How to Become a Surgical Technologist – Steps, Education, Certification

How to Become a Surgical Technologist – Steps, Education, Certification

Have you ever wondered how everything is well organized in the operating room?  In general, we see surgeons and nurses performing necessary surgery using essential tools. There is a specialist behind the careful management of the operating room, from sterilization of equipment to assist surgeons. Alongside doctors, nurses, and medical assistants, these valuable individuals have an equal share in saving patients’ lives. They are tagged as surgical technologists, the silent savior behind the curtains.

Most people have vague ideas regarding the roles and responsibilities of surgical technologists. They cover an array of essential duties and responsibilities in surgical procedures. Surgical techs are responsible for inclusive management of operating rooms and all the associated services such as preparation for surgery, organizing sterilized surgery tools, handling patients, assisting surgeons and nurses during surgical procedures, and more. As a result, they are highly in-demand in the modern healthcare system.

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS ) report, the annual median wage of surgical technologists was $49,710 in May 2020. Although they are not members of the core surgery team, they are considered the backbone of clinical surgery. Let’s delve deep into the surgical technologist’s roles & responsibilities, future outlook, exciting facts, certification, steps to become a surgical tech, and more:

What is a Surgical Technologist?

Surgical Technologists (Scrubs and Surgical Technicians) are the substructure of the operating room, assisting surgeons and nurses during surgical procedures. Primarily, they work under the supervision of surgeons, nurses, and the medical team. Surgical techs offer a wide array of valuable services and act as additional productive hands to accomplish clinical surgery. In the critical environment of operation theatre, surgeons or nurses heavily rely on surgical technicians to perform the required surgery effectively. They organize and create a suitable environment with all the imperative equipment and other essentials needed during the surgical procedure. In addition, surgical technicians assist surgeons and nurses in facilitating the surgery.

Steps to Become a Surgical Tech

In recent times, the job profile of surgical technologists has emerged as one of the most revered and lucrative options. However, the primary question arises how to become a surgical technologist? To become a surgical tech, one needs to gain the required technical skills by enrolling in a certification program. Apart from technical abilities, the individual should also possess professional skills such as teamwork, active listening, time management, and critical decision-making. Usually, the duration of an accredited surgical technology program lies in between six months to two years. There are various ways to become a surgical tech, and one can opt as per their convenience. Notably, a two-year accredited surgical technology program is considered a popular and most resourceful way to set a firm foundation for a successful career. Here is a comprehensive outline to become a prosperous Surgical Technologist:

STEP 1: Acquire Your High School Diploma or GED

The primary footstep is to complete the high school diploma or GED. It is an elementary requirement to get admission to the surgical technologist program. High school students can opt for courses like mathematics, biology, natural sciences, computer, health, and associated subjects that help them immensely in further studies at the college level. Importantly, acquiring an internship experience at some local healthcare will also provide a holistic idea of healthcare working.

STEP 2: Discover Accredited Surgical Program and Earn Associate Degree or Certificate

Now, surgical tech aspirants have to discover and get enrolled in an accredited training program offered by various community and technical institutions. The duration of accredited programs varies between one or two years. Either aspirant can go for a two-year associate’s degree or one-year certificate course. Importantly, make sure the intended accredited programs are approved by an authentic agency, such as CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) or ABHES (Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools).

STEP 3: Earn Valuable Profession Experience Alongside

Few hands-on professional experiences always add some impressionable advantages and make you stand one step ahead while searching for a suitable job in the future. Therefore, it is advisable to accomplish minor or major internships and similar experiences by other means throughout the educational program.

STEP 4: Consider and Study for the Certification Exam

After completing the surgical training program, the aspirants must consider earning professional certifications that will help immensely in job prospects and validate their existing knowledge. Individuals can earn surgical tech certifications by appearing in the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exams organized by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). The process takes around a few months after applying to the testing agency before being invited for the exam.

STEP 5: Hunt for a Desirable Surgical Technician Position

After becoming a certified surgical technologist, aspirants are ready to land for their entry-level surgical techs positions. Usually, there are plenty of surgical tech job openings in various hospitals across the state. As per the BLS report in 2019, approximately 70 percent of entry-level surgical techs find employment at hospitals, and the remaining faction works for physicians and dental offices. Moreover, becoming a valuable member of the National Surgical Assistant Association (NSAA) or Association of Surgical Assistants (ASA) can increase the chances of getting employed along with expanding the professional networking in the medical realm.

Role and Responsibilities of Surgical Techs

Surgical technologists offer a wide array of services, assisting surgeons, nurses, and the entire medical unit in the operating theatre throughout the entire surgical operation process. They make sure everything is perfectly organized, and all the required equipment is placed correctly. The fundamental responsibilities include responding to the command of surgeons and nurses as per the needs in the operating room. There is an effective hierarchical chain of accountability in the operation theatre, and the surgical techs stand in the last line performing under the supervision of surgeons and nurses. The pursuit requires both technical and professional skills and the ability to perform better in critical situations. Here is the detailed list of roles and responsibilities that includes in standard practices as a surgical technician:

  • Ensures all the necessary surgical instruments are sterile.
  • Organizing the operating room in accordance with the surgeon’s instructions.
  • Analyzing the potential issues during surgery and acting promptly as per need.
  • Providing essential medication, solutions, implements, and substances to surgeons, nurses, and the medical unit.
  • Helping intended patients for the required surgery.
  • Applying dressings and helping in retracting tissues from the patient.
  • Ensures effective implementation of robotic surgical procedures.
  • Transportation of patients.
  • Keeping a record of surgical instruments during surgery.

Skills Required to Become a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists play a vital role in executing clinical surgery by assisting surgeons and medical units in the operation theatre. They ensure that the operating room is well-equipped with the required instruments and provides a conducive environment for clinical surgery. A surgical technician offers inclusive before and after the intended surgery. The fundamental skills and knowledge can be acquired by enrolling in various surgical technologist programs. In addition, qualified surgical techs should have some essential skills and personality traits that help them succeed in their careers. Let’s have a look at a few essential skills and qualities:

Efficacious Communication Skills

An effective communication skill is a foremost requirement for surgical techs. They have to listen and analyze the critical situation while responding accordingly. During clinical surgery, a surgical technician needs to engage inclusively in verbal and non-verbal communication with surgeons to accomplish the procedure.

Adaptability with Attentiveness

Surgery is an intricate process, and the surgeons need constant support from the surgical technicians throughout the process with intense care. Therefore, they should be attentive and active listeners and readily available to act instantly on the instructions from the surgeons and nurses. The job requires immense flexibility and needs to adapt to any situation, anticipating the need.

An Impactful Team Player

In the operating room, all the performers and assistants are members of a medical team. Therefore, they should collaborate and be coherent with each other for a successful operation. Accordingly, the surgical technicians should have a team-oriented mindset along with the ability to work and follow instructions inside.

Ability to Withstand Pressure

The surgical procedures involve lots of complexities and emergencies. Being a surgical technologist, one should be able to hold nerves in times of critical situations. No matter how uptight situations are in the operation theatre, it is essential to remain calm and composed and deliver the service adequately. There is no room for mistakes inside the operating room; even a minor mistake will put patients’ lives in danger.

Patience with Proactive Decision-Making Skills

Surgery usually takes substantial time to get successfully completed and requires lots of patience throughout the process. Therefore, a surgical technician needs to be unruffled with a clear sense of direction. Moreover, there is no guidance or command from the surgeons in several instances, and surgical techs have to make a competent decision of their own after evaluating the conditions. There, a robust decision-making skill is essential.

Surgical Technologist Certification

Earning certification helps immensely in job prospects and also validates the competency of surgical technologists. Notably, there are two prominent certifications available that assist aspirants in gaining employment and make them one step ahead of other surgical techs. Let’s understand more about two popular accredited certifications for surgical technologists:

National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA)

The first certification is NBSTSA that provides credentials of Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) for the fellow aspirants who cleared the exam. To be eligible for the CST examination, aspirants must have:

  • Associate degree of an accredited surgical technology program.
  • A graduation degree from a military training program.

For application, the aspirants have to apply through the mail, and the overall duration may take a maximum of six weeks to receive validation from the authority. There is an additional provision to get authorized quickly; for that, the applicant has to pay $50, which reduces the authorization process’s duration. The charges vary between $190 to $290, depending on the various factors.

National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)

The secondary option to obtain the required certification is through the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) that offers the Tech in Surgery Certification. Moreover, the NCCT organization provides assorted credentials in the associated medical profession, comprising medical assistants, medical office assistants, patient care technicians, phlebotomy technicians, and more.

To be eligible for Tech in Surgery credential, the applicant must fulfill one of the following three conditions:

  • Graduate with an accredited surgical technologist program.
  • Have accomplished military training.
  •  Having three years of experience in surgical technology.

When receiving certification, the applicants must provide their valid documentation or proof of high school diploma or GED, a document of surgical technology program, completion certificate, graduation date, and Tech in Surgery form. The cost of the NCCT examination varies and is usually less than $200.

Renewal of Certification

After receiving certification, surgical technologists need to renew their certification. Generally, the renewal interval varies between one to three years. In the case of the CST examination, after passing the receiving certification, one must be recertified or renewed once every three years. Whereas for NCCT, the certificate is valid for five years after the date of issuance. Therefore, after the completion of five years, the surgical techs need to renew the certification.

Licensing Requirements for Surgical Technologist

The licensure requirements differ from state to state for the surgical technologists. Therefore, one must adhere to the state laws while initiating professional practice. The reputed AST (Association of Surgical Technologists) recommended passing specific state laws to streamline the hiring process of surgical technologists, and the aspirant must have:

  • Graduation degree from a CAAHEP– accredited surgical technologist program.
  • Attain the CST certification from the NBSTSA.
  • Maintain the CST credential by accomplishing mandatory continuing education (CE) hours.

Recently, some states legislation has passed the advised laws that aligned surgical techs to be licensed according to AST guidelines.

Quick Facts about Surgical Technologist

Surgical technicians are the additional hands of surgeons and nurses in an operating room provided exceptional service to accomplish successful surgery. They are controllers and caretakers of the operating room, working alongside surgeons and the medical team. A surgical technologist ensures surgery management and organizes all the required equipment after consulting the chief surgeons. It is an incredible healthcare job profile attracting youngsters. Here are few well-known quick facts about surgical technologists:

  • The demand for surgical technologists can be evidently witnessed, and also there are outstanding growth possibilities in the near future. According to a BLS report, the growth rate will touch 7 percent from 2019 to 2029.
  • The first recipient to use the latest technologies in the healthcare industry, such as robotic surgical procedures, Mobile Information systems, fiber optics, and laser techniques for patient surgery.
  • Learning about body anatomy and various surgical procedures. It will enhance healthcare knowledge along with hands-on practical experience. Interestingly, becoming a surgical technologist takes a maximum of two years, which means one can enter the field swiftly.
  • Surgical technologists are well-disciplined and skilled organizers. In addition, surgeons are obsessed with leaving equipment here and there, so surgical techs take great care of tools before and after surgery.
  • They are a crucial part of the healthcare industry and a significant contributor to society’s welfare alongside doctors and nurses. Therefore, surgical technologists deserve the same respect and honor equivalent to doctors or nurses.

Types of Surgical Techs

Over the years, a professional career in surgical technology has emerged as one of the rewarding options. Accordingly, after accomplishing accredited surgery technology program, a candidate has ample options to choose the area of specialization. Here are a few notable and diverse specializations one can pursue as a skilled surgical technologist:

  • Lab Technician: In general terms, lab technicians are caretakers of the entire lab. Their responsibilities include adequate lab maintenance, stocking required lab equipment, lab sanitation, and looking after the lab post-operation.
  • Surgical Supervisor: After gaining substantial experience as a surgical technologist, the person can become a worthy surgical supervisor. The job of a surgical supervisor includes a proper assessment of the operating room and distribution of duties to junior or amateur technicians.
  • Surgical Research Assistant: Research is the essence of healthcare, and it is a continuous phenomenon. Likewise, in surgical technology, research is an eminent part and the responsibility of surgical research assistants to help surgeons in their assignment or project.
  • Anesthetist Consultant: Every surgical operation is performed using anesthesia to mitigate the pain. While surgical procedures, anesthetist technicians are responsible for giving timely anesthesia after evaluating the dose requirements. It is a critical process and requires adequate attention.

Job Outlook for Surgical Techs

Surgical technologists play a critical role in surgical treatment, assisting surgeons and nurses throughout the process in the operation theatre. They are competent and highly skilled professionals that serve as supportable hands during clinical surgery. At present, the career of a surgical technologist is ranked among the lucrative and reputed ones. Its growth prospects are highly positive and will witness remarkable growth in the coming years.

According to the BLS report, the estimated growth in surgical tech job openings between 2019 and 2029 will be around 7 percent. Notably, the growth prospectus is much faster compared to an average of all professions. Approximately 7,600 surgical techs will be added to the existing strength of 111,000 across the United States. In 2020, the median surgical tech salary was $49 710 per annum. The booming healthcare sector will leverage the substantial growth in the field of surgical technology. Let’s check out the states with the highest number of employed technicians along with the yearly average surgical tech salary:

State Employment (in numbers) Annual Mean Salary
Texas 10,680 $49,860
California 9,140 $64,570
Florida 7,720 $46,710
New York 5,510 $59,380
Pennsylvania 4,080 $47,890

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of March 31, 2021

Future Career Path for Surgical Techs

The career prospects of surgical techs look highly impressive in the mainstream. Thousands of students aspire to become surgical technologists and contribute to society as the first line of defense parallel to doctors and nurses. If you are looking for a response about how to become a surgical technologist? The answer is simple, aspirants can enroll in an accredited surgical technology program, and the period varies between one year to two years. Post-completion of surgical technology diploma or associate degree, you can appear for national level certification.

The surgical technologist certification validates your skill and competence for practice. There is a massive potential growth in the coming years after the inclusion of modern technologies into healthcare systems. After acquiring substantial experience, surgical technologists can become surgical supervisors, research assistants, lecturers or teachers, anesthesia technicians, and physician instructors. The scope of progress is incredibly high. In 2020, the median surgical tech salary was $49,710 per annum, and it is an impressive one.

Resourceful Links for Surgical Technologists

Surgical Technology Organizations & Associations

 Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (ARC/STSA)
A well-known and resourceful Committee on Accreditation for the educational training programs in surgical technology and surgical assisting. It is the only committee recognized and authorized by the reputed CAAHEP.

American College of Surgeons (ACS)
It is an educational and scientific association of skilled surgeons inaugurated in 1913 with an objective to enhance the quality of care for the intended surgical patient by introducing high standards for surgical educational research and practice.

Association of Surgical Assistants (ASA)
The Association of Surgical Assistants (ASA) is an inclusive alliance of surgical assistant practitioners sharing common objectives, promoting the recognition of all surgical assistants, optimizing surgical care of patients, empowering legislative strategies, and relevant assistance in continual education experiences.

Useful Surgical Technology Websites

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
OSHA is an integral part of the United States Department of Labor, established in 1970 with the aim to create and ensure a standard workplace with adequate safety. It provides information related to health safety issues along with various surgical equipment.

MEDLINEplus-National Library of Medicine
It provides valuable links to various resourceful pre-recorded webcasts of the clinical surgery process. All the surgical procedures have been performed since 2004 at medical centers in the United States.

Hardin MD: Surgery & Transplantation
Get links to various types of sites related to surgery and transplantation. Several sites also contain surgery-related images.

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Written by : Casey Gardner

Casey Gardner is both a healthcare support professional and an accomplished content creator.  She has been working as a certified health care professional with marketable skills as a physician assistant,  and a qualified medical assistant for last two decades. She has dedicated her nursing career to produce over hundreds of content pieces since 2001, and her work has been published both online as well as offline.

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