Surgical Technologists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

During high school, take courses that develop basic skills in mathematics, science, and English. Also take all available courses in health and biology.

Postsecondary Training

Surgical technology education is available through postsecondary programs offered by community and junior colleges, vocational and technical schools, the military, universities, and structured hospital programs in surgical technology. A high school diploma is required for entry into any of these programs.

Many of these programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP, https://www.caahep.org). The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (https://www.abhes.org) also accredits surgical technology programs. The accredited programs vary from nine to 12 months for a diploma or certificate, to two years for an associate's degree. Students can expect to take courses in medical terminology, communications, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, medical ethics, and legal responsibilities. They also gain thorough knowledge of patient preparation and care, surgical procedures, surgical instruments and technical or robotic equipment, and principles of asepsis (how to prevent infection). In addition to classroom learning, students receive intensive supervised clinical experience in local hospitals, which is an important component of your education.

Other Education or Training

The Association of Surgical Technologists provides a variety of professional development opportunities, including education sessions at its annual conference. Past sessions included "Interaction Between Surgeon and Scrub Tech," "Microsurgical Solutions to Wound Problems," and "Finding Your Voice–Advocating for Your Patient, Yourself and Our Profession."

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Increasing numbers of hospitals are requiring certification as a condition of employment. Surgical technologists may earn a professional credential by passing a nationally administered certifying examination. To take the examination, you must be currently or previously certified or be a graduate of a CAAHEP- or ABHES-accredited program. The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) is the certifying agency for the profession. Those who pass the exam and fulfill education and experience requirements are granted the designation of certified surgical technologist (CST). To renew one's certification, the CST must earn continuing education credits or retake the certifying examination. The NBSTSA also offers an advanced credential for surgical first assistants; this exam awards the designation of certified surgical first assistant.

Another certification for surgical technologists can be obtained from the National Center for Competency Testing. To take the certification exam, candidates must either complete an accredited surgical technology training program, or have three years of experience in the field, or meet other experience or training criteria. Upon passing the exam, surgical technologists receive the designation of tech in surgery – certified (NCCT). This certification must be renewed every five years either through reexamination or continuing education. 

The National Surgical Assistant Association and the American Board of Surgical Assistants also offer certification for surgical first assistants.

Some states require surgical technologists to be licensed. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Completion of a supervised clinical experience in a local hospital or other health care setting is required for aspiring surgical technologists.

Surgical technologists must possess an educational background in the medical sciences, a strong sense of responsibility, a concern for order, and an ability to integrate a number of tasks at the same time. They need good manual dexterity to handle awkward surgical instruments with speed and agility. In addition, physical stamina is required to stand through long surgical procedures.

Surgical technologists must be able to work under great pressure in stressful situations. The need for surgery is often a matter of life and death, and one can never assume that procedures will go as planned. If operations do not go well, nerves may fray and tempers flare. Technologists must understand that this is the result of stressful conditions and should not take this anger personally.

In addition, surgical technologists should have a strong desire to help others. Surgery is performed on people, not machines. Patients literally entrust their lives to the surgical team, and they rely on them to treat them in a dignified and professional manner. Individuals with these characteristics find surgical technology a rewarding career in which they can make an important contribution to the health and well-being of their community.