How to Become a Surgical Technician: A Complete 8-Step Guide

Updated on January 5, 2024

Surgical technicians are the unsung heroes of the operating room. Their expertise ensuring safe, sterile procedure environments allows surgical teams to focus on the precise interventions that save patient lives. If you thrive on high-stakes intensity and are equally meticulous about precision as caring for others, a career as a surgical tech may be your calling.

This comprehensive guide explores the array of steps – from choosing the right training to landing that first job and beyond – launching a purposeful vocation supporting healing through surgery.

What Does a Surgical Tech Do?

Surgical techs or technologists handle a wide spectrum of responsibilities across all stages of surgery:

Preoperative Preparations

Intraoperative Procedure Assistance

Postoperative Cleanup

Their attentiveness and speed allow surgeons to focus on the intricate interventions that can improve life trajectories.

Career Demand for Surgical Technicians

As minimally invasive surgery rises, so too does the demand for supporting surgical technologists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 9% job growth for surgical technologists and technicians through 2030, faster than the 5% average across all occupations as Baby Boomers age, requiring more procedures. Approximately 13,600 openings for surgical techs arise annually on average. Their organizational and technical skills continue to grow indispensable for optimal surgical care.

How to Become a Surgical Tech in 8 Steps

Follow this roadmap to launch from high school graduate towards certified surgical tech:

Step 1. Earn a High School Diploma

Competitive surgical tech programs require, at minimum, a high school diploma or equivalent GED. Coursework in biology, health, and anatomy primes foundations for medical knowledge. Add relevant volunteering, job shadowing, or hospital internships.

Step 2. Complete an Accredited Surgical Tech Program

The gold standard is pursuing accredited specialized associate degrees at community and technical colleges, which takes around two years. Robust curriculums teach:

Schools pair 600+ hours immersed in hospital surgical units under veteran tech mentorships for vital experiences that transform book concepts into competent practice.

Step 3. Sit for the CST or TS-C Exam

Gaining optional but advantageous certification signals surgical technology expertise to employers. Options include:

CST – Certified Surgical Technologist (NBSTSA)

TS-C – Technologist in Surgery – Certified (NCCT)

Both feature about 150 questions assessing knowledge on supporting safe surgery through validated best practices. Refreshers via practice tests and prep materials are hugely helpful before testing.

Step 4. Specialize Through Added Training

Beyond general surgery, surgical techs can develop niche expertise through added coursework, certifications, and clinical rotations focusing on areas like:

Specializing aligns support competencies and equipment familiarity with specific techniques as surgical needs evolve.

Step 5. Seek Advanced Certifications Over Time

Seasoned techs pursue added designations to level up knowledge and take on greater leadership duties such as:

Extended Associate, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees further expertise for directing hospital surgical support strategy.

Step 6. Apply for Open Surgical Tech Positions

Staffing needs arise across:

Have your refined resume ready, highlighting accredited training, manual dexterity, and ability to thrive under intense pressure. Lean on faculty and surgical unit mentors to advise great fits aligning your talents.

Step 7. Prepare for Demanding First Years

Expect challenging yet fulfilling days mastering setups, instrument passing rhythm, and protocols supporting a spectrum of complex procedures across shifting case volumes. But few fields enable direct backing of life-saving medicine. Deep bonds also form with surgical teams through trials.

Step 8. Continue Progressing Over 3-5 Years

As expertise develops, earn greater autonomy managing entire procedural workflows. Become the mentor to rookie surgical techs. Returning to school part-time further ascends career ceilings. But appreciate the immense early impact sparing nurses and surgeons preventable distractions through reliable speed, organization, and safety vigilance.

Top Surgical Technology Degree Programs

For those seeking to become certified surgical technologists, highly reputable school choices across the country include:

When researching schools, ensure confirming accreditation by ABHES or CAAHEP education authorities. This signifies programs meet esteemed benchmarks, aligning graduates for fruitful medical careers. Leveraging reputable training is vital for securing certification and interviews.

Job Outlook as a Surgical Technician

The BLS projects surgical tech job growth to continue increasing at 9% annually to meet surgery demand faster than all occupations. This yields approximately 13,600 job openings per year on average.

Median salaries approach $50,000, with top earners exceeding $70,000 depending on cost of living and employer type, among other variables. Surgical tech roles offer stable advancement prospects over long-term medical careers.

Salary expectation for surgical technician

Salary by Specialty:

Surgical Tech SpecialtyAverage Annual Salary
General Surgery$48,000
Plastic Surgery$47,000

Salary by Experience:

Years of ExperienceAverage Annual Salary
0-1 Year$41,000
2-4 Years$47,500
5-9 Years$54,000
10-14 Years$60,500
15-19 Years$64,000
20+ Years$68,000


Qualified surgical technicians are indispensable for the smooth operations of save-life surgery through their technical precision. Their mastery of safety and infection prevention protocols and speed allow surgical teams to concentrate fully on delicate life-saving interventions.

If intrigued by high-stakes medical environments, attaining certified surgical tech training opens up purposeful, engaging support roles with above-average job stability and pay. Aspiring professionals can actively work towards this specialized niche through the eight steps above, enabling healing through surgery’s most critical hours.


What is the job outlook for surgical tech roles?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a strong 9% job growth for surgical technicians through 2030, exceeding the average across all occupations. Open positions arise from rising surgical volumes with aging populations requiring more procedures.

How much does surgical tech training cost?

Tuition for a 2-year surgical technology associate degree averages $3,000-$5,000 per year at public community colleges and $15,000-$30,000 total at private institutes. Factoring living costs, expect a total investment of roughly $25,000-$45,000 throughout your accredited program.

What degree is preferred to become a surgical tech?

While some certificate programs exist, completing an Associate of Science (AS) in Surgical Technology is vastly preferred by most employers. The 2-year degree’s robust science curriculum and 500-700 hours of clinical rotations best prepare trainees. Some supplement with bachelor’s degrees later on.

Can I become a surgical assistant or nurse after working as a tech?

Yes, surgical tech experience provides an excellent foundation for advancing toward roles like registered nursing, physician assisting, or higher-acuity surgical assistant via further education. Pursuing healthcare administration and teaching are other options to ascend.