Your 4-Step Guide on How to Become a Surgical Technologist

operating room scene 

You’re watching your favorite medical drama, where a patient is undergoing a tricky surgery. The surgeon delivers commands through the tense operating room (OR), instructing the team and successfully completing the surgery. However, while the cameras are focused on the surgeon, you can’t help but wonder about the surgical technologist working in the background to complete the operation.

If Hollywood is to be believed, the only thing a surgical technologist needs to know is how to hand a surgeon a scalpel. You know there’s much more to the job than this, though. In fact, you’re a little intimidated by a surgical technologist career. Don’t they need lots of complex medical training to be qualified? What will I be getting myself into if I choose to pursue this as a career?

Surgical technologists do require specialized medical skills to properly care for patients and prep the OR, but the training to get you there isn’t as daunting as you might think. We’re digging into how to become a surgical technologist, so you’ll know what to expect every step of the way as you pursue this vital healthcare career.

How to become a surgical technologist in 4 steps

If you’re curious about how to become a surgical technologist, the following outline will help you get a better idea of the path ahead. Familiarize yourself with the process so you can be prepared.

1. Choose a degree program

Good news—becoming a surgical technologist doesn’t require the long years of medical school you might have been picturing. Surgical techs can get started with an Associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate, which often can be completed in two years or fewer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).1

Surgical tech programs may not take long to complete, but choosing the right program is still an important part of your success, according to Chante Yearby, surgical technologist program coordinator at Rasmussen College. After doing some research and narrowing down your option, she recommends attending an in-person information session and knowing what to look for in a high-quality program.

Verify that the program’s teaching faculty holds the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) credential and to be sure to consider the program’s scheduling and time commitment requirements.

2. Earn your degree

Once you’ve enrolled in a program, it’s time to get to work completing courses and earning your degree. Aspiring surgical techs can expect their coursework to prepare them for the important work of sterilizing the OR, caring for patients, working with equipment and preventing infections. Your courses may include anatomy, biology, medical terminology and other topics related to healthcare, according to the BLS.1

Near the end of your education, you’ll gain hands-on experience in a clinical setting through practicums. Practicums are a valuable part of a surgical tech’s training, offering real-life, supervised experience that proves you have the knowledge you need to succeed in this career. Each program will have its own requirements for practicum hours and scheduling.

Not only will practicums help you feel more confident in applying your skills in real-life situations, but they can also help you land a job after graduation.

“Students keep a log of all the cases they perform during the practicum rotation to help with their job search,” Yearby says.

3. Pass the certification exam

The Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam isn’t required in every state, but passing it shows that you’re qualified and serious about your career as a surgical technologist. “Being certified will help with the job search when the time comes,” Yearby says.

The test itself covers all the basics an entry-level surgical tech should know, including practical knowledge. Once you’ve earned your CST credential, you can maintain it by pursuing professional development and applying for recertification every four years.

4. Land a job

The job hunt can feel like the hardest part of the process. You put in the work to earn your degree, but what if no one wants to hire you? Thankfully there are steps you can take to ensure that you have the skills and experience employers are looking for.

Surgical technologist careers are growing faster than the national average, increasing by a rate of 12 percent through 2026, according to the BLS.1 That’s more than 12,000 new surgical tech jobs! We dove into real-time job postings to uncover the skills employers are looking for when they fill those open surgical tech positions:2

  • Patient care
  • Life support
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Sterile procedures
  • Knowledge of surgical instruments
  • Perioperative procedures
  • Patient transportation and transfer
  • Anesthesiology

You’ll gain valuable technical skills like these in a high-quality Surgical Technologist degree program, along with a handful of soft skills that come in handy on the job. “Employers are also looking for strong team players, great attitudes and a patient-centered mindset,” Yearby says.

Showcasing your relevant clinical experience on your resume is another reliable technique for demonstrating your worth to future employers. “Employers are looking for strong clinical experience from new surgical techs,” Yearby says. “Oftentimes if the student performs well during their practicum rotation, it is possible the practicum site might invite the student to apply as soon as they graduate.”

Join the ranks of surgical technologists

You’ve done all the research about what it takes to be a surgical tech. Now that you know how to become a surgical technologist, you can see that getting started in this exciting healthcare career is less daunting than you first imagined.

There’s no better time than now to start your journey toward becoming a surgical tech. Take the first step by checking outRasmussen’s Surgical Technologist Associate’s degree and discovering all that this program has to offer.

1Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [information accessed December 3, 2018] Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and include workers at all levels of education and experience. Employment conditions in your area may vary. (analysis of 25,247 surgical technologist job postings, Oct. 01, 2017 – Sep. 30, 2018).

Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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