how to become a surgical tech

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

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how to become a surgical tech

What Does a Surgical Tech Do?
Even though the surgeon gets all the credit for a successful surgery, the life of a patient depends in a very large part on the diligence and competence of the surgical technologist.

Surgical technologists are key members of the surgical team and as you’ll need a cool head, a quick mind, and an iron stomach to perform your job. Your duties will include preparing and sterilizing the OR for surgery, transporting patients to and from the OR, passing instruments to the attending surgeon, retracting the patient’s tissues, and suturing incisions.

Because contamination in the OR could be life-threatening for the patient on the table, the importance of the surgical tech cannot be underestimated.

In this Article

Job duties
Surgical tech degrees
Skills and traits
Professional certification
Job Responsibilities
Surgical technologists help with the general functions in and around the operating room. First and foremost, surgical technologists prepare the operating room for procedures. This can range from sterilizing the equipment to making sure that all of the necessary supplies are present and well stocked. When it’s time for the operation, they help transfer the patient and get them ready for surgery by setting them up on the operating table and cleaning the incision site.

During the procedure, surgical techs pass nurses and surgeons the proper tools and ensure that everything stays sanitized. They might also connect drains and tubing, operate suction machines, or prepare specimens for analysis. When the surgery is over, they’re often tasked with dressing the incision site, transferring the patient back to their room, and setting up the OR for the next surgery.

With the length of life increasing and the advancement in medical equipment and procedures, surgical operations are happening more frequently than ever before. At an overall growth rate of 7% through 2029, the field of surgical technology can look forward to seeing increased opportunities for employment.

Where the Majority of Surgical Techs Work

Outpatient care centers or doctors’ offices

Finding Surgical Technologist Jobs
As you read above, the majority—over 70%—of surgical technologists work in hospitals. But while that may be the most popular place of employment, it’s not the only work environment available. Physicians’ offices, outpatient care centers, and even dentists’ offices employ surgical technologists and CSTs.

When you begin your job search, you can check the openings for these various settings in your area. Organizations designed for surgical technologists are also there to help. Both the National Board of Surgical Technology and the Association of Surgical Technologists have online career resources for job opportunities.

Getting Your Degree
Surgical tech programs usually take between 12 and 24 months to complete.

While many medical careers require a specific degree to join the field, surgical technologists have three options for their level of education: a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree.

For those interested in joining the field as quickly as possible, certificates and diplomas are typically earned in as little as one year, thanks to coursework that focuses specifically on surgical technology without courses on general knowledge or electives. These programs are often completed through technical or vocational schools.

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For those interested in joining the field as quickly as possible, certificates and diplomas are typically earned in as little as one year.

Associate’s degrees typically take students between 18 and 24 months to complete. Unlike with certificates and diplomas, an associate’s degree for surgical technology will include coursework in general science, English, and math. These are often completed at community colleges, but can also be found at technical and vocational schools and even some universities.

No matter what program you choose, it must be accredited by either the CAAHEP or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) if you want to be eligible to take the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam. Some states require CST certification for the employment of surgical technologists, but even if your state doesn’t, you’ll likely come across employers who will expect you to be a CST.

Admission requirements
Surgical technologist programs require candidates to hold a high school diploma or GED at minimum. Some schools might require prerequisite courses ranging from biology to English, and it’s likely that you’ll need to complete a course in CPR as well. Because your education also includes hands-on experience with patients, many schools require students to complete a criminal background check before beginning the program.

What You’ll Study
Surgical technologist programs involve courses that give you practical, real world experience. Many programs even go a step further by including a practicum or internship in which you’ll utilize your learned skills in a hospital setting. Accredited programs will cover the same basic courses:

Anatomy and physiology
Sterilization techniques
Intro to surgical technologies
Pharmacology for surgical techs
Patient care
Surgical procedures
Are There Surgical Tech Programs Online?
If this is your first step into the field of surgical tech, then online opportunities aren’t an option as courses are extremely hands-on. That said, with more and more programs trying to meet students where they are, you may find flexible options that offer nighttime or weekend classes.

However, if you already have experience with surgical technology, then online options may be available. These are designed for students who have received on-the-job training as surgical technologists or who graduated from a non-accredited program. Because candidates of this nature have previous experience, these programs can often be offered at an accelerated rate.

Surgical Technologist Personality Traits and Skills
You are…

An active listener
A critical thinker
Comfortable working with the public
Detail oriented
You should have…

Oral and speech comprehension
Time management skills
Medical software skills
People skills
Surgical Tech Salaries
Annual Median Salary

Surgical Technologist


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists report earning a median annual salary of $49,710 per year. While this is a good number to consider, keep in mind that potential wages vary by state, work environment, and seniority. At the top end of the field, surgical technologists have reported earning more than $73,110 a year.

Advancing Through Professional Certification
Gaining certification is a great way to distinguish that you have the practical skills and knowledge that’s necessary to perform entry-level job duties. Earning a surgical tech certification is a 2-step process:

Step 1 – Complete a program
Successfully complete an accredited surgical technician programStep 2 – Pass the exam
Take and pass the Certified Surgical Technologist exam
Some states are now requiring surgical technologists to earn their certification before becoming eligible for employment. As of 2021, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas require this credential. With the list projected to grow, you’ll want to consider earning your CST no matter which state you call home. These three states require surgical techs to register in order to work in the state: Colorado, North Dakota, Washington.

The CST exam
So, what exactly is the CST exam? Administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), the exam consists of 175-questions, out of which 150 are scored. You need to earn a score of roughly 70% in order to pass. To do so, your surgical tech program should have prepared you with knowledge in three key content areas:

Ancillary duties: Includes administrative work, and equipment sterilization and maintenance

Basic science: Includes anatomy and physiology, microbiology, and surgical pharmacology

Perioperative care: Includes perioperative prep, intraoperative procedures, and post-perioperative procedures

Certification Renewal
Once you have your certification, it’s necessary to renew it every few years. As of 2019, the renewal cycle for CSTs is every four years, with candidates being required to complete 60 hours of continuing education (CE) credits within each cycle. However, as of January 2020, the renewal period shortened to two years and the CE requirements were cut to 30 credits per cycle. If you don’t complete the necessary CEs, you can also opt to renew your certification by retaking the initial CST exam.

6 week surgical tech program

Surgical Technology Program Online and On Campus

Surgical Technology Associate in Applied Science Degree (A.A.S.)

Specialized training for a specialized career.

The Surgical Technology program prepares students to work as valuable members of a surgical team, which most commonly includes surgeons, anesthesiologists, and circulating nurses. Surgical Technologists assist in surgical procedures under the supervision of surgeons, registered nurses, and other surgical personnel. They perform a variety of critical hands-on tasks, including:

  • Preparing operating rooms by setting up surgical instruments and equipment
  • Preparing patients for surgery by washing, shaving, and disinfecting incision sites
  • Passing instruments and other sterile supplies to surgeons during surgical procedures
  • Maintaining a proper sterile field throughout the surgical process
  • Monitoring and assessing operating room conditions

Berkeley’s Surgical Technology degree program is offered at the following locations:

  • Berkeley College Online®*
  • Woodland Park
  • Woodbridge**

*The online is a degree completion option available only to individuals who completed a Surgical Technology program accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Graduates of the degree completion program are not eligible to sit for the Certified Surgical Technology exam using the Berkeley College degree transcript to fulfill NBSTSA eligibility requirements. Berkeley graduates who completed the certificate program and returned for the degree completion are eligible and should contact the program chair for further instructions.

**Effective January 11, 2022 the Woodbridge campus is not approved by the ARC/STSA as a satellite location. Students who matriculated or completed the Surgical Technology program offered at the Woodbridge campus before January 11, 2022 will be graduates of a CAAHEP-accredited program and eligible to participate in the CST exam. Effective January 1, 2022 Berkeley College is not accepting new students in the Surgical Technology program offered at the Woodbridge campus.Surgical Technology FAQAccreditation and Regulatory Information

Student Testimonial

“I remember touring the campus – looking into a classroom and seeing students in the program in scrubs with their mask on. It called to me. Right then and there, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I had no hesitation.”

-Jennifer Ruesta, Surgical Technology Alumna

Surgical Technology Students Benefit From:

  • A strong foundation in both the theory and techniques of surgical technology
  • Hands-on learning in on-site surgical laboratories that simulate the surgical environment
  • Valuable, practical experience gained through the completion of clinical practicums at off-campus healthcare facilities, under the supervision of instructors and professional practitioners
  • Liberal arts and sciences courses that provide students with a foundation of skills and knowledge necessary to reason clearly and communicate effectively

Request more information about the Surgical Technology degree or other programs at Berkeley College

Programmatic Accreditation and Certification

The Surgical Technology program offered at the Woodland Park campus is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) upon the recommendation of the Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (ARC/STSA). Students who complete a CAAHEP-accredited Surgical Technology program are eligible to participate in the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam, a national credentialing exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA).

Effective January 11, 2022 the Woodbridge campus is not approved by the ARC/STSA as a satellite location. Students who matriculated or completed the Surgical Technology program offered at the Woodbridge campus before January 11, 2022 will be graduates of a CAAHEP-accredited program and eligible to participate in the CST exam. Effective January 1, 2022 Berkeley College is not accepting new students in the Surgical Technology program offered at the Woodbridge campus.

Fifty-four percent of Berkeley College’s Surgical Technology students who graduated from the CAAHEP accredited program between August 1, 2019, and July 31, 2020, passed the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam on their first attempt. This pass rate is slightly below the national average of 64.4 percent for on-campus Web Based Testing (WBT), according to statistics from the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.

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