Surgical techs work alongside surgeons, helping with everything from tendon repairs to cardiac surgeries. 

They help keep things in the operating room sterile, which protects the patient from infection and keeps things organized so the surgeon can focus on doing their job well. 

Surgical techs get to be in on the action of surgery and can learn a lot from the surgeons they work with and interact with. 

But how do you become a surgical tech?

Some states require surgical techs to earn a certification and a few require them to register with the state. Although most states do not require certification, employers generally prefer to hire certified surgical techs. 

This guide will break down the steps required to become a surgical tech, including certification options, resume building, and more. 

How to Become a Surgical Tech

If you are interested in working in an operating room, becoming a surgical tech is a great place to start. 

Whether you hope to spend your entire career working as a surgical tech or hope to progress on to medical school or another career, here are the steps to becoming a surgical tech:

1) Obtain Your High School Diploma or GED

Before you can enroll in a surgical tech training program or apply for a job, you will need to earn your high school diploma or GED. 

If you need to get a GED, most people can study for and pass the exam in a few weeks. 

2) Decide Whether You Need to Attend a Training Program & Get Certified

Not every state requires surgical technologists to be certified. However, you may want to consider certification, even if you do not live in a state that requires it. Healthcare organizations prefer to hire certified surgical techs, and certification usually helps you earn a higher salary. 

States that require surgical tech certification include: 

  • Connecticut
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Virginia

States that require scrub techs to register include:

  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • District of Colombia
  • Illinois
  • North Dakota
  • Washington
  • Virginia

3) Research Surgical Tech Training Programs

As you look into different surgical tech training programs, make sure you choose one that has been accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). 

Accreditation means that a school meets specific education and training standards, and the program will prepare you to take a certification exam. 

In addition to accreditation, consider the length of a program, how much it costs, whether classes or online or in-person, and the exam pass rate for students from that program. 

4) Enroll in and Complete a Surgical Tech Training Program

Surgical tech training programs can be completed through community colleges, universities, technical schools, and online training programs. 

Most of the college and university programs require students to take a placement exam before enrolling or complete basic math and writing courses before beginning the surgical tech program.

Coursework for surgical technician training programs typically includes: 

  • Pharmacology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Surgical Supplies
  • Interventional Radiology
  • Sterility
  • Minimally Invasive Procedures 

5) Take Your Certification Exam

Several organizations offer surgical technician certification exams. There isn’t any one nationally recognized certification exam. 

Most states recognize exams that lead to becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST), offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the Tech in Surgery–Certified (TS-C) offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). 

Both of these exams require candidates to complete a training program or get experience working as a surgical tech before attempting the exam. 

6) Register With Your State (If Necessary)

Some states require surgical technologists to register with the state. There is no standard state board that deals with surgical technician registration, so candidates will have to check their state requirements. 

For example, candidates in Virginia must apply to the Virginia Board of Medicine, while candidates in Washington must register with the Washington Department of Health

7) Build Your Resume

After you have completed your exam and registered with your state, you can start working on crafting a strong resume. 

You don’t necessarily need to have a lot of work experience to build a strong resume. Including any service projects, leadership positions, relevant classes, and extracurricular activities can help you stand out. 

Make sure to have a trusted friend or mentor look over your resume and give you feedback before you send it to potential employers. Some schools and training programs have career mentors who will help you organize and create a good resume for yourself. 

8) Apply for Jobs

When you are ready, websites like Monster and Indeed can make applying for jobs easy. These websites can help you organize your certifications, work experience, education, and cover letter and send them to potential employers. 

If you have a specific healthcare organization that appeals to you, you can check their website for job postings or even visit the facility to speak to a manager about your goals. 

>> Read More: Where Do Surgical Techs Work?

9) Maintain Your Certification

Once you start working as a surgical tech, make sure you remember to maintain your certification. 

Most certifications require surgical techs to complete continuing education courses and pay a fee to the certifying organization every year or two. 

If you let your certificate expire, you may have to retake your entire training course and certification exam. 

Choosing the Right Surgical Tech Training Program

A lot of time and effort goes into completing a surgical tech training program. You want to make sure you choose the certificate program that is best suited for your lifestyle and goals. 

Some of the things to consider when looking at different surgical tech programs include: 

  • If it prepares you to be certified (and which certification). While any training course might help you learn the basics of working as a surgical technologist, you want to choose a program that will prepare you to earn the certification you need. You may need to double-check with your state to find out if they require a specific certification, and then find a program that will help you prepare for it. 
  • Cost. It is always important to consider the cost of your training program. University programs, while they may be more prestigious, will be much more expensive than programs offered through technical colleges or online. 
  • Length. Surgical tech training programs typically last between 4 and 24 months. While the 4-month programs are over more quickly, they typically require students to take on a heavier class schedule and spend more time studying each day. 
  • Online vs in-person. Consider whether you will learn better in an online or in-person program. Online generally offers more flexibility, but many people retain information and learn more quickly while attending in-person classes. 
  • Inclusion of an externship. One of the best ways to learn is through practice and repetition. When searching for a surgical tech training program, find out if the training includes an externship or any hands-on learning opportunities in a real operating room. 
  • Certification pass rate. Before you commit to a training program, find out whether or not they have a high certification rate. Programs with low graduation or certification rates are typically a poor choice. 
  • Job placement support. Some training programs offer the benefit of career counseling and job placement support. Choosing one of these programs may make it easier to find a job as a surgical tech after you complete your training and pass your certification exam. 

Two Main Surgical Tech Certification Options

There are many surgical tech certification options available to potential surgical technicians. There isn’t just one nationally recognized certification/exam, but some are more widely recognized than others. 

Some of the most commonly recognized certification options include: 

Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) – National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA)

The NBSTSA offers an exam that allows candidates to become Certified Surgical Technologists. 

To take the CST exam, candidates must submit a notarized letter (on institutional letterhead) from the Program Director which states your name, date of graduation, and type of degree awarded, a copy of your graduation certificate, or a transcript from your training program.

The exam consists of 150 scored questions that cover the surgical tech’s responsibilities during the preoperative period and intraoperative period, how to sterilize and organize surgical equipment, and basic science. 

The test costs $190 for AST members and $290 for non-members. 

To maintain a CST certification, surgical technologists must complete 30 hours of continuing education and pay a $25 renewal fee to the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting every two years.   

Tech in Surgery - Certified (TS-C) - National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

The NCCT offers an exam that allows surgical technologists to become a Tech in Surgery- Certified. 

This exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions that cover topics such as preoperative and intraoperative care, environmental safety and sterility, pharmacology, and OSHA regulations. 

To be eligible for the TS-C exam, students must have graduated from an accredited program within the last 5 years or have three years of full-time experience working as a surgical technologist. 

This exam costs $150 and your certification must be renewed every two years. To recertify, surgical technicians must sign in to their account to see their fees and continuing education requirements. 

Paying for Surgical Tech Schooling or Training

School can be expensive, especially for those who are just starting their careers. If you need help paying for surgical tech training, there are a few places you can turn to: 

  • Scholarships. Getting a scholarship is one of the best ways to pay for surgical tech schooling or training. Scholarships can be given based on grades, athletic ability, need, and more. Scholarships are easier to get for students planning to attend a college or university. 
  • Grants. Grants are given to students who need financial assistance to pay for school. Amounts given are based on FAFSA calculations, and the money does not need to be repaid. 
  • Student loans. Federal student loans can be obtained through the FAFSA, but students can also apply for private loans to pay for school. Federal loans typically have lower interest rates than private loans, and some argue that federal loans may someday be forgiven. 
  • Employer sponsorship. Many hospitals and large healthcare organizations offer tuition reimbursement for students in need. Typically, an organization with reimburse an employee for the cost of their school or training program in exchange for a commitment to continue working at the organization for a specific amount of time. 

Is it Possible to Get a Job With No Experience or Certification?

It might be possible to get a job as a surgical tech with no experience or certification depending on where you live.

Creating a great resume, submitting a memorable cover letter, and being personable in your interview can all help you land a job as a surgical tech with no experience or education. 

Surgical Tech Salary & Job Outlook

In the United States, the average salary for a surgical tech is $56,350 per year or $27.09 per hour. 

This, of course, varies based on location, years of experience, certification, and specialization. The most highly paid surgical technologists usually work in the offices of physicians, while those who earn the least typically work in dentist’s offices. 

Travel surgical techs can make over $100,000 per year if they can consistently find contracts.

Job opportunities for surgical technicians are expected to grow by 5% between 2022 and 2032, which is faster than average for all other occupations. 

Benefits of Becoming a Surgical Tech

If working in healthcare interests you, becoming a surgical tech is a great option. There are many benefits of becoming a surgical tech. 

  • Great salary for education requirements. With an average salary of $56,350 per year, surgical techs are one of the most highly-paid certificate-only healthcare workers. For those looking to start making good money without spending years in school, becoming a surgical tech is a great option. 
  • Ability to help others. Each year, almost 12,000,000 surgeries are performed in the United States. Surgeries can help alleviate pain, improve function, and even save lives. These surgeries would not be successful without the help of surgical techs. 
  • Learning experience. If you are hoping to eventually transition into a more advanced healthcare role, being a surgical technologist is a great place to start. Working right alongside the surgeon means that you will have plenty of learning opportunities and have great experience to put on an application for school. 
  • Hours. Surgical technicians usually work during normal business hours and may have to be on call during nights and weekends. They are one of the few healthcare jobs that do not require employees to work frequently on nights, weekends, and holidays. 
  • Plenty of job opportunities. Surgical techs are in high demand across the nation and have a good job outlook. Surgical tech jobs are relatively easy to find, no matter where you live. 

Skills Required to Become a Surgical Tech

While being a surgical tech does not require years of schooling, there are many skills that surgical technologists should have. 

  • Organized
  • Focused
  • Dexterity
  • Calm in emergencies
  • Attention to detail
  • Medical terminology
  • Quick decision maker
  • Basic math 
  • Clear communication

FAQs of Becoming a Surgical Tech

How long does it take to become a surgical tech?
Some states will allow you to become a surgical tech right after you graduate high school. If you are required to or want to get your certification, you can become a surgical tech in 12 to 24 months. 

Do you need a certification to become a surgical tech?
Some states require certification to become a surgical tech. These include Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Virginia.

Do you need a degree to become a surgical tech?
You do not need a degree to become a surgical tech. 

Do you need a license to become a surgical tech?
No states require surgical techs to get a license. Some do require them to register with a state health organization.

How much do surgical tech training programs cost?
Surgical tech training programs typically cost between $4,000 and $25,000, depending on the type of program you choose. Private Universities are typically the most expensive. 

Is it hard to become a surgical tech?
While becoming a surgical tech does require some skill and knowledge, it is not typically considered hard to become a surgical tech. For example, nursing school is generally considered much more difficult than surgical tech school.

What is the best surgical tech certification program?
The best surgical tech certification program depends on your goals and your needs. Before deciding on the best surgical tech certification program for you, think about how much you want to spend, how much time you want to commit to schooling, whether you prefer an online or in-person program, and what your certification goals are. 

What is the average surgical tech salary?
In the United States, the average salary for a surgical tech is $56,350 per year or $27.09 per hour.

What is the job outlook for surgical techs?
Job opportunities for surgical techs are expected to grow by 5% between 2022 and 2032.

What are the continuing education requirements for surgical techs?
Certified surgical techs typically have to complete 30 hours of continuing education courses and pay a $25 fee every two years to maintain their certification. 

Is it worth it to become a surgical tech?
Surgical techs earn a decent salary and spend a relatively short amount of time training. In addition, they get to perform meaningful work, have lots of learning opportunities, and have a good job outlook. Overall, it is worth it to become a surgical tech.

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