Surgical Tech Career Path

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Surgical Tech Career Path

Surgical techs are some of the most vital members of a healthcare team. They ensure that everything is safe and sterile, from equipment to wound care products. And with their knowledge and expertise in anatomy, they can help guide doctors through sensitive procedures like surgeries.

It’s no wonder then that surgical technicians make an average salary of $52,000! Yet it takes more than just being handy with a scalpel to become one. Learn what you need to do before starting your career as a surgical technician below!

1. What Is a Surgical Tech?

Surgical techs are responsible for preparing operating rooms, sterilizing surgical instruments, and verifying that proper protocols are followed. They’re trained in preoperative procedures, anesthesia management, sterile techniques, postoperative care, and assisting with surgeries.

Surgical techs work under the guidance of surgeons and surgical assistants to ensure that all equipment is sterile prior to use. They also maintain a sterile field during surgery, manage anesthesia, and monitor patient vital signs. During surgeries involving large amounts of tissue, such as in transplanting organs, they may provide assistance to surgeons by placing clamps on blood vessels.

Surgical techs help patients prepare for procedures by explaining what will happen during surgery, calming them if they are nervous, and offering tissues when they cry. They also provide after-care instructions to patients before they leave the hospital. The job requires a high school diploma or GED and specialized training in operating room techniques. Surgical techs typically need to be certified or licensed in most states, although requirements vary.

2. What Are the Responsibilities of a Surgical Tech?

Surgical techs typically do the following:

  • Prepare operating rooms for surgeries by making sure all equipment is sterile and assembling surgical instruments
  • Verify patient identity, confirm the procedure with the surgeon, and mark where incisions will be made
  • Assist surgeons during procedures to ensure that everything goes smoothly and equipment is correctly sterilized
  • Keep surgeons and assistants supplied with the correct instruments, sponges, and other medical supplies during surgery
  • Prepare patients for surgery by explaining what will happen during the procedure and giving them instructions for recovering afterward
  • Assist in surgical procedures when needed by holding retractors or other instruments or by handing the surgeon what he or she needs
  • Monitor anesthesia equipment, patient vital signs, and respiration during surgery
  • Pass surgical instruments to surgeons and assistants when needed
  • Help prepare patients for surgery by calming them if they are anxious; offering tissues; giving them instructions on moving around after surgery, and monitoring waking up from anesthesia
  • Provide patient care during the postoperative recovery period by explaining what to expect, answering questions, and making sure they are comfortable
  • Maintain a sterile field throughout procedures. Sterile means are free of germs. Operating rooms must be kept clean so that patients are not exposed to any germs or bacteria that may be in the room
  • Prepare surgical instruments for reuse. The instruments are washed, counted, and arranged by size on trays for use during surgery
  • Assist nurses with post-surgical care of patients, which includes providing personal hygiene items while they recover from surgery.

3. What Education Do I Need to Become a Surgical Tech?

To become a surgical tech, you’ll need at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Many surgical techs learn their skills on the job, although some complete formal training programs that last from several months to two years.

Surgical technologists typically take courses in anatomy and physiology, human development, medical terminology, pharmacology, and infection control. They also shadow a more experienced surgical technologist before they begin working on their own.

All surgical techs must complete formal training in their state. States vary in the requirements surgical technologists must meet to be licensed or certified, but all require some form of experience and education. To maintain certification, surgical techs usually need to take continuing education courses every few years.

4. Which Other Jobs Are Similar to That of a Surgical Tech?

Some other jobs that work with patients and use similar skills as surgical techs are:

Nurse assistant – Nursing assistants help nurses care for patients bypassing them equipment, answering their questions, or relieving them of some tasks. Other duties may include changing bandages and checking vital signs. Most nursing assistants have a high school diploma and complete formal training.

Physical therapist assistant – Physical therapist assistants assist physical therapists in providing care to patients. They help prepare areas for treatment, set up equipment, and may also provide direct patient care under the supervision of a physical therapist. A bachelor’s degree is typically required for this position, as well as state licensure.

Physical therapy assistant – Physical therapist assistants help physical therapists provide care to patients. They set up the exercise equipment, record the patient’s progress, and perform certain tests that are needed for diagnosis. Licensing requirements vary by state, but most require an associate degree in physical therapy technology.

Occupational therapist assistant – Occupational therapy assistants assist occupational therapists in providing treatment to their patients. They help patients with daily living activities, such as dressing and grooming. They may also record their progress and/or report their status to the occupational therapist. Most states require an associate degree in occupational therapy technology for this job, as well as state licensure.

Physical therapist aide – Physical therapist aides help physical therapists provide care to patients by performing non-clinical tasks such as transporting patients and passing out supplies. They may also maintain and organize treatment areas and record patients’ progress. Most states require a high school diploma for this position, as well as state licensure or certification.

Registered nurse – Registered nurses care for sick or injured people by performing a wide range of duties. Their responsibilities include administering medication, monitoring patients’ conditions, helping with surgery, and providing emotional support. Most nurses have an associate degree in nursing, as well as state licensure.

Medical assistant – Medical assistants complete administrative and clinical tasks in the offices of physicians, dentists, and other healthcare professionals. Their duties may include greeting patients, answering phones, scheduling appointments, collecting medical history information, drawing blood, and maintaining medical records. Most states require a high school diploma or equivalent for this job, as well as on-the-job training and state licensure.

Nurse’s aide – Nurse’s aides help nurses provide basic care to patients in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Tasks may include getting patients ready for treatment, keeping treatment areas clean and organized, and transporting patients. Most states require a high school diploma or equivalent for this job, as well as on-the-job training and state licensure.

5. What Is the Salary of a Surgical Tech?

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical techs made a median salary of $41,540 in 2015. The middle half earned between $33,390 and $51,330 that year. The top 10% of earners made more than $60,870, while the bottom 10% earned less than $27,070.

Most surgical techs work a standard 40-hour week. Their schedule may include evening or weekend hours because hospitals operate 24 hours a day and require on-call staff. Surgical techs who are hired for part-time positions may have to work overnight or on weekends in order to match their colleagues’ schedules.

6. How Many Hours a Week Do Surgical Techs Work?

On average, surgical techs averaged about 39 hours a week in 2015. However, some worked as many as 52 hours a week, while others worked as few as 28. Part-time employees usually worked fewer hours than full-time employees, which is why the average for surgical techs was less than 40 hours.

7. How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgical Tech?

Surgical technologists typically need between six months and two years of on-the-job training after they’ve earned an associate degree from a community college or vocational school. Some employers may require job applicants to have a high school diploma, but that’s becoming less common as more emphasis is being placed on formal education for this occupation.

8. What Is the Job Outlook for a Surgical Tech?

The employment of surgical technologists is expected to grow by 38% in the years 2014-2024, which is much faster than average. The growing elderly population, which will need more surgeries and other medical procedures done, is one of the main drivers of this growth.

In addition, technological advancements are making surgery easier for both patients and surgeons, which also contributes to the demand for surgical techs. For example, robots are increasingly being used in surgeries, and they require specially trained technicians to operate them. The job outlook for surgical techs is considered excellent.

9. What Are the Prerequisites for the Certification?

Surgical techs need to graduate from high school or obtain a GED and complete formal training as surgical technologists. Some states require that surgical technicians be licensed or certified, although requirements vary by state. Certification is not necessary to work as a surgical technician; however, it can improve job prospects and advancement opportunities.

Certification is offered by the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) and requires candidates to pass an exam.

Surgical techs must have a thorough knowledge of relevant surgical procedures as well as a strong focus on safety. This includes being able to anticipate potential problems that may arise during surgery.

10. What Is a Typical Day for a Surgical Tech?

Surgical technologists typically do not work with individual patients but instead assist surgeons. They prepare the operating room by laying out all equipment and sterile instruments before surgery begins. The surgical technologist also prepares the patient for surgery by washing, shaving, or sterilizing incision areas, inserting catheters, and administering IV fluids.

During surgery, they must stay completely out of the way of the surgeons, nurses, and other operating room staff while still being able to see what is going on in order to assist if necessary. After surgery ends, surgical techs clean the operating rooms and sterilize equipment before storage or distribution. They may also transport patients to the recovery room and observe them until they are fully awake.

About half of all surgical technologists have a second job, usually working as a receptionist or medical records technician. Surgical techs may work night shifts, weekends, and holidays. They should not be startled by loud noises or spend much time in places that are dark or crowded. Most surgical techs work in hospitals, but they may also find jobs at ambulatory surgery centers and doctors’ offices.

11. What Are the Most Challenging Aspects of Being a Surgical Tech?

Surgical technologists must have excellent hand-eye coordination, dexterity, focus, and attention to detail. They need to be able to stand on their feet for long periods of time and be constantly attentive to what’s going on around them. Surgical techs also need to be able to work well as part of a team and follow strict safety protocols at all times.

Surgical technologists who work part-time or have additional jobs may need to be able to work early morning, overnight, and weekend shifts. They must also be on call for emergencies that may happen outside of regular business hours.

12. Where Do Surgical Techs Work?

Surgical techs work in all types of hospitals, but they are more common in larger facilities. Some surgical techs work in surgery centers, while others may find employment with private doctors’ offices. Surgical techs also work in nursing homes, hospices, and rehabilitation centers. They are often on call outside of regular business hours due to emergencies.

13. What Are the Best Medical Schools to Study Surgical Tech?

The best medical schools to study surgical tech vary by state. Some of the most highly-reviewed include:1

  • Seattle Central College, Seattle, WA
  • Columbia Basin College, Pasco, WA
  • Brown Mackie College – Oklahoma City/Edmond, Edmond, OK
  • Fox Valley Technical College, Appleton, WI
  • Bryant & Stratton College – Milwaukee Campus, West Allis, WI
  • Bryant & Stratton College – Richmond Campus, Glen Allen, VA
  • Brown Mackie College – Dayton Campus, Dayton OH


The surgical tech career path is a great option if you’re interested in the medical field and want to work in a hospital setting. It can be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding. As with any other profession, there are pros and cons to consider before making a decision. We hope this article has helped give you a better idea of what to expect if you decide to become a surgical technologist. Are there any questions we didn’t answer that you still have about the career? Leave us a comment below, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

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