Surgical Tech Career Guide

You may be wondering what is a surgical tech? Surgical techs are part of the allied healthcare industry and is an ideal career choice for someone who is interested in a fast-paced environment where all the action takes place – the OR (operating room). Surgical technicians are known by several other names that include “scrub tech”, “surg tech”, surgical technologist or operating tech. The career can be exciting and financially rewarding, but it does require a lot of focus and hard work. You must be dedicated to doing a good job as you will be assisting during operations that can potentially save lives. If you are looking to pursue a career as a surg tech, the information below should give you a good idea about the profession and how to get started. Read on to find out more about job duties, requirements, schools and job outlook.

Surgical Tech

Learn more about an exciting career as an surgical tech.

Surgical Tech Job Description and Duties


As an allied healthcare professional, surgical techs work as part of the operating team alongside surgeons and other physicians, RN’s (registered nurses) and other healthcare professionals. So what does a surgical tech do? The surgical technologist job description and duties include the following tasks:

  • Preparing the operating room for surgical procedures
  • Sterilizing of equipment and making sure that supplies are in stock for surgery
  • Helping to prepare patients for surgical procedures
  • Passing instruments and supplies to surgeons during an operation
  • Counting and keeping track of supplies and instruments

As a certified surgical technologist, you will be helping to prepare the operating room by setting up the surgical instruments and any other equipment needed. You will also be involved with preparing patients for operations by disinfecting and washing the incision sites, making sure patients are positioned properly on the operating table, draping patients and making sure they are covered and bringing patients in and out of the operating room. Scrub techs also help to prepare sterile solutions and medicine that will be used during the surgery, making sure that the surgical equipment is in working order and even helping the doctors and nurses put on sterile gloves and gowns.

During the surgical procedures, surgical techs are responsible for passing the instruments and other supplies to the first assistants and surgeons. They also are asked to hold retractors and sometimes are asked to hold internal organs during surgery to keep them in place. Techs are sometimes asked to take specimens to labs for analysis.

After the procedure has been completed, technologists will often apply dressings and bandages to the incision area. They are also often asked to aid in transferring patients to a recovery room and restocking the operating room after an operation.


Work Environment


In 2012 alone, there were about 98,500 surgical technologists with jobs. Most of these technologists could be found working in hospitals. The rest were either working for outpatient care centers or for physicians with private practices that offered outpatient surgery.

Surgical techs are required to wear scrubs (sterile clothing) when they are in the OR. The work that they do can be very demanding physically since they need to be on their feet for long periods of time. They also need to be able to help move and adjust patients and lift trays carrying medical supplies. Techs also work in an environment in which they may be exposed to diseases in addition to some unpleasant odors and sights.

In terms of work schedules, most techs work full time. Those that work in a hospital setting will likely have to either work or be on call for night shifts, weekends and even holidays. Technologists will often have to work shifts that go longer than 8 hours as well. The job can be demanding in terms of shifts and hours worked.


How to Become A Surgical Tech


Those who are interested in becoming surgical technologists will need to acquire an associate’s degree or a post secondary certificate. There are a few states that also regulate surgical techs and certification can be helpful when you are looking to find a job as a surg tech.


Surgical Tech Schools and Education


Surgical techs need to get some formal training by taking one of the many surgical tech programs available in the United States. There are plenty of surgical technologist schools that offer accredited programs, whether at a community college or vocations school. Most programs will range from several months for those looking to acquire certification up to 2 years to obtain an associate’s degree. A high school diploma or GED is required to gain admission into one of the accredited programs.

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), there are currently about 500 surgical technologist training programs that are accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

Education in these programs generally consists of courses in biology, anatomy, pharmacology, medical terminology and several other topics. As is the case with most medical training programs, operating tech programs are made up of both in classroom learning and some hands-on training in a clinical setting. Technologists are also trained in sterilization techniques, patient care and safety, the setting up of robotic or technical equipment and the prevention and controlling of infections.


Surgical Tech Certification, Licenses and Registration


Most employers will prefer that tech acquire certification. Certification can be obtained through two credentialing organizations that provide two different titles.

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting provides certification that grants the title of “Certified Surgical Technologist” (CST).  The National Center for Competency Testing provides certification granting the title of “Tech in Surgery-Certified” (NCCT).  Both certifications require that techs go through continuing education in order to maintain their certification status.

It should also be noted that there are a small number of states that require surgical technologists to earn certification and graduate from an accredited program. The certification requirements will vary from state to state.

You can also acquire certification to become a surgical first assistant. Certification is offered by the National Surgical Assistant Association, National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and the American Board of Surgical Assistants.




In order to have a successful career as a operating technologist, there are certain qualities you should possess. As someone who will be in constant contact with patients, surgeons and other healthcare professionals and surgeons in a fast paced working environment, the skills and qualities listed below will be of great help.

  • Pay attention to detail – Technologists need to pay very close attention whenever they are working. Being able to provide a surgeon with the correct equipment and making sure it is sterile is vital to being successful.
  • Good dexterity – Techs need to be adept at working with their hands. They need to be able to quickly grab the correct instruments and hand them to the surgeon in a quick manner.
  • Have integrity – Techs are trusted with providing patients with a high level of care and sterile supplies during an operation.
  • Stress management skills – Technologists will be working in a fast paced work environment and need to be able to pay close attention to a variety of tasks. Multi tasking without panicking is a quality that techs need to possess.
  • Be in good shape – Techs also need to be in good physical shape and have enough stamina to stand and work for however an operation may take place. This can often be long hours of standing during surgical procedures.

Surgical Tech Jobs – Outlook


The number employed surgical technicians is projected to grow by up to 30% between 2012 to 2022. This is a much faster rate than what the current average is for all other occupations. There are several different factors that will contribute to the growing number of surgical technologist jobs.

With the advancements made in medical technology, surgery has become much safer and there are more operations being performed to treat a number of injuries and illnesses. The aging of the baby boomers will also lead to an increased need for surgical technicians as the elderly generally require more operations. Another factor to consider is the increased willingness of the current generation to undergo surgical procedures in order to enhance their quality of life. Procedures such as knee replacements are becoming much more common to help people maintain an active and healthy lifestyle.

Registered nurses are paid more than surgical technicians. As a result, hospitals are highly likely to continue employing technologists as it is much more cost-effective solution to maintaining operating room staff.


Surgical Tech Salary


So how much does a surgical tech make? The median surgical technologist salary is $42,720. The bottom 10 percent if technicians had an estimated annual income of $30,450 and the top 10 percent had an estimated annual income of $61,300.

Average annual salary will also differ by state. The state with the highest average salary for surgical techs is California with a mean annual salary of $57,790. Aside from state, there are many other factors that can contribute to a surgical technologists salary. As is the case with any professions, experience, level of training and location are the three major factors to consider. Having certification will also likely lead to a higher salary in addition to an increased likelihood of being hired.

Statistics show that the average salary for surgical technicians has been increasing each year over the last decade. This shows that it is a good career choice that is growing in terms of both demand and pay. The overall job outlook and potential pay looks very promising.




Surgical technologists are require to work in a fast paced environment that requires them to be detail oriented. Working schedules will likely by full time, with some night and weekend shifts likely being required. Techs will also likely be required to work during holidays as well.

While the job can be demanding both physically and mentally, the outlook and pay look very good. Earning potential can be increased with experience and further training or specialization. One can also make the transition into another related field or position as a surgical first assistant or surgical nurse. Demand for techs has been increasing and will likely continue to do so as operations are becoming more common along with the use of robotic instruments during surgeries.