If you are interested in working in the field of health care, why not consider becoming a surgical tech? A surgical tech helps during surgeries and plays an important part in making sure patients are prepped and cared for throughout the process. They handle the sterilization of tools and work closely with a team of professionals to assist during surgery. When you work as a surgical tech, you’re a valuable part of a team that strives to provide excellent patient care, and you get to work with surgeons, nurses, and patients to ensure that the entire surgical process goes smoothly.
In order to work as a surgical tech, you’ll need to go through training and certification to ensure that you’re fully prepared to handle the rigorous environment of an operating room. You’ll also need to explore your interests as you go through surgical tech schooling, allowing you to choose a specialty area in which you’d like to work after you graduate. While surgical tech school can be stressful, you’ll finish with an invaluable skill that will make you employable anywhere in the country.
Here’s more information on how to become a surgical tech as well as some other important facts about the role.
How to Become a Surgical Tech
The process of earning your certification as a surgical tech can feel daunting, especially if it’s your first time working in the medical field. Your surgical tech schooling will take you through everything you need to know to be an asset in the operating room, from understanding human anatomy and physiology, surgical techniques, disease pathology, and more.
To become a surgical tech, these are the steps you have to follow:
- Go through surgical tech schooling (including practicum hours)
- Get certified through the appropriate certification body in your state
- Apply for a job in the surgical specialty of your choice
Here are more details on what you should expect during the process.
Surgical Tech Schooling
Surgical technologists and assistants usually need to get at least a certificate, if not an associate’s degree, in the field. However, some employers will have varied requirements, and some may prefer or require a bachelor’s degree. If you already know where you’d like to work as a surgical tech, it’s a smart move to reach out to the organization and learn more about their requirements. If you’re unsure of where you’d like to work, reaching out to a few different hospitals in your area and learning more about what you’ll need to do in order to get hired as a surgical tech can help you get ahead of the game when it comes to creating the right education plan for your career path.
Educational requirements to become a surgical tech start with a formal education program in surgical assisting. That program may be available through a vocational program or assistance program. These programs are generally offered at universities and teaching hospitals.
The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs accredits all surgical technology and assisting programs.
Surgical techs may need to have additional education in basic life support and CPR. Additionally, those who wish to specialize may need training through their employers or specialty programs.
What Does a Surgical Tech Do?
A surgical tech works in the operating room along with nurses, anesthesiologists, and surgeons. Their role is split into three parts: the preoperative phase, the surgical (intraoperative) phase, and the postoperative phase.
Before surgery begins, a surgical tech starts by:
- Sterilizing the equipment to be used during the surgery
- Preparing the patient for surgery
- Gathering equipment, counting it, and making sure it’s arranged correctly
- Preparing patients to go into the procedure
The next part of the job happens during surgery. While in surgery, the surgical tech focuses on passing the surgeon’s tools to the surgeon (or handing them to the surgeon’s assistant). Then, the surgical technician may assist in some parts of the surgery, such as by retracting tissues.
After the surgery is over, the surgical technologist helps by wrapping up the surgery. They count all the tools and instruments. They dispose of items like gauze or needles. They also help apply dressings to the patient’s wounds.
Surgical Tech Salary and Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, surgical technicians can expect to earn a median pay of $48,510 per year based on 2021’s data. The field is quickly growing; the field is expected to grow by six percent by 2031. That growth will add another 7,700 jobs to the market.
After earning your certification as a surgical tech, you’ll have many opportunities to choose where you’d like to work. Some surgical techs prefer to work in a large hospital, which can be a great idea if you’re planning on continuing your medical education and want to keep working within the same organization. Others choose to work in same-day surgical centers, where patients have in-and-out procedures, allowing them to undergo surgery and return home the same day. Some surgical techs work in private physicians offices, where a single surgeon (or a team of surgeons) work to provide patient care outside of a large healthcare organization. You may also have an opportunity to work for a surgical supply or equipment company, educating surgeons and other techs on the best tools in the field to help them provide excellent patient care.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Surgical technicians often move on to become other kinds of medical professionals. You may find that your experience in the operating room helps you to learn more about where you’d like to go with your career. Some people find that they prefer providing direct patient care, or helping patients who are having a hard time with anxiety before surgery. Others find that they most enjoy working directly with surgeons, helping them to create seamless procedures that result in excellent patient outcomes.
With more education, it’s possible to become a registered nurse or surgeon. Your education as a surgical tech will benefit you if you choose to advance your medical career. Having baseline knowledge of the principles of disease, anatomy and physiology, and how to work with other healthcare providers will allow you to begin your education a step ahead of others who are just getting started in the field.,
Within the field, it’s possible to get additional certifications and credentials. For example, it’s possible to get a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) certificate through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. Another option may be the title of “Tech in Surgery – Certified of TS-C (NCCT),” which comes from the National Center for Competency Testing.
Many surgical technicians work in general surgery, but there are specialized areas to choose from including:
- Organ transplant
- Pediatric surgery
- Plastic surgery
Many people who are going through surgical tech training aren’t sure what specialty they’re interested in right away. That’s ok–it’s normal to figure out what specialty is the best fit for you as you go through your practical education.
If you think you may be interested in a certain specialty but aren’t sure if it’s the right choice, talk with your academic advisor to see if you can set up a day of shadowing or a practicum in that particular field. If you find that you love surgical tech work in general and don’t have a desire to work in any single field, you may be interested in working in a hospital’s general surgery department.
Is a Career as a Surgical Tech Right for Me?
A career as a surgical tech isn’t right for everyone. Those who work in the career need to be detail-oriented and have good communication skills to prevent errors and accidents. It’s important to consider the obvious–you’ll need to be ok with blood and the human body. If you’re not ok with seeing medical procedures but still want to help patients who are facing surgery, working as a patient care advocate or finding another role within a healthcare system may be a better idea.
There are also important moral qualities that you’ll need to have when you decide to enter the field of medical surgery. Surgical techs should have integrity, since they’re helping during serious surgeries. You’ll need to be able to be humble enough to tell a supervisor if you’re too tired to attend a surgery, and you’ll need to be sure to prioritize self-care so that you’re able to give your patients your best, most fully aware self. Additionally, you’ll need physical stamina to stand for long periods of time and should have good dexterity when working with your hands.
All surgical techs need good stress-management skills and must work well under pressure. It’s normal to be nervous when you get started as a surgery tech. Talking with experienced techs about how they manage their stress levels and calm their nerves when assisting with tough procedures can go a long way in helping you develop the techniques you need to remain steady even when things in the operating room get tough.
Surgical techs help during life-changing, and life-saving, surgical operations. The field is challenging, but it has significant benefits for those who like to help others. Surgical techs also have opportunities to advance or train for other positions (such as becoming registered nurses or surgeons themselves). By working within a healthcare organization, you’ll be able to get to know others in your field. You’ll have the networking opportunities that allow you to explore other fields of healthcare if you’re interested in moving forward with your career.
As a surgical tech, you’ll also have the chance to work in a variety of settings. With a career in such high demand, you won’t need to stick with a job that isn’t the right fit for you. You’ll also get the chance to learn about the latest tools and techniques in surgery while you’re on the job, keeping you prepared to move forward no matter what path your career takes.
Other Careers in Surgical Services
While learning how to become a surgical tech, don’t forget about some of these other careers in surgical services that may be a better fit:
- Scrub tech (a person who ensures cleanliness during an operation)
- Anesthesia technician (the person in charge of anesthesia)
- Physician’s assistant (assists during surgery)
- Surgeon (performs the operation or assists other surgeons)