What are Surgical Tech Programs Like?

Surgical technology programs, offered at career colleges and technical schools for the purpose of training new surgical technologists, follow a fairly universal structure. Like other health care programs, they are usually divided up into a classroom segment, a hands-on laboratory segment, and a clinical externship where students apply what they learn in a real-world setting.

These segments of the program are typically the same whether it’s a certificate program, a diploma, or an associate degree program, with only the course content varying.

The Classroom Component

The classroom portion, also called the didactic portion, of most surgical technologist programs is theory-based. It comprises lectures and reading on a variety of health care, general education and surgical topics (depending on what credential you are pursuing).

For example, some common theory-based classes taken by students in a surgical tech program would be:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Pharmacology
  • Health Care Ethics
  • Health Care Law

In addition to these, students in an associate or diploma program may take more general-education classes, such as:

  • Professional Communications
  • Math
  • General Psychology
  • English Composition
  • Career Development
  • Success Strategies

These subjects serve to make core classes easier to absorb, and help give graduates an edge in competitive job markets.

The Laboratory Component

This section of a surgical technician program is where the student applies what they learn in the classroom portion to a clinical setting. Students learn general and specialized surgical procedures in both sterile and unsterile environments. They also learn sterile techniques and methods of preventing and controlling infection.

Classroom laboratories are typically set up to resemble a real operating room, to give students the closest possible example to learn from. Students may observe surgical procedures, or learn to perform them on cadavers.

The Externship Component

After passing the classroom and laboratory components, students participate in a clinical externship at an area hospital or other surgical facility, where they work in real operating room situations under the supervision of a doctor, RN or surgeon. The externship may last a few weeks to a month or more, and is counted towards the student’s grade in the course.

Career placement

Upon graduating from the program, surgical technologists may use their school’s career placement center to find employment, if their school offers the service. Sometimes a surgical tech can stay on at the site of their externship as a full-time employee, but this is not always the case.

Whether they use their school’s career placement services or not, graduates from a surgical technician program are prepared for entry-level employment as surgical techs.