What Degree Do You Need to Be a Surgical Tech?

Considering a career in surgical technology? Find out what degree you need and what you can expect from the job.

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Surgical Technician Job Description

A Surgical Technician, also called a “Scrub Tech” or a “Scrub Nurse,” is an allied health professional who works alongside surgeons, registered nurses, and other operating room staff during surgical procedures. Surgical Techs are responsible for sterile instruments and equipment, as well as ensuring that the operating room is clean and organized.


As a surgical technician, you will be responsible for a number of duties both before and during surgery.

You will work with the surgeon and other members of the surgical team to ensure that the operating room is ready for surgery. This includes setting up equipment, making sure that instruments and supplies are sterile, and getting the patient ready for surgery.

During surgery, you will hand instruments and supplies to the surgeon as needed. You will also monitor the patient’s vital signs and make sure that they remain stable.

After surgery, you will help transfer the patient to the recovery room and make sure that all of the equipment is cleaned and sterilized for the next surgery.


To be a surgical technician, also called a scrub tech, you will need certain essential skills. These include physical stamina, dexterity, good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), attention to detail and the ability to work well under pressure. You will need to have strong communication skills to be able to interact with the surgical team, as well as the patience to stand for long periods of time. You should also be able to remain calm in stressful situations.


While a surgical technician’s salary varies depending on experience, geographic location, and employer, the median annual salary for all surgical techs in the United States was $47,300 in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The lowest 10 percent of earners made less than $33,870 that year, while the highest 10 percent took home more than $66,590.

How to Become a Surgical Technician

Becoming a surgical technician is a great way to enter the medical field without having to spend years in school. You can complete a surgical tech program in as little as nine months. Once you have your degree, you’ll be able to work in a hospital or surgical center.


You can enter the occupation with a postsecondary nondegree award, but some employers may prefer or require an associate’s degree in surgical technology. Community colleges and technical schools offer programs in surgical technology that last about 2 years and lead to an associate’s degree. A few hospital-based schools offer certificate programs that last about 1 year, but these programs are less common.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) accredits more than 400 surgical technology programs across the United States. CAAHEP-accredited programs lead to a credential, such as an associate’s degree or certificate, and must meet certain standards, which include illustrating competence in all required skills for surgical technologists.


There are many certification programs available to become a surgical technician, each with their own specialties. The most common certification is the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). To be eligible for this certification, you must have graduated from an accredited surgical technology program and pass a written exam.

Other certifications that may be available include the Certified first Assist (CFA), Registered Surgical Technologist (RST), or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). Some states also have their own certification process that you may need to complete. Many employers will require you to be certified before they will hire you.

Continuing education is important to maintain your certification and keep up with new technology and procedures. Certification must be renewed every four years and may require re-taking the written exam or completing a certain number of continuing education credits.

Advancement Opportunities

While most surgical techs find work in hospitals, there are other options as well. Surgical techs may also work in outpatient facilities, such as ambulatory surgery centers or doctor’s offices. With experience, some surgical techs move into supervisory roles or teach in certificate or diploma programs. Some become sterile processing technicians, who sterilize instruments and equipment for surgery. Others become first assistants, who provide direct support to surgeons during selected procedures.

Surgical Technician Degree Programs

A surgical technologist (sometimes called a scrub, scrub tech, surgical technician, operating room technician, OR tech, or circulating nurse) is an allied health professional working as a part of the surgical team. Surgical technologists work alongside surgeons, anesthesiologists, and registered nurses to ensure that each surgery is carried out safely, efficiently, and effectively.

Community College

Community colleges offer a variety of programs leading to an associate degree in surgical technology. Although some community colleges offer on-campus housing, most surgical tech students commute to classes. Because of this, many community colleges offer a variety of class times and formats, including online and hybrid courses, to accommodate students’ schedules.

Technical or Vocational School

While a degree is not always required, completing an accredited surgical tech program can give individuals the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue a career in this field. Surgical tech programs typically last between nine and 15 months and most can be found at technical or vocational schools. Some community colleges also offer two-year associate’s degree programs in surgical technology.


While many positions in the medical field only require a certificate or an associate’s degree, most surgical technician programs require completion of a university degree. Surgical techs who have completed a bachelor’s or master’s degree in surgical technology will have the opportunity to work in more specialized surgical positions, such as teaching at a university or working as a research assistant.

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