How to become a Surgical Technologists

This article provides in-depth information into What is a Surgical Technologists? What Surgical Technologists do? Degrees for Surgical Technologists, Steps to become Surgical Technologists and much more.

What does a Surgical Technologist do?

Surgical technologists also known as operating room technicians or surgical tech assist with surgeries or operations. They are the first medical professionals to be found in an operating room. The primary job of a surgical tech is to prepare operating rooms, arrange equipment likes gowns, gloves, drapes, suction tubes among others and check that the room is ready for performing a surgery. A surgical tech stands by with the doctor along with nurses to pass on surgical supplies to the surgeon, keeping track of and counting instruments and sharps, receiving tissue specimens and passing it to the circulator among others. 

Besides their role inside the operating room, a surgical tech is also responsible for reviewing each patient’s chart, identifying each patient, matching surgeries to the patient’s consent form, monitoring the comfort of the patient and talking to the patient to reassure and put them at ease. 

A surgical tech may work in outpatient care centres, hospitals or physicians’ offices. It is important to note that a surgical tech is not a surgical assistant.

Steps to Become a Surgical Tech

The basic steps to become a surgical tech are as follows:

Obtain a high School Diploma or GED

If you are considering a career in surgical tech, the first prerequisite to become one is to complete your high school education. A high school diploma or GED is the minimum requirement for any post secondary surgical tech program. Students who take up courses in anatomy, biology and hard sciences have better chances at performing well in future.

Enroll in the right surgical tech program

The next step after graduating high school is to enroll in a surgical tech program. Surgical techs often earn an associate degree either vocational schools or community colleges. There are a plethora of surgical tech programs available but make sure you enroll into a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs ( CCAHEP) or Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Students who pass out from accredited colleges have better and quicker chances of getting a position. 

Bag an Internship

While studying to become a surgical tech, bag an internship so as to get hands on training. Such experiences make a huge difference in practical knowledge as well as professional connections when the time to search for a job comes. 

Get Certified

Getting certified is not mandatory and not all employees require certification. However, certification helps you give an edge above other candidates when it comes to getting a job. There are several certificates one can earn. However, BLS recommends either of the two certifications: National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and National Center for Competency Testing. In case you want to be a CPR specialist in future, getting certified helps you be a step ahead in the process. 

Get a Job as a Surgical Tech

There’s a requirement for surgical tech in every state but the conditions vary from state to state. After the completion of certification, you must find a job either in a hospital or in a physician’s and dental offices. More than 70% surgical techs find jobs in hospitals. If you have an accredited degree and certification, the process of getting a job becomes easier

Types of degrees for becoming a Surgical Tech

Post High school diploma or GED, the following degrees can help a student become a surgical tech:

Associate Degree

An associate’s degree in surgical tech typically takes upto 2 years to complete and is considered equivalent to the first two years of bachelor’s degree program. Students pursuing an associate degree program in surgical tech take up classes like clinical assisting, clinical practice, anatomy, microbiology, basic surgical concepts among others. In order to graduate with an associate’s degree in surgical tech, a student must maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 and pass a final comprehensive exam in order to graduate.

Bachelor’s Degree

Students who want to become a supervisor or a program director in the field of surgical tech may opt for a bachelor’s degree in this field. Eligibility criteria for admission into a bachelor’s degree program in surgical tech includes high school diploma certificate, CPR certification, and documentation of immunization in addition to completing the essay, providing Letter of Recommendation (LOR)  and interview process. Program curriculum includes courses like surgical pharmacology, microbiology, anatomy, medical terminology, asepsis and physiology which are imparted in classroom settings, laboratory experiments and clinical rotations. Graduates with bachelor’s degree in surgical tech must have knowledge of cognitive, psychomotor and general and specialty surgical procedures. 

Master’s Degree

Student’s interested to pursue a master’s degree program in surgical tech must have a bachelor’s degree in either of the following subjects: 

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Nursing
  • Business
  • Exercise science
  • Pre-health
  • Or any other health related area.

One of the prerequisites for enrollment into a master's degree program in surgical tech is to have a GPA of 3.0 during bachelor’s degree level. They must have completed courses like anatomy, general biology, general chemistry, physiology and microbiology with a maximum of B- in each course.

Students can expect to take courses in classroom setting, simulation skill centre while partaking in a clinical study. Curriculum includes courses like medical terminology, medical ethics, clinical anatomy, surgical physiology among other common courses. In order to graduate, a student must prove that they possess the necessary behavioral, communication, critical reasoning, observation and motor and sensory skills.

Certifications and Specializations

in order to practice as a surgical tech, a student must be licensed and become a certified surgical tech (CST). This exam is certified by the National Board of surgical technology and surgical assisting. A student might consider a range of specializations including orthopedics, cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, endovascular surgery, ENT, urology, gynecology etc. During the admission process it is important to note that these vast lists of specializations are not provided by all colleges and universities.

Concentrations to consider for Surgical Tech

Following are some of the common course concentration while studying for a degree in surgical tech

  • Anatomy & Physiology: Students learn about the structure and relationship between body parts in anatomy classes and functions of body parts in physiology classes. The course curriculum comprises both classroom and lab rotations.

  • Medical Terminology: Students study the various words used to describe the human body in scientific language. It is one of the major subjects for an aspiring surgical tech. Some of the most common subjects in medical terminology are bodily systems, drug classification, Office procedures etc.

  • Medical Ethics: Students learn to examine the ethical and social issues surrounding the practice of medicine especially the relationship between a patient and a physician. It is based on a set of values that professionals can refer to in case of conflict and confusion.

  • Microbiology: Students learn about microscopic organisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoans.

  • Pharmacology: In this class, students study the mechanisms of how a drug works on a body, its side effects on a body and the way the body uses that particular drug. 

Job Concentrations

Following are the job concentrations for a surgical tech:

Preoperative: Most surgical techs work in the perioperative phase which involves wheeling the patient into the surgery room. Surgical techs are trained in both sterile and aseptic techniques to ensure that the operating room is free from disease-causing microorganisms. They are responsible for preparing the operating room for surgery including sterilization of equipment and other surgical needs. They are also responsible for checking the medical charts and consent forms so as to ensure that there is no misinformation or misunderstandings. The surgical tech is also responsible for preparing a patient before surgery like washing, shaving and disinfecting the incision area. 

Intraoperative: During surgery, surgical techs are not only responsible for maintaining the sterility of the operating room but also acts as an assistant to the surgeon. After the use of every surgical instrument, the surgical tech is also responsible for keeping a count of the equipment and making sure that nothing is missing by the end of the surgery. During the intraoperative process, the surgical tech is also responsible for retracting tissue during the surgery so as to give clearer access to the surgical site to the surgeon.

Postoperative: In the postoperative process, the surgical tech is responsible for suturing the incision and applying disinfected dressings to the skin. Surgical tech is also responsible for wheeling the patient to the recovery room and then tying up everything in the operating room including counting all the instruments and supplies used for the purpose of surgery, disposing of all used needles, gauzes, sutures and tissue specimens and fully cleaning and sterilizing the operating room in prep for the next surgery.

Stand out skills for a Surgical Tech

Dexterity:  Surgical Techs often work in highly stressful environments especially during the intraoperative period. The ability to stay calm and have steady hands when handling medical instruments during surgery is of utmost importance.

Good Communication skills: one of the most crucial skills for a surgical tech is to have good communication skills- verbal and written. As a surgical tech you must be able to communicate verbally as well as on papers. A part of communication includes superior listening. A surgical tech will need to carefully listen and watch for both verbal and non verbal communication cues to assist the surgeon during a surgery.

Teamwork: Surgeries are performed by surgical teams and it is important that they perform well together. This is where teamwork comes into play. Surgical techs must maintain cordial relationships and develop strong teamwork skills as they work closely with surgeons, nurses, medical assistants, anesthesiologists etc. 

Physical Fitness and Flexibility: Surgeries usually last longer than planned and the surgical tech will be required to stay behind even after the procedure is completed. To be physically fit is a basic prerequisite to be successful as a surgical tech. A surgical tech is also required to transfer patients , hence flexibility and physical adaptability is of utmost importance.