technologists perform their duties in various medical settings like hospital operating rooms, outpatient facilities, and physicians’ practices. The job can get physically and mentally demanding as they must maintain focus in a high-pressure environment, multitask, and remain standing for extended periods.
Surgical techs usually work full-time and may be required to work night shifts or on weekends and also be on-call.

The Path to Becoming a Surgical Tech

This section will clearly depict the journey ahead as you acquire the qualifications and certifications necessary to build a career as a surgical technologist. You can embark on this path after graduating high school or earning a GED.

Sign Up for an Accredited Surgical Technologist Program

The first step to becoming a surgical tech is completing a surgical technology course or program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Such programs are available at several community colleges, junior colleges, universities, vocational schools, hospitals, and even within the military. Typically, completing an associate degree in surgical technology takes approximately two years, whereas a certificate program can be completed in about a year.

Acquire Practical Hands-On Experience 

Getting a fair amount of hands-on training before you attempt the certification examination is advisable. This can be achieved through an internship or shadowing qualified surgical techs as they do their duties. Doing this will give you practical knowledge about your chosen field and help you forge professional connections that may be useful when it’s time to secure a job.

Get Certified and Apply for a License To Practice in Your State

Getting certified proves that you have successfully completed a surgical technology training program and possess the knowledge, skills, and experience to secure employment in the field. As an aspiring surgical tech, you have two avenues to getting certified.

CST Certification

The Certified Surgical Technician (CST) certification is valid for two years. After this period, surgical techs must earn 30 continuing education credits through supplementary courses, lectures, or conferences to renew their certification. These courses or programs must be Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) approved.

To apply for the CST examination, you must submit a copy of your graduation certificate, transcript, and a notarized letter with details of your surgical tech degree on the institution’s letterhead from where you earned your degree.

 NCCT Certification

The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) certification is valid for a period of one year and can be renewed by earning 14 continuing education credits and paying a $77 fee. These credits can be earned through NCCT or, optionally, through various other official organizations.

However, NCCT will audit the credits earned through other organizations.
To apply for the NCCT certification, submit your surgical technology program diploma and a certificate from the institution or transcript.

Surgical Technologist Skills and Temperament

A surgical technologist’s job can be physically as well as mentally challenging. Schedules are incredibly demanding, and the work environment is highly stressful. Having the mental fortitude to focus on the task while managing multiple responsibilities under tremendous pressure is necessary to succeed as a surgical tech. Good communication skills are a must, as are the physical fitness and stamina required to work long hours and the skill to appropriately handle and manipulate various surgical tools.

Career Prospects and Salary Outlook for Surgical Technicians

The job outlook for surgical technicians is generally favorable, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 5% growth in job opportunities over the coming decade, with 8,600 new openings each year. This is higher than all occupations’ 3% average projected growth rate. As of 2022, the annual median salary for surgical techs in the United States was just over $56,000, which is sufficiently higher than the $46,310 median yearly wage for all workers in the country.

Regarding career progression, it is common for surgical technicians to get certified as first surgical assistants or registered nurses. Others choose to shift to roles in central supply departments within hospitals or positions with manufacturers or suppliers of surgical equipment.


Although surgical technicians operate in the shadows, their role is crucial. Surgical technicians oversee various duties from the beginning of the surgical procedure to the end. They pay attention to the medical procedure, check off the items on the checklist, and guarantee a successful operation.

Surgical tech is the path to take if you desire a profession that needs significant responsibility and a variety of talents. You can work in the healthcare industry without the extensive education required of a doctor or a nurse.

The surgical technology degree program at NEIT offers you an opportunity to enter this exciting and fast-paced career. Our program provides a 160-hour surgical lab simulation and a 20-week clinical internship for a real-world experience.


Can you be a surgical tech without sitting through a certification examination?

Certain states do not require that you have a certification to start working as a surgical tech. However, several employers prefer hiring certified candidates, even in these states.

What are the educational prerequisites for becoming a surgical technologist?

Before becoming a surgical technologist, you must graduate from high school or earn a GED and have completed an accredited educational program.

How long does it typically take to become a certified surgical technologist?

Depending on the program you select, it can take between one and two years to become a certified surgical technologist.