You may know them as surgical technologists, surgical technicians, or surgical techs, but they all perform similar support tasks in the operating room. Surgical tech jobs require only a certificate or associate degree and offer a short route to a rewarding profession in the medical field.
In surgical tech programs, you acquire the knowledge and clinical skills necessary to handle surgical equipment and assist surgeons. Here, we highlight the best surgical tech programs and what to look for when choosing a school to attend.
Are There Any Surgical Tech Programs Online?
While surgical technologists need too much clinical training for fully online surgical tech programs, you still have some online learning options available to you.
You'll then need to go to campus or a placement site with a surgical lab for the clinical and field components.
The good news is that these hybrid programs give you flexibility in your schedule. The not-so-good news is that you need to consider travel and in-person requirements when choosing a school and program.
Did You Know?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% growth in surgical tech jobs between 2021 and 2031 — that's more than 6,500 new jobs.
Top industries for surgical techs include general and medical hospitals, doctor's offices, and outpatient care centers.
The U.S. is currently experiencing a severe shortage of surgical techs, according to the Accreditation Review Council on Education in Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting.
Explore Our Featured Healthcare Programs
Why Accreditation Matters for Surgical Tech Programs
Accreditation works as a quality check and verification tool for students, employers, scholarship programs, and educational institutions.
You need to consider both institutional and programmatic accreditation when looking for a surgical technologist program. Attending a school without accreditation can prevent you from accessing adequate financial aid or employment opportunities.
Institutional accreditation should come from an accrediting agency recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the U.S. Department of Education.
On the programmatic side, check for accredited programs with the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).
Top Surgical Tech Programs
#1 The Best Surgical Tech Programs for a Career in Healthcare
Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences
- 4 years
- Online + Campus
From its main campus, the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences is a private school educating learners through associate and certificate programs. While earning an associate degree or certificate in surgical technology, students gain technical skills necessary for positions in the field. Graduates often apply their credits toward a bachelor's degree, which can lead to increased earning potential.
By studying online, enrollees can eliminate the cost of commuting to Lancaster for in-person classes. Online learning also benefits working professionals who need to schedule their studies around full-time employment. Before enrolling, applicants can speak with an admissions counselor to ensure the institution offers a program aligning with their goals.
Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences at a Glance:
Number of Associate Programs: 8
Number of Certificate Programs: 10
Number of Certificate Programs Available Online: 4
#2 The Best Surgical Tech Programs for a Career in Healthcare
University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown
- 4 years
The University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown delivers associate and certificate programs to prepare learners for surgical technology careers. While the school's campus is located in Johnstown, students can complete online programs from anywhere. Online programs typically feature flexible scheduling options, allowing busy learners to complete coursework around other responsibilities.
Surgical technology-specific coursework and training in associate and certificate programs help participants understand the field and gain practical skills. The skills gained during these programs can be applied directly to entry-level work in surgical technology and related fields. Along with applying for positions, graduates can transfer their credits into a bachelor's program and advance their education before entering the workforce.
University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown at a Glance:
Number of Associate Programs: 2
Number of Certificate Programs: 3
How Much Does a Surgical Tech Program Cost?
You'll likely come across a wide range of surgical tech program tuition costs.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, two-year programs cost an average of $3,900 at public schools and $18,000 at private nonprofit schools in 2020-2021.
Other factors that can influence surgical tech program costs include the type and length of the program and whether you pay in-state or out-of-state tuition rates.
No matter how much you expect to pay, apply for financial aid by submitting the FAFSA. Many schools and organizations offer scholarships as well, which can further minimize college costs.
How Much Do Surgical Techs Make?
As with most jobs, surgical tech salaries can vary depending on your location, credentials, experience, and employer.
In May 2021, surgical techs earned a median annual salary of $48,530, according to the BLS. Techs in California earned a mean annual wage of $68,410, whereas those in Mississippi earned an average of just $40,250 per year.
One way to increase your earning potential is to earn a certification, such as that offered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA). Certification verifies your field qualifications and expertise, emphasizing to employers that you meet or exceed a high professional standard.
How to Become a Surgical Tech: 3 Steps
The road to a surgical tech job can look a little different for everyone, but the following steps outline the most direct path you can take.
Step 1: Choose a Surgical Tech Program
Choosing the right surgical tech program starts with finding accredited schools and programs. Take care to prioritize CAAHEP-accredited programs.
Next, you need to decide between a certificate and an associate degree, as well as between an online and on-campus program. This decision will depend on your goals and learning style.
Common Courses in Surgical Tech Programs
- Foundations of Surgical Technology
- Medical Ethics
- Medical Terminology
- Surgical Procedures
- Surgical Technology Practicum
- Surgical Theory
Step 2: Complete All Clinical Requirements
All surgical tech programs feature practical components, such as surgical lab simulations and internships.
Hands-on skills, such as learning how to use surgical instruments and understand surgical procedures, must be taught in person, either on campus or at a local site. So be prepared to travel to campus or a nearby facility to complete your clinical requirements.
Note that online surgical tech programs typically offer general education classes online.
Step 3: Get Certification
Though not usually mandatory, certification can improve your employment chances and earning potential as a surgical tech.
Some states and employers may require certification. Check your state's and potential employers' requirements to determine whether you need certification — and which one.
Top surgical tech certifications include NBSTSA's certified surgical technologist and the certified tech in surgery from the National Center for Competency Testing.
Other options are the National Commission for the Certification of Surgical Assistants' certified surgical assistant and the American Board of Surgical Assistants' certified surgical assistant.
Frequently Asked Questions About Surgical Technology
What does a surgical tech do?
Surgical technologists, or surgical technicians, help surgeons with various procedures. They prepare operating rooms, including arranging the equipment and getting patients ready for surgery.
They also sterilize the site and the instruments, hand the surgeon any required supplies, and transfer specimens to the laboratory.
How long does it take to become a surgical tech?
Surgical tech programs vary in length but typically last 1-2 years. Some certificate programs take less than one year. Most associate degree programs take about two years to complete, with accelerated options available.
Immediately after completing an accredited surgical tech program, you may pursue certification or state registration without adding any substantial time.
Do surgical techs make more than nurses?
No, surgical technicians generally do not earn more than nurses.
According to the BLS, nurses made a median annual salary of $77,600 in May 2021 — that's nearly $30,000 higher than the median salary for surgical techs.
It's possible for surgical techs to make more than some nurses, though. For example, in May 2021, the top 10% of surgical techs made more than $75,940, while the lowest 10% of registered nurses made under $59,450.
Do you need math to be a surgical tech?
While many surgical technologist programs feature foundational math courses as part of the general education component, you rarely use math in the field. Aside from some basic unit conversion calculations, surgical tech jobs do not require math skills.
For some programs, high school math may be required as a prerequisite for admission.
Is being a surgical tech hard?
Surgical tech jobs can be challenging, as they require you to stay on your feet for long periods of time. You may find your shift length exceeds the typical eight-hour workday. The job also requires you to carry medical equipment, which can be heavy and laborious.
As a surgical tech, you may encounter challenging sights and smells as well. The job can take an emotional toll, so it's important to maintain a healthy work-life balance.