JOB SEARCH / AUG. 26, 2014
version 5, draft 5

How to Become a Surgical Technologist

If you’re fascinated by medicine and crave excitement, but you don’t want to spend years (and thousands of dollars) in medical school, a career as a surgical technologist could be just what you’re looking for.

What does a surgical technologist do?

Surgical technologists (sometimes called "scrub techs") support doctors and nurses during surgeries. Typical tasks may include:

  • Preparing the OR for surgery
  • Maintaining the inventory of all surgical supplies
  • Sterilizing surgical instruments and setting them up for the next surgery
  • Using diagnostic equipment
  • Preparing a patient’s incision site
  • Removing sutures
  • Handing doctors and nurses instruments when they’re needed
  • Holding retractors
  • Counting instruments and sponges to make sure none are left inside an incision
  • Caring for the patient immediately after the surgery
  • Taking the patient to recovery

Where and when do surgical technologists work?

  • Most surgical technologists work in hospital operating rooms, although some work in outpatient surgical facilities.
  • Most surgical technologists work a 40-hour week, and there may be night and weekend shifts.
  • Surgical technologists spend a lot of time on their feet.
  • Some surgeries last for hours, and there may not be an opportunity to take a break.
  • Surgical technologists may need to be on call for emergencies.

What do surgical technologists earn?


Low end

High end

Annual salary



What skills do surgical technologists need?

  • A desire to help people
  • Attention to detail
  • The ability to stand for long periods of time
  • Knowledge of medical terminology
  • The ability to work as part of a team
  • The manual dexterity to handle surgical instruments
  • The ability to keep up in a fast-paced environment

What education and training are required?

Surgical technologists need to complete a surgical technology program from an accredited college or vo-tech school (most schools require a high school diploma for entry). Programs typically include hands-on training as well as classes in:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Ethics
  • Medical terminology
  • Sterile techniques
  • Surgical procedures
  • Patient care

Program length ranges from about nine months for a certificate to 24 months for an associate’s degree.

What certifications are required?

While there are no federal certification requirements, most employers will ask for certification. There are two options:

What are the job prospects?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that the field will increase by 25% by 2018, primarily due to the aging baby boomers and expected developments in surgical techniques. That is considered “much faster than average”. Most of these jobs will be in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and outpatient facilities.

What are the opportunities for advancement?

Surgical technologists have several career paths:

  • Specialization in a more challenging area of surgery (neurosurgery, cardiac surgery, etc.)
  • Advancement to First Surgical Assistant, which includes leading a team of surgical technologists, working directly with surgeons, and taking on other additional responsibilities.

If you love helping people and crave the excitement of working in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment, you may be able to have a challenging career as a surgical technologist.


photo credit: freeimages

Get our FREE eBook!
'6 Steps to Landing Your Next Job'





Get our FREE eBook!
'6 Steps to Landing Your Next Job'

G up arrow
</script> </script>