Nursing Career Path: What Is a Surgical Tech

Nursing Career Path: What Is a Surgical Tech

Any health care facility that performs surgeries requires the expertise and skills of a surgical team. One important part of that team is a surgical technologist (surgical tech), a trained professional who works to support both the patient and surgeon to ensure a smooth operation.

If you’re interested in this career path, here’s an overview of what surgical techs do, the education and certifications you’ll need to become one, and where you can work once you’ve completed your training.

What Does a Surgical Tech Do?

Surgical techs play an important role before, during, and after operations. Here are a few key duties these health care professionals perform:


  • Sanitizing and sterilizing the operating room and equipment used for surgery
  • Assisting in preparing the patient for surgery
  • Gathering and arranging the tools needed for surgery

During Surgery:

  • Ensuring the operating room is sterile and free of disturbances
  • Providing tools to the surgeon or the surgeon’s assistant when asked
  • Helping the surgeon to retract the patient’s tissues


  • Counting and gathering all tools and instruments used during surgery
  • Applying dressings to surgical wounds
  • Disposing of used needles and gauze
  • Maintaining the sterilization of the operating room while the patient is prepped to move to the recovery room

Surgical technicians and surgical technologists may have different names; however, they are interchangeable terms and have the same skill sets. However, a surgical tech does differ from a surgical assistant based on their level of patient care duties. 

Surgical assistants take on a more active role during surgery by working more closely with the surgeon. They will assist with opening and closing the surgical site, applying catheters, stopping any bleeding, and using tools to keep tissues and organs from interfering with the surgery.

8 Important Skills for Surgical Techs

In order to make it as a surgical tech, these are the skills you need to develop:

1. Communication

Surgical techs are required to have excellent communication skills to prevent possible complications or infections during surgery by relaying issues quickly to other team members.

2. Detail-Orientated

They must be able to provide all the various tools and equipment as needed to the surgeon and disinfect tools while prepping for surgery. This requires a keen eye for detail and special attention to ensure patient safety.

3. Dexterity

Clearly, anyone involved in surgery needs steady hands that won’t slip. Also, surgical techs must be able to think and act quickly as they provide the requested equipment and tools to the surgeon as needed.

4. Integrity

As they are in charge of sterilizing equipment and tools in order to provide safe care for patients, surgical techs must have high integrity to be trusted.

5. Physical Stamina 

Surgical techs must be able to stand for long periods of time as surgeries can be lengthy.

6. Ability to Work Well Under Pressure

Surgical techs will spend hours on their feet in a high-stress working environment. Therefore, they must have ample stress management skills while able to work under immense pressure.

7. Operation Monitoring

As surgical techs work with the equipment in the operating room, they must have the ability to accurately watch gauges, dials, and other indicators to ensure machines are properly working. 

8. Listening Skills 

A surgical tech must have the ability to take spoken directions and cues from their team members and respond quickly to requests from the surgeon and/or the surgeon’s assistant in ample time.

How to Become a Surgical Tech

Surgical technologists don’t necessarily need a college degree, but you will need to enroll in an accredited surgical technology program to begin your career journey. Becoming a certified surgical tech can help you immensely with your job prospects, and you can find a program through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). There are around 500 CAAHEP accredited surgical programs to choose from. These programs allow you to earn your certification from several months to two years.

In a surgical technology program, you’ll learn the basics of anatomy, microbiology, and physiology, to name a few. You’ll then get more detailed training on what makes a surgical technologist. This training includes the identification of all tools used in the operating room, the safety and care of patients, and sterilization techniques, as well as how to set up and maintain robotic equipment. 

You’ll learn how to sanitize and sterilize a room and learn to recognize the importance of keeping a room maintained during surgical procedures. Students also have the opportunity to learn in a true clinical setting to get hands-on experience with tools and on-site equipment.

Job Outlook for Surgical Tech?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of surgical technologists will grow about 7% over the next decade, faster than the average occupation. The median annual salary is over $48,000 a year, making it a compelling career path for health care professionals with the qualities mentioned above.

If you want to get into this fast-growing field, you have a few different options for work environments:

  • Hospitals (where nearly 75% of surgical techs are employed)
  • Outpatient care centers (10%)
  • Physician and dentists’ offices (13%)

The work of a surgical tech can be physically and mentally demanding as they may have to spend hours in surgeries thinking quickly while on their feet. Once the surgery is complete, surgical techs may assist in the moving of patients and lift heavy trays of medical supplies or parts of the equipment. It’s important to stay physically fit and focus on mental health before, during, and after their shifts are over. 

Surgical techs will be up close and in-person to the operating table, so they may be exposed to communicable diseases and unpleasant odors and sights. This is why the job of a surgical tech is so important — sterilization and sanitization will be the key in keeping everyone in the operating room safe.

While many surgical techs work full-time, there are plenty of flexible opportunities for part-time and per diem work, especially in a hospital setting. For maximum flexibility, consider a health care staffing agency like Clipboard Health that works with health care professionals who want to pick up per diem shifts at local facilities. 

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