Before you can consider becoming a surgical tech, you’ll want to complete your high school education. All employers will require a minimum of a high school degree, and most will require further education beyond high school.
There are a plethora of surgical technologist programs available, but some will help you find a position faster than others. Surgical techs often earn an associate degree, either through community colleges or vocational schools. It’s a good idea to pick a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CCAHEP).
Not all employers will require certification – however, certification will help separate you from other candidates. There are different certificates you can earn, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recommends two: certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and through the National Center for Competency Testing. It’s also a good idea to become CPR certified.
Surgical technologists are required in every state, but some states might have specific requirements. With an accredited degree and certification, most surgical techs should not have a problem being eligible for job positions across the country.
While the two positions are similar, surgical first assistants take on more responsibilities than surgical technologists. While surgical techs assist by preparing the surgery room, readying patients and assisting during the surgery, surgical first assistants will directly assist surgeons during a procedure.
Many surgical technologists who want to further their career will study to become a surgical first assistant. This often requires additional certification, and possibly even more education. Other surgical techs go on to become nurses, or they move into the administrative side of healthcare.
No, surgical technologists are not required to continue their education to remain certified and keep their position. However, it’s never a bad idea to keep up with any changes in the field through additional education after employment. Also, some certifications may require additional education and re-testing after so many years.
It is possible to become a surgical tech without earning a degree. Certificates are offered, and they usually take one year to complete. An associate’s degree usually takes a minimum of two years to complete. Associate’s degrees usually combine additional education as well as more clinical experience, so a degree could help in securing a position out of school.
While a majority of surgical technologists work in hospitals, it isn’t uncommon for surgical techs to find work in a physician’s office or in outpatient care centers. Some surgical techs even work in dentists’ offices.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surgical technologists made a median annual wage of $46,310 in 2017. The median wage ranged depending on where surgical techs worked; surgical techs in outpatient care centers earned a median of $48,900 while techs in dentists’ offices earned a median of $44,760. On the upper end, surgical techs earned a median of $67,000.
From 2016-2026, there is a projected employment increase of 12 percent – faster than the average occupation. The projected jump coincides with an aging population. Many people opt to get non-required surgeries, such as a knee replacement, that helps keep this position in demand. This makes a career as a surgical technologist a fairly secure position, both in the short and long term.
The average wage for surgical technologists has been increasing, and with a high projected demand, it is likely that it will continue to increase. Also, the more experience a surgical technologist has, the higher the wage they are likely to earn. According to Payscale, an entry level surgical tech might earn around $38,000 a year while an experienced surgical tech could easily earn over $50,000 a year.
The BLS says that there are over 500 accredited programs for becoming a surgical tech. With that many options, it should be easy to find a program.
Potential surgical techs should consider how long the program will take, how much the program will cost and whether or not it satisfies any certification needs that might be required. It’s also important to find a program accredited by the CCAHEP since that increases your chances of finding a better position.
This tool can help narrow your options down to select schools and programs.
Like other positions in the healthcare industry, surgical techs will experience changes in the workplace during their career. To stay ahead and potentially advance their career, many surgical techs join groups and organizations to connect with other surgical techs, and get access to educational tools and resources. Here are some of the top organizations for surgical techs:
Established in 1969, the Association of Surgical Technologist is perhaps the most important organization in the field. They work with accreditation reviews and boards to help establish precedents for the future.
Do you want to further your career or network to find new positions? The NSAA offers training, education and certification for surgical assistants while also connecting assistants with job opportunities.
Here are some of the top places to find additional resources geared toward surgical techs:
Education can be expensive. To help, the Foundation for Surgical Technology offers scholarships to help surgical technologists students afford their education.
The CAAHEP is the main accreditation board for surgical techs. This site has a complete list of all accredited programs.
The NBSTSA offers certification for surgical techs and first assistants. You can learn more about the benefits of certification on their site.
While the ARC/STSA is an accreditation services agency, they also help connect surgical tech students with scholarship opportunities.