How to Become a Surgical Tech

Surgical technologists play an important role in operating rooms. This position, which may also be known by the name surgical tech, scrub tech, O.R. tech, or operating room tech, works closely with doctors, nurses, and patients in an operating room. Surgical techs may help prepare a patient for surgery, ensure the operating room is clean and sterile, and then provide critical services during the surgery itself. For instance, a surgical technologist is often the person who hands the sterile tools to nurses and doctors, holds certain tools in place during an operation, and counts tools and sponges after an operation to ensure nothing is left inside the patient’s body. Surgical techs will also often clean the room after a procedure and help to transfer the patient to a recovery room once the operation is over. A surgical tech is an important pair of hands that is available to assist during all types of procedures and therefore surgical technology can make a great career path for those that crave to work in an operating room without having to complete the more extensive education and training required of nurses or doctors.

If you want to learn how to become a surgical tech, keep reading for more details about the possible career paths available.

Skills & Traits of the Successful Surgical Tech

There are a number of skills that can help an aspiring surgical tech to succeed in their chosen career O*NET notes a number of important traits, including:

  • Teamwork: surgical techs work closely with an entire surgery team and must be able to communicate well with them and work in conjunction with the rest of the team to ensure a smooth operation.
  • Attention to Detail: As you might expect, there are many details to pay attention to in an operating room, from the position of equipment to the sterilization of tools to the scheduling of a procedure. Surgical techs should be certain that they can pay close attention to important details without becoming easily distracted.
  • Active Listening: Although advanced surgical techs may lead a team of other techs, listening carefully to doctors and patients and being able to respond clearly is a critical part of the job.
  • Dexterity: Of course, surgeons are the ones performing the actual surgeries, but steady hands and manual dexterity can also be helpful skills for techs in the operating room.
  • Problem Sensitivity: According to O*NET, this is “the ability to tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong” and is another important trait for surgical techs. Many different things can go wrong during the course of one operation and the better a surgical tech can anticipate these issues, the better off everyone will be.
  • Monitoring: The ability to monitor others, to monitor one’s own behavior, and of course to monitor instruments can be quite helpful in performing the everyday duties of a surgical technologist.

Role Requirements

There are no federal requirements or regulations for becoming a surgical technologist, however, there are a number of important factors to consider when training. That is, certain certifications and educational credentials tend to make it much easier to find employment in the field, despite the fact that they are not explicitly required.

For instance, many practicing surgical techs chose to obtain an associate’s degree from a community college or technical school. This two-year degree with a concentration on surgical technology can provide a strong foundation, and introduce students to the career and generally give at least some hands-on experience during the course of the degree.

In terms of certification, there are two main certifications available for surgical technologists. The first is offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) and provides those who pass an examination with the credential of Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). In order to qualify for the CST examination, applicants must be a graduate of an accredited surgical technologist program, surgical first assisting program, or a military training program. Those who already have on-the-job experience as surgical techs may also be eligible, but must first complete the Accelerated Alternate Delivery Pathway. The total cost for application and examination for non-NBSTSA members as of 2015 is $290.

The second possibility is obtaining certification through the National Center for Competency Testing, which offers certification for a number of allied health professions, including medical assistants, phlebotomy technicians, and of course surgical techs. In order to qualify for this credential, know as the Tech in Surgery – Certified, you must have completed (or be in the process of completing) a surgery technologist program from an accredited institution, have completed military training, or have three verifiable years of experience in surgical technology.

A few states have their own regulations and registration requirements for surgical technologists, so you should be sure to check the rules in the state where you plan to practice.

Many surgical technologists go on to further success in the healthcare field as nurse, surgical assistants, or even physicians.

Different Paths: Steps to Becoming a Surgical Technologist

There are a few different pathways that a student can take if they are considering how to become a surgical tech. However, the basic steps to tackling this career are virtually the same across the board.

  • Step One: first, students should obtain a high school diploma or a GED. This will be a prerequisite for almost any post-secondary surgical technologist program. If possible, high school students who want to pursue the career should take courses in biology, anatomy and hard sciences in order to prepare for their future course load.
  • Step Two: upon graduation from high school, aspiring technologists should enroll in an accredited training program at a local college. Those who want acceptable training in the field but are unable to pay for a program may also consider military training, which provides some of the best trained surgical techs in the country. Whatever program you choose, be sure to verify that it is accredited from a proper agency, such as the aCommission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Graduates from schools without proper accreditation may not be eligible for certification exams.
  • Step Three: while completing an educational program, it is a good idea to do as much hands-on training as possible, through internships, shadowing, or other means. These experiences can make a huge difference in practical knowledge as well as professional connections when it comes time to search for a job.
  • Step Four: after graduation, students should sign up and prepare for one of the national certification exams. This tends to greatly increase the likelihood of finding a job.
  • Step Five: once certified, graduates should be prepared to find an entry level job as a surgical technologist. More than 70% of surgical technologists find employment at hospitals, with the remainder working in physicians’ and dental offices. School employment counselors should also be able to assist in securing a position.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Surgical Tech?

When it comes to choosing a career, it makes sense to want to know just how long it takes to prepare, so we have broken down the steps to becoming a surgical tech into their constituent durations.

  • High School Diploma: Typically 4 years, although some students take less time to earn a GED.
  • Associate’s Degree: Typically 2 years, although some programs take as little as 13 months.
  • Military Training Program: Those that choose to go this route can expect to spend 8 weeks in basic training, followed by a surgical services specialist training course of an indeterminate length, according to the U.S. Air Force.
  • Certification Exam: The exam itself can be completed in one day, but students should allow time for their application to be approved and to set a date for the exam. This could take up to 3 months.
  • Total time: Excluding the time it takes to earn a high school diploma, some surgical technologists could be prepared to join the workforce in less than two years, making it a particularly appealing career for that reason.