What degree do I need to become a Surgical Technologist?

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Wipe my forehead, please.

Sure, the surgeon gets all the glory. But the surgeon would be lost without a Surgical Technologist. The Surgical Technologist, or Operating Room Technician, is the person making sure conditions are just right for a smooth, flawless operation. All of those instruments don’t put themselves in order, or clean themselves, or jump up when the surgeon needs them.

We’re not saying they’re unsung heroes, but we bet you want them around if you’re the one going under the knife. But then, if you get the right education, you could be one of them, and pretty soon at that. Don’t assist with your own surgery, though.


To become a Surgical Technologist, you’ll need a postsecondary certificate or an associate’s degree. Certification can be faster, but the associate’s degree will probably look better to prospective employers. You can find a program in surgical technology at community colleges and vocational schools in most areas, so there’s probably one near you already. Depending on what route you take, the education process may take between a few months and 2 years.

You will want an accredited program, and there are around 500 surgical training programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Reputable employers will not accept anything less.


As in any medical program, you’ll need to know all about the human body – anatomy, biology, physiology. But because you’re going into a technical field, there are some interesting further courses you’ll need to take to deal with the technology: medical terminology, pharmacology, and medical computing, for instance. You may even get to learn how to set up and operate robotic equipment, as many surgeries now require assistance from robots for intricate operations the human hand can’t do.

Obviously, you’ll get hands-on experience in a supervised clinical setting – if you were the patient, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The licenses, certifications, and registrations you need to work as a surgical tech will vary from state to state. At the very least, getting a certification will be helpful as you look for work; a certification on your resume definitely tells an employer that you know your job. In some states, a license or certification may be required to work. If you’re considering a career as a Surgical Tech, check out the requirements in your state first to know what you need to do.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting gives the title “Certified Surgical Technologist (CST)” for those who have complete an accredited program and who pass the Board exam. The National Center for Competency Testing gives a different title, “Tech in Surgery – Certified.” To take the exam, you need formal education, military training, work experience, or some combination of credentials.

Work Environment

Since most surgery takes place in hospitals, that’s where most Surgical Technologist will work. Others will work in outpatient care centers, assisting with simpler outpatient surgeries.

You should be aware, Surgical Technology is a physically demanding job. Shifts typically last well over 8 hours, and those hours are going to be largely on your feet. You will be responsible for preparing the OR, setting up instruments and equipment for the surgeon to use, and directly assisting doctors during surgery. And of course, it can be intense. Level-headed, responsible people only need apply.


One of the interesting things about the Baby Boomers is that, as they age, they are much more likely than previous generations to get medical treatment. This generation wants to continue living an active, independent life, even if it means knee and hip replacements, back surgeries, and other surgical procedures. And guess what every surgical procedure needs? That’s right – a Surgical Technologist. Like many other medical careers, Surgical Technologist is a career on the rise; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted as much as 30% growth between now and 2022.

They’re going to need you. So go get that degree!