Medical team member

From EMT to Surgical Technologist: EMT Career Guide

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

Medical team member

A career as an EMT is both rewarding and a great way to earn valuable experience—experience that can lead to greater career opportunities beyond emergency medical support.

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

One such career is Surgical Technologist (or Surgical Tech), a medical career for which EMTs are uniquely suited.

Surgical techs work alongside a hospital’s surgical team, where they help prepare the surgery, sterilize after the surgery, and occasionally assist with the surgery—by handing the surgeon tools as needed, holding organs in place, or dressing wounds afterwards.

Now is a fantastic time to become a surgical technologist, as these jobs are growing rapidly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9% growth in the field by 2028, primarily due to a greater demand for medical professionals as older generations require more frequent surgical care and in greater numbers.

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

Surgical Technologist Requirements

How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Surgery preparation

Another benefit to becoming a surgical tech is the relatively short amount of study that’s required. While professions like surgeons and nurses require multiple degrees and several years of study, the requirements for surgical technologists are much simpler.

Surgical techs require a postsecondary certificate or an associates degree in most cases (exact requirements will vary by employer). And, of course, less time spent on education means more money in your pocket—a win-win.

Wonder if you have what it takes to be a surgical technologist? If you’re currently an EMT or paramedic, you already fit the bill!

Surgical Tech Might Be A Good Fit For You If…

  • You enjoy the thrill of an unpredictable day
  • 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 let’s not forget one of the side bonuses of working in a hospital—getting to wear scrubs, 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 typically required to become a surgical tech, but beyond that, it’s up to your employer. There is no state requirement to hold a postsecondary degree or surgical technologist certification, but most hospitals and medical facilities will not hire a surgical technologist without one (or both).

Surgical Technologist Programs

Operating team

Surgical technologist training can be acquired at a community college, vocational school, or an accredited surgical technician program. During your courses, you’ll 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 a surgical tech interested in moving up the ladder to 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 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 complete the additional step of applying 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 could help you land a job faster (and potentially earn higher pay).

Surgical Technologist Required Skills

Besides the educational and certification requirements, surgical technologists should exhibit the following skills to achieve success:

  • Communication – You must be able to verbalize clearly and concisely 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 vital.
  • 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 a secret weapon for a future Surgical Technician in many ways. Some of those include:

  • Shift Experience – 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 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 from an ambulance, you have a good chance of handling what you’ll see in an operating room as well.

Surgical Technologist Duties & Responsibilities

What Does a Surgical Technologist Do?

Medical checklist

The primary job of a surgical technologist is to support the lead surgeon and their team, and depending on their needs and preferences, adapt to every surgery knowing that each one may be approached in a completely different way. 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.

These operating procedures will vary from hospital to hospital, but the 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?

Medical instruments

A surgical tech’s day begins and ends with lists. You begin with a list of supplies that will be needed for the first procedures of the day, which you’ll fill, and any special details you’ll need to know about your surgeon (right-handed or left-handed, special preferences, etc.). Then you’ll check your procedure scheduling list (or caseload) to make sure you adequately prepared, according to your surgeon’s preferences.

In surgery, one mistake can cost a life, so attention to detail is paramount throughout the day. With every surgical procedure, you’ll help bring the patient into the room and situate them. You may be asked to wash or prepare the incision area ahead of the first cut. And you’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. You’ll help confirm the patient’s identity, any allergies, and check the procedure plan one final time to make sure everything is accounted for.

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

Once the surgery is complete and the supplies have been counted, the surgical tech applies the final bandages, helps remove the patient from the OR, sterilizes the room… and then it all begins again.

Surgical Technologist Hours

Like EMTs and paramedics, surgical techs are needed 24/7, so work shifts can include mornings, evenings, late nights, weekends, or 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 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 sterile gowns, gloves, face masks, and caps.

Surgical Technologist Salary

How Much Does a Surgical Technologist Make?

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a Surgical Tech is $49,040, with the lowest paid 10% ranging around $32,000 a year and the highest paid 10% ranging around $69,000 per year.

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

The type of facility in which you work may determine your salary also. Outpatient centers, for example, pay an average of about $4,000 more (per year) than hospitals, while hospitals pay an average of $2,500 a year more than dental offices.

Highest Paid Industries for Surgical Technologists

Here is a list of occupational settings where surgical technologists can work, ranked in order of average salary:

IndustryAverage Hourly WageAverage Salary
Specialty Hospitals$26.49$55,110
Employment Services$25.98$54,040
Colleges & Universities$25.80$53,670
Outpatient Care Centers$25.00$52,000
Other Ambulatory Health Care Services$23.66$49,210
Physicians’ Offices$23.43$48,730
General Medical & Surgical Hospitals$23.33$48,530
Dental Offices$22.09$45,950

Location is another factor that will influence your financial compensation as a surgical tech. For example, Alaska ($63,930), California ($60,940), and DC ($59,280) are the three highest paying states for surgical technologists.

Highest Paying States for Surgical Technologists

StateAverage Hourly WageAverage Salary
Alaska$30.74$55,110
California$29.30$54,040
District of Columbia$28.50$53,670
Nevada$28.39$52,000
Minnesota$28.19$49,210

Highest Paying Cities for Surgical Technologists

CityAverage Hourly WageAverage Salary
Salinas, CA$34.43$71,610
San Francisco, CA$33.17$68,990
San Jose, CA$32.51$67,610
Santa Rosa, CA$31.37$65,250
Sacramento, CA$31.27$65,050
Anchorage, AK$30.96$64,400
Barnstable Town, MA$30.88$64,240
Fairbanks, AK$30.81$64,090
Redding, CA$30.78$64,020
Vallejo, CA$30.32$63,060

Beginning Your Career as a Surgical Technologist

Becoming a surgical tech is a natural step up 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 surgical technologist, you can start by training for EMT certification.

Emergency medical services are an excellent way to test the waters before fully committing to a career 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. All you have to do is take the first step forward.

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