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From EMT to Surgical Technologist: EMT Career Guide

How to Become a Surgical Technologist: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

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A career as an EMT is both a rewarding learning opportunity and a great way to earn valuable experience that can be a stepping stone to a more rewarding and lucrative career in medicine.

(See our full list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics)

One career path popular among EMTs is becoming a Surgical Technologist (or Surgical Tech), a medical career for which EMTs happen to be uniquely suited.

Surgical techs work directly alongside a hospital’s surgical team, where they help prepare the surgery, sterilize post-surgery, and occasionally assist during the surgery—handing the surgeon tools as requested, holding organs in place, or dressing wounds.

Now is a great time to look into becoming a surgical technologist, as jobs in this field are growing rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9% growth by 2028, primarily due to a greater demand for medical professionals caused by older generations requiring more frequent surgical care, and in greater numbers.

Note: The Surgical Tech should not be confused with the Surgical First Assistant (SFA), a position that requires further medical education as SFA’s assist directly with surgery.

Surgical Technologist Requirements

How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Besides job availability, another benefit to becoming a surgical tech is the relatively small amount of study that’s required. While medical professions like surgeons and nurses require multiple degrees and numerous years of study, the requirements for surgical technologists are quite a bit simpler.

In most cases, becoming a surgical techs merely requires a postsecondary certificate, or an associate’s degree (exact requirements will vary by employer). But, of course, the advantage of going this route is, less time spent on education means more money staying in your pocket—a win-win.

If you’re an EMT wondering if you have what it takes to be a surgical technologist, guess what? You already fit the bill!

Becoming a Surgical Tech Might Be a Good Fit for You If…

  • You enjoy the thrill of unpredictable days
  • You enjoy taking an active role in saving and improving lives
  • You aren’t bothered by watching or discussing medical procedures, treatments, and injuries
  • You enjoy emergency medicine but would like a bigger salary
  • You like having the freedom to take a job almost anywhere in the country
  • You worked hard as an EMS and want greater job responsibilities
  • You’re considering medical school in the future

And don’t forget one of the greatest side bonuses of working in a hospital—getting to wear scrubs all day! Arguably the most comfortable work uniform in existence!

Surgical Technologist Education

What Training Is Required to Become a Surgical Technologist?

A high school diploma is all that is typically required to become a surgical tech, but beyond that, it’s up to the specific employer. There are no state requirements to hold a postsecondary degree or surgical technologist certification, but keep in mind that most hospitals and medical facilities will not hire a surgical technologist without one (or both).

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Surgical Technologist Programs

Surgical technologist training can be acquired at a community college, vocational school, or an accredited surgical technician program. Programs are abundant and exist across the country. To find a program near you, click here. During your courses, you can expect to study:

  • Patient Care
  • Sterilization Techniques
  • Technical Equipment Setup
  • Robotic Equipment Setup
  • Preventing and Controlling Infections
  • Anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Physiology
  • Hands-on experience in a clinical setting

For surgical techs interested in moving up the ladder and becoming a surgical first assistant, additional courses and certification are required.

How Long Does It Take to Be a Surgical Technologist?

The length of time required to earn your certificate or postsecondary degree depends on you and where you study. The process can last anywhere from several months to two years.

Surgical Technologist Certification

In order for a surgical technologist to legally be called a “Certified Surgical Technologist” or “Tech in Surgery – Certified”, you’ll need to apply for certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting or the National Center for Competency Testing. Neither are state requirements, but both can give you a big leg up in landing a job faster (and potentially earning higher pay).

Surgical Technologist Required Skills

Besides the education and certification requirements, successful surgical technologists typically exhibit the following skills:

  • Communication – You must be able to clearly and concisely verbalize any issue with a patient in order to prevent further complications.
  • Physical Strength – You’ll be expected to stand for hours, lift equipment, and move patients.
  • Organizational Skills – The quality of a surgical team’s organizational abilities is of paramount importance to the health and well-being of their patients. Tracking equipment, properly setting up an operating room, and managing stress and fatigue are all vital parts of the process.
  • Dexterity – As with surgeons, surgical techs need to be good with their hands. You’ll be working with small, sharp surgical instruments that must be handled with care and safety at all times.
  • Attentiveness – A good surgical tech is always attuned to what his or her surgical team needs. This requires strong observational skills, laser focus, and excellent listening skills.

From EMT to Surgical Technologist

How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become a Surgical Tech?

EMT and paramedic experience is an ideal starting point for a future Surgical Technician in many ways. Some of those include:

  • Shift Experience – As an EMT, you’re already used to working longer shifts, overnight hours, weekends, and holidays. You know how the system works and how to make it work for you.
  • Proof of Performance – You’ve proven through your work as an EMT that you can handle stressful situations, long hours, and standing on your feet for long periods of time. You’ve also demonstrated that you can handle the tasks that require physical strength and dexterity.
  • Patient Care – Real-life, stressful experience with patients sets you apart from other job candidates.
  • Communication – By working with doctors and dispatchers, EMTs know how to listen for and convey the most important information during a medical emergency or procedure.
  • Organizational Skills – Like surgical techs who prepare checklists and medical equipment for every surgery, EMTs must also begin every shift by preparing medical equipment, supplies, and their own checklist of procedures.
  • Strong Stomach – EMTs witness all sorts of injuries and catastrophes. So, if you can stomach the things you’ve seen while riding in an ambulance, you have a good chance of being able to handle what you’ll see in an operating room as well.

Surgical tech monitoring equipment

Surgical Technologist Duties & Responsibilities

What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

The primary job of a surgical technologist is to support the lead surgeon and their team. Knowing that each surgery may be approached in a completely different way, they need to be able to adapt to the needs and preferences of every surgeon and every surgery. In some hospitals, however, the surgical team may be highly process-driven and prefer that all procedures are done exactly the same way, every time.

Operating procedures will vary from hospital to hospital, but the most common responsibilities for surgical techs include:

  • Preparing operating rooms for surgery
  • Sterilizing and counting equipment before surgery
  • Readying patients for surgery
  • Passing instruments and supplies to the surgeon during a procedure
  • Counting instruments and supplies after surgery to make sure no foreign objects remain in the patient
  • Maintaining a sterile environment

Surgical Technologist Job Description

What Is a Typical Day for a Surgical Tech?

A surgical tech’s day is all about lists. They begin with a list of supplies that will be needed for the first procedures of the day, which they’ll complete, along with any special details they need to know about their surgeon (right-handed or left-handed, special preferences, etc.). Then they check their procedure scheduling list (or caseload) to make sure they are adequately prepared, according to the surgeon’s preferences.

In surgery, one mistake can cost a life, so attention to detail is paramount throughout the day. With every surgical procedure, surgical techs help bring the patient into the room and situate them. They may be asked to wash or prepare the incision area ahead of the first cut. And they’ll apply sterile drapes over the patient as a final touch.

In most operating rooms, the surgical team pauses for a moment before the actual surgery begins to make sure that all I’s are dotted and all T’s are crossed. Surgical techs help with the minutia, like confirming the patient’s identity, any known allergies, and checking the procedure plan one final time to make sure absolutely everything is accounted for.

During the actual surgery, the surgical tech remains on hand to help in every way possible. This could mean anything from passing surgical instruments to directly helping with the surgery by holding open an incision or holding back an organ while the surgeon works. The job, for obvious reasons, is not for the squeamish.

Once the surgery is complete and the supplies have been counted, the surgical tech is the one to apply the final bandages, help remove the patient from the OR, sterilize the room… and then it all begins again.

Surgical Technologist Hours

Like EMTs and paramedics, surgical techs are needed 24/7/365, so work shifts can include mornings, evenings, late nights, weekends, or even holidays. Shifts may also last longer than 8 hours in some cases, depending on how your hospital, medical center, or dental office is organized. You’ll also need to be prepared to be on your feet for most of the shift.

Surgical Tech Uniform

As a surgical technologist, preparing for the day means donning the work uniform—surgical scrubs. When in the operating room, surgical techs are also expected to wear additional gear, including sterile gowns, gloves, face masks, and caps.

Stethoscope next to stack of money

Surgical Technologist Salary

How Much Does a Surgical Technologist Make?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary* for a Surgical Tech is about $54,000, with the highest paid 10% making around $76,000 per year.

Your level of experience will of course play a large part in determining your salary*, as will your choice of state, city, and hospital group as well.

The type of medical facility in which you work may greatly determine your salary* also. Outpatient centers, for example, pay an average of about $4,000 more (per year) than general hospitals, while hospitals pay an average of $2,500 a year more than dental offices. So choose what interests you, but be sure to do your homework on the pay range.

Highest Paying States for Surgical Technologists

According to the BLS, these are the highest paying states for Surgical Technologists:

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
California $32.89 $68,410
Alaska $31.58 $65,690
District of Columbia $31.37 $65,250
Connecticut $31.34 $65,190
Nevada $31.34 $65,180

Highest Paying Cities for Surgical Technologists

According to the BLS, these are the highest paying cities for Surgical Technologists:

City Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
San Jose, CA $38.68 $80,450
San Francisco, CA $38.54 $80,170
Vallejo, CA $37.24 $77,460
Sacramento, CA $35.80 $74,470
Santa Rosa, CA $35.75 $74,330
Santa Cruz, CA $34.41 $71,570
Danbury, CT $34.36 $71,460
San Diego, CA $32.70 $68,010
Stockton, CA $32.24 $67,060
Los Angeles, CA $32.22 $67,020

Beginning Your Career as a Surgical Technologist

Becoming a surgical tech is a popular and natural next step for many EMTs and paramedics.

If you’re not already an EMT and would like to gain real-world experience before taking the leap to becoming a surgical technologist, you can start by enrolling to train for EMT certification.

Emergency medical services are an excellent way to test the waters before fully committing to any one of a number of exciting and lucrative careers in healthcare. Jobs for both surgical techs and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for hard-working, smart, and dedicated employees for their teams. If you’re ready to get started, now is the time.

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