How Do You Become a Surgical Technician?

Becoming a surgical technician is a rewarding alternative for anyone wishing to forego the long, costly trek into medical school.

Surgical technicians, or technologists, are healthcare workers who assist surgeons by preparing the operating room. Surgical techs will sterilize scalpels, disinfect incision sites, transport patients, stock supplies, take specimens for lab analysis, and adjust equipment. During operations, technicians will also pass instruments to surgeons, hold retractors, cut sutures, and apply dressings.

It’s estimated that 51.4 inpatient surgical procedures take place in America each year, and this number is growing as baby boomers age. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for surgical technicians will rise faster-than-average by 15 percent, thus creating 14,700 new jobs by 2024. If you’re ready to scrub in, follow this step-by-step guide to become a surgical technician.

1. Pursue Post-Secondary Training

Formal training is typically required for surgical technologists beyond a high school diploma or GED. Surgical techs may pursue simply a certificate or diploma in nine to 12 months, but employers increasingly want associate degrees. These two-year programs are offered by community colleges, technical institutes, and trade schools. Training that’s accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) is deemed top-quality. Surgical technology curricula generally blends didactic instruction with hands-on, clinical experience. Coursework will study areas like human anatomy, physiology, biology, pharmacology, patient safety, sterilization, and infection control. You’ll also work in a licensed healthcare organization to deliver perioperative and intra-operative care.

2. Earn Board Certification

After graduation, you’ll have the qualifications to attain the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) offers this designation to graduates of CAAHEP-approved programs. Earning this title requires passing 200 multiple-choice questions on the certification examination. Test questions will evaluate your knowledge of pre-operative preparation, intra-operative procedures, post-operative duties, equipment sterilization, and operating room maintenance. Test takers pay $290 in fees unless they’re ASA/AST members where the price is $190. Applications must be sent with a notarized letter from your program director. You could also become a Tech in Surgery – Certified through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).

3. Gain Surgical Experience

Being a surgical tech requires excellent dexterity with surgical instruments as well as good organization, communication, and problem-solving skills. Practice in the fast-paced operating room is the only way to master surgical technology. Start applying for jobs at local, state, or private hospitals. Around 70 percent of America’s 100,270 surgical technicians are employed here. You could also find positions in outpatient centers or physician offices where minimally invasive surgeries are performed. Various medical specialties are available for surgical techs. Neurology and cardiology are perhaps the toughest, but others include oncology, pediatric, orthopedic, obstetric, and thoracic surgery. You’ll work under the supervision of board certified surgeons and have the ability to advance as first assistants.

Surgical technicians play a pivotal part in keeping operating rooms running smoothly and cleanly to protect patient health. Although it’s an entry-level role, surgical technicians receive a decent average yearly salary of $45,940, or $22.09 per hour. Required post-secondary training is minimal to accelerate your entry into the in-demand healthcare profession. After working as a surgical technician, you could potentially become a medical-surgical RN, nurse anesthetist, or surgeon with further schooling.