Start Your Career As A Surgical Technician

Discover what you need to become a surgical technician. Learn more about the top surgical technician schools and how to complete certification.

Many students are interested in careers in the medical field, but mistakenly believe these jobs are unobtainable. Much of the concern comes from the time and costs associated with medical school. While some professions require advanced degrees and years of training, there are plenty of medical jobs available with only an associate’s degree or the right certification.

A popular job with minimal education requirements is surgical technicians. Surgical technicians work alongside the surgical team in the operating room. They are responsible for sterilizing the room, transporting patients to and from the operation room and handing equipment to the attending surgeon. Surgical technicians also participate in parts of the surgery, retracting the patient’s tissues when needed and suturing incisions. In addition to ensuring the operating room remains sterile, surgical techs also connect drains and tubing or operate suction machines during the surgery. On average, technicians make between $47,000 to $50,000 a year.

Getting a Surgical Technician Degree

Surgical techs have two primary education options, either getting a diploma or completing an associate degree in applied science. Both paths prepare you to be a surgical technician, but there are a few differences. For many students, the biggest deciding factor is time to complete. Getting a diploma is significantly quicker than earning a degree, typically taking up to a year. In comparison, getting an associate’s degree takes closer to two years. There are some accelerated programs which take closer to 18 months, but none that are shorter than earning your diploma.

One of the reasons getting a degree takes longer is you are required to take a few general English and math courses not related to becoming a surgical technician. You can get your degree at the majority of community colleges and universities, as well as select technical and vocational schools. Diplomas are more commonly available from technical and vocational schools, but may also be offered at community colleges.

The other difference between the educational paths is the cost. Getting your degree is more expensive than a diploma, typically costing between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on what school you attend. Getting a diploma is less expensive, often costing between $5,000 and $10,000. However, there are limited financial aid options available for diploma programs. With an associate’s, you are eligible for all the standard grants and scholarships. What financial aid is available greatly varies based on the school you attend. The best way to find out what aid you qualify for is completing your FAFSA. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) also offers various awards and scholarships to help aspiring surgical technicians.

As of writing, online courses to become a surgical tech are almost nonexistent. Many of the lessons require practical, hands-on training. Select elements may be available for online learning, but even with these online classes, you are required to attend a practical class to get the necessary training. Typically, these courses include options for night or weekend lab time.

Necessary Skills

Becoming a surgical technician does not require as much training as other medical careers, but you are still required to develop several important skills. Whether you get a degree or diploma, your courses develop the following skills:

  • Sterilization techniques.

  • Intro to surgical technologies and procedures.

  • Understanding anatomy and physiology.

  • General patient care.

  • Interacting with patients.

Top Schools for Surgical Technicians

Surgical technicians are often advised to get an associate’s degree over a diploma. While the degree is not technically required, many employers prioritize applicants with a degree. Many college courses also give you better networking opportunities, which makes it easier to find a job once you graduate. Many schools offer applied science degrees, but there are some stand out universities for surgical technicians.

Pennsylvania College of Technology places a greater emphasis on the practical side of being a technician. All students are required to complete 200 lab hours and 500 clinical placement hours. The program is also divided into three separate areas, foundations, perspectives and specialization. Many students appreciate this structured approach and find it is easier to learn all the information from this format.

If you are more concerned with getting a diploma, Washburn University hosts an excellent surgical technology program. The program is taught over the course of a year, covering 13 subjects. The program begins in August every year, but entry is fairly competitive. You must have at least three recommendation letters, with the school recommending at least one come from a healthcare professional.

The Great Plains Technology Center in Oklahoma is another college focusing on practical, hands-on experience. The Technology Center has one of the lengthier programs, requiring 555 hours of educational courses with another 630 dedicated to lab and clinic hours. It also covers more general medicine than other courses.

Surgical Technician Certification

Whether you get a diploma or a degree, you must also pass a certification exam before starting as a surgical technician. The exam is administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). The test focuses on basic science, proper use of surgical equipment, sterilization techniques and both pre- and post-surgical procedures. Once you are certified, you must take a renewal exam every two years. During this period, you are required to take 30 hours of continuing education credits.

How to Get and Apply for Financial Aid & Grants

Use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to apply for government-funded financial aid. Federal Pell Grants and a vast amount of other financial aid options are available to potentially pay for some or all of your school-related expenses. It is crucial to submit your financial aid applications prior to the deadlines as mandated in your state.