How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Becoming a Surgical Technologist is a strong career option for anyone who would enjoy the fast-paced, lifesaving work environment of the operating room surgical team.

Surgical technologists, sometimes called surgical technicians or scrubs, usually enter the field with an associate’s degree, certificate or diploma from a medical career school, technical college or other career training institute. Here is a step-by-step guide to finding the best Surgical Tech school, getting your degree and finding employment as a Surgical Technologist.

Step 1: Finding a Surgical Tech School

This step is the easiest, since your options are usually limited to the colleges offering Surgical Tech programs in your area. Some students choose to move to a different area in order to enroll in a particular school, but this may not be necessary, since most courses are designed to make graduates ready for employment and are usually relatively equal for this purpose.

The biggest factors to consider when choosing a school are:

  • Location
  • Program Availability
  • Cost / Financial Aid Options
  • Accreditation*
  • School Reputation

* You may wish to consider the importance of enrolling in a CAAHEP-accredited program, since this accreditation is necessary for Surgical Tech certification. More on certification later.

You can get most of the key information about a school program directly from the school’s representatives, and information on accreditation can be confirmed by visiting the website of the accrediting organization. Student review sites can provide some information on student experiences.

You can see the schools available in your area by using a national school search such as this one, or by clicking any of the school search banners on this page.

Step 2: Choosing the Right Surgical Tech Degree

Your degree can have an influence on how competitive you can be in the job market. For more competitive jobs, you will be better off with an associate’s degree and certification, while in smaller job markets you may wish to spend less time and money on a certificate or diploma program.

Associate’s degree in Surgical Technology: These programs typically last from 12 to 24 months, covering general and specialized surgical procedures as well as basic medical subjects. They also cover related subjects like psychology, math and communications.

Certificate in Surgical Technology: Certificate programs are designed to add a credential to a degree you already have, so this is a good option for medical professionals who are moving into Surgical Technology from another health care field. These programs typically last around a 12 months and cover basic medical courses such as anatomy and physiology, plus general overview courses in surgical technology.

Diploma in Surgical Technology: These programs are usually designed for students without a college degree, though they often require having taken some college-level courses. Diploma programs are similar to certificate programs in that they provide a general overview of medical and surgical topics, but they also include more courses in related general topics, such as psychology and math.

Step 3: Learning the Required Course Content

Some common Surgical Technologist core courses include:

  • Anatomy
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pathology and Disease
  • Microbiology
  • Surgical Patient Care
  • Surgical Pharmacology
  • General Surgical Procedures
  • Specialty Surgical Procedures

Some programs include more general courses, providing background knowledge to make other courses easier to grasp, or providing general career skills. Some of these can include:

  • General Physiology
  • English Composition
  • Math
  • Success Strategies
  • Career Development

Step 4: Completing the Externship

Most Surgical Technician programs end with a clinical externship, where students work in a surgical setting for a period of several weeks to gain real-world experience. During the externship, students perform the duties of a Surgical Tech under the supervision of a doctor. The supervisor reports their progress to the instructor in order to contribute to the final grade.

Externship sites are assigned by the school, and students can sometimes continue as an employee of the externship site after graduation.

Step 5: Becoming Certified

After graduation, students may choose to become certified by the Liaison Council on Certification for the Surgical Technologist (LCC-ST), which is also known as the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Certification is optional, though most employers prefer to hire Surgical Techs who are certified.

Certification involves passing a national certification exam, after which the Surgical Tech can use the designation of Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). To be eligible for the exam, the Surgical tech must have graduated from a CAAHEP-accredited program. Thus, if you plan on becoming certified, it’s smart to ask school reps about a school’s accreditation before enrolling.

Certified Surgical Techs must also undergo continuing education in order to retain their certification, which is renewed every four years. This might also involve re-examination. However, employment opportunities in competitive markets are significantly better for Certified Surgical Technicians.

Step 6: Finding Employment as a Surgical Technologist

Most schools offer career placement services for graduates, so ask your school rep about the school’s career placement options. If your school does not offer this service, Surgical Tech employment can be found on any major job website.