Surgical Technologist

While doctors may be the stars of the operating room, they rely on a team of other medical professionals to help them succeed. Surgical technologists are an essential component of any operating room. They are responsible for setting up for surgery, helping to maintain a sterile environment, making sure doctors have the tools they need, and managing the inventory of medical supplies.

Aspiring professionals can become surgical technologists by completing a certificate program or associate’s degree in surgical technology. These nine-month to two-year programs provide students with the theory and practical experience they need to competently enter this field. Typical coursework requirements include medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, math, surgical technology labs, and clinical rotations. Students who attend accredited programs will also be on the path towards certification and licensure, if required by one’s state.

The field of surgical technology is currently growing at a higher than average pace, with an anticipated 7 percent increase in jobs nationally in this field between 2019 and 2029. The growth in this career is driven by an aging population that needs additional medical care and advancements in surgical techniques that require more staff in operating rooms. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists earn a median annual salary of $48,300.

Continue reading to learn what it takes to enter this growing career.

Surgical Technologist Specializations & Degree Types

Surgical technologists must complete post-high school education. Students typically complete either a certificate in surgical technology or earn an associate’s of science in surgical technology. Certificate programs can be completed in nine months, while associate’s programs take roughly two years to complete. Vocational schools, community colleges, hospitals, and universities across the country offer programs for surgical technologists.

Admissions Requirements for Surgical Technologist Programs

Admission to surgical technologist programs can be competitive as this is a growing field and there are a limited number of programs nationwide. Applicants are required to have completed high school or have obtained a GED. Often, programs have a minimum high school GPA requirement or a minimum GED score. Many programs also require that applicants have completed prerequisite coursework in math, writing, biology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry. Prerequisite coursework often must be completed with a competitive GPA.

Surgical Technologist Program Accreditation

Accreditation is important when considering a certificate or degree in surgical technology as it is often required for certification and it certifies that a program has met minimum requirements for facilities, faculty, curriculum, and student outcomes.

The main accrediting agencies are the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

On-Campus Surgical Technologist Degree Programs

Mount Hood Community College

In two years, students can earn an associate of applied science (AAS) in surgical technology at Mount Hood Community College. This rigorous accredited program prepares students to be integral members of any surgical team. Graduates will have a keen understanding of operating room safety, how surgical equipment functions, and how to maintain patient safety. With both practical and hands-on experience, this program ensures graduates will be ready to go straight into the field.

In order to complete this program, students must earn a total of 96 credits in classes such as medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, surgical theory, and interpersonal communication. Specialized surgical technology labs in pediatrics, obstetrics, orthopedics, oral-maxillofacial, plastic and burn surgery are also required as part of this program.

Admission to this program is competitive as only 20 students are admitted to each cycle. Requirements for admission include graduating from high school, submitting placement test scores, and completing prerequisite coursework.

  • Location: Gresham, OR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $249.75 per credit-hour

Dixie State University

Dixie State University offers a two-year associate of applied science (AAS) in surgical technology degree. Graduates will know not only how to perform all the essential duties of a surgical technologist but also be able to critically evaluate emerging knowledge in the field and apply it throughout their career. The ability to practice safely and to adapt to unexpected circumstances are skills highly emphasized throughout the program.

During the first year of this program, students complete general education and prerequisite coursework. The surgical technology program is offered once a year and begins each fall semester. Admissions are competitive as the spots in this program are limited. Applicants are evaluated on a points basis, with scores awarded for their GPA, prerequisite coursework, grades in specific classes, and references. Graduates of this program are eligible to sit for the National Board for Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) certification exam.

  • Location: St. George, UT
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $7,488 per semester

Bellingham Technical College

Bellingham Technical College offers an associate in applied science (AAS) in surgical technology degree. This program emphasizes knowledge, skills, and behaviors that will make competent entry-level surgical technologists. Graduates demonstrate competency in care of an operating room, can provide safe patient care, are critical thinkers, and have excellent verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

Coursework required for graduation includes surgical technology, labs, and clinical rotations. Extensive prerequisite coursework is required prior to entry into this program including biology, interpersonal communication, English composition, chemistry, math, and more. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA in most of the prerequisite coursework and complete the Assessment Technologies Institute (ATI) Test of Essential Academic Skills (TEAS) with a score of proficiency or higher.

  • Location: Bellingham, WA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $149.22 per credit-hour

Swedish Institute College of Health Science

The renowned Swedish Institute College of Health Science offers an associate in occupational studies (AOS) in surgical technology degree. While providing a foundation in core competencies, this program also emphasizes teamwork, collaboration, and strong communication skills. Graduates are prepared for entry-level work in hospitals, dental offices, ambulatory surgical centers, and outpatient surgical clinics. Many students use this degree as a stepping stone towards a more advanced medical degree such as nursing.

This program requires full-time attendance and can be completed in just 21 months. Courses required for graduation include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, microbiology and infection control, pharmacology for surgical technologists, and physiology of disease. The final quarter of this program consists of clinical rotations where students gain hands-on experience. Admission requirements include an application, proof of English proficiency, a personal statement, proof of immunizations, a criminal background check, and passing a drug screening.

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Duration: 21 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $43,959 for tuition and fees

Online or Hybrid Surgical Technologist Degree Programs

Due to the hands-on nature of a surgical technologist program, there are limited online programs and most are degree completion options for working professionals who want to qualify for national certification exams.

Baptist Health System – School of Health Professions

The Baptist Health System School of Health Professions provides an online associate of applied science in surgical technology. This program is designed for working surgical technologists who want to qualify to take their National Board of Surgical Technology & Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) certification exam.

This 63-credit five-semester program covers the fundamentals of Association of Surgical Technologists 6th Edition Core Curriculum in Education for Surgical Technologists. It is an accelerated alternate delivery program with asynchronous classes.

  • Location: San Antonio, TX
  • Duration: Five semesters
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP)
  • Tuition: $20,150 (includes books and fees)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Surgical Technologist?

It takes between nine months to two years to complete the postsecondary schooling necessary to become a surgical technologist. Timelines can vary based on the type of certification or degree earned and if state licensing is required.

How To Become a Surgical Technologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step One: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

The first step towards a career as a surgical technologist is graduating from high school or completing a GED. Not only is this a requirement for admission to most surgical technologist programs, but it also demonstrates a minimum level of competency and education, as well as a commitment to completing a course of study. Students who wish to pursue this career should focus on classes such as anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, math, and English.

Step Two: Complete a Surgical Technologist Program (Nine Months to Two Years)

Completing a surgical technologist program is necessary to enter this field and is required for certification. Students can complete either a certificate or degree program. Certificate programs can be completed in nine months while associate’s programs take approximately two years to complete. When considering a program, students should ensure the school is accredited by either CAAHEP or ABHES, as that guarantees a minimum level of quality as well as a path towards certification.

Step Three: Earn a Surgical Technologist Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Certification as a surgical technologist is required for licensure in some states but is otherwise a voluntary process. Many employers may require candidates to have earned certification prior to hire or for advancement.

The top certifications earned are as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the Tech in Surgery – Certified (TS-C) credential from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).

Requirements to sit for a certification exam include complete required education, submitting an application, and paying a testing fee.

Step Four: Obtain State Licensure, If Required (Timeline Varies)

Currently, only ten states require surgical technologists to obtain state licensure. An additional three states require surgical technologists to register, and another three offer optional registration. While requirements vary by state, most include a minimum level of education, a background check, and certification and/or qualifying exam.

What Do Surgical Technologists Do?

Surgical technologists are essential team members in operating rooms. They work in dental offices, ambulatory surgical centers, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. Typical job duties include:

  • Preparing operating rooms for surgery
  • Maintaining a sterile environment and setting up equipment
  • Preparing patients for surgery
  • Helping surgery room staff dress in sterile gowns
  • Assisting doctors and surgeons during surgery by handing instruments and supplies
  • Managing surgical supplies and inventory
  • Bandaging patients post-surgery
  • Stocking a surgery suite post-procedure
  • Transferring patients to recovery rooms

Surgical Technologist Certifications & Licensure

Certification is an industry-standard for surgical technologists. While certification is voluntary in most states, it is often required by employers or for advancement in the field.

The two most common certifications earned are Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the Tech in Surgery – Certified (TS-C) credential from the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT).

Both certifications require completing an approved or accredited surgical technologist program, submitting an online application, paying an application fee, and passing the required exam.

Licensing is currently required in ten states, but there is active lobbying to increase that number. States that do require licensing include Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Idaho. Requirements vary by state but typically include education requirements, passing an exam, and holding a nationally recognized certification.

How Much Do Surgical Technologists Make?

Wages for surgical technologists vary based on education completed, years of work experience, and place of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technologists earn an average of $50,110 per year. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $33,420
  • 25th percentile: $39,760
  • 50th percentile (median): $48,300
  • 75th percentile: $59,320
  • 90th percentile: $71,400
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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