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Surgical Tech: Educational Requirements for Being a Surgical Technician

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a surgical technologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

Surgical technicians are medical professionals who assist surgeons during an operation. Students interested in becoming a surgical tech need to complete an educational program that offers both coursework and clinical experience. Such programs lead to the award of a certificate, diploma or associate's degree. Although states do not require surgical technologists to be certified, those professionals who are credentialed may have greater job opportunities.

Required Education Certificate, diploma or associate's degree in surgical technology
Certification Although not mandatory, certification is available through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting and the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT)
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 30%*
Median Salary (2013) $42,720*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for a Surgical Tech

Prospective surgical technicians need to complete a diploma, certificate or associate's degree program to work in the field. Diploma and certificate programs may be completed in under a year and an associate's degree program in two years. Coursework includes surgical procedures, pharmacology, medical terminology, anatomy and physiology. Students in associate's degree programs must also complete general education and science requirements.

Many programs offer clinical experiences that allow students to observe certified surgical technicians. As students advance through a program, they are allowed to operate equipment in emergency room settings. The curricula may include rotations in surgical specialties, such as dental, vascular or orthopedic.

Students may want to consider programs that have earned accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). While graduating from an approved program may not be a requirement, it may lead to eligibility for important professional certifications.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many employers prefer to hire surgical technicians who are certified ( The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting offers the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential. To become a CST, individuals must graduate from a CAAHEP-approved program and pass the certifying exam. The National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) also offers a recognized certification.

These certifications have continuing education requirements that surgical technicians must meet. The CST credential gives individuals the option of earning 60 credits or retaking the certifying exam over four years. The NCCT has similar recertifying standards.

Job Outlook

The BLS predicted that employment for surgical technologists is expected to increase 30% for the years 2012-2022. This projected job growth is due to the need to take care of the aging population.

Salary Information

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for surgical technologists was $42,720 in 2013, and the highest earners took home more than $61,300 annually. Salary may vary by experience, hospital size or industry.

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