How to Become a Surgical Technologist

How to Become a Surgical Technologist

Surgical technologists can receive training through various means. Surgical tech programs are offered by community and junior colleges, vocational schools, universities, hospitals, and through military service.

It can take from 12 months for a certificate program or two years for an associate degree. You must first have high school diploma, or it's equivalent, for entrance into a surgical technologist program.

Many do, however, require that applicants have taken and passed certain prerequisite courses, generally in basic science and medical terminology.

1. Earn a Degree or Certificate

Surgical tech programs are offered in 9 month certificate courses or at 2 year accredited college or universities. Earning your certificate or degree is crucial to becoming a surgical tech because it teaches you the critical skills needed to work in the OR.

The courses offered mostly consist of the following:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Medical Terminology
  • Hands-on Training in Sterilization Techniques
  • Surgery Procedures
  • Equipment Handling
  • Patient Care and Safety

2. Pass the Surgical Technologist Certification Exam (NSTC)

The National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) offers a comprehensive exam that consists of multiple-choice questions and is administered on the computer.

Passing the test qualifies the student as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST).


Surgical tech hopefuls can take an exam offered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT) called the National Surgical Technologist Certification Exam. This exam certifies the candidate as a Tech in Surgery- Certified (TS-C).

To take the test, applicants must complete one of three paths for eligibility:

  • Complete an accredited degree program
  • Finish 2 years of hospital training
  • Gain 7 years of experience in the field
  • Military training program in surgical technology

3. Maintain Certification Through Continuing Education

CSTs and TS-Cs are required to renew their certification to maintain skills and keep up-to-date with policies and procedures. Surgery Techs can do this one of two ways. They can enroll in continuing education classes or retake their certification exam every four years.

4. Further Your Education & Become a First Assistant

Many CSTs choose to further their education and advance to become a first assistant (aka surgical assistant).

A first assistant is responsible for primary assistance for the main surgeon on duty and is directly involved in the surgical procedure. The NBSTSA offers a National Certification Exam specifically for First Assistants.

To be eligible, one must complete the following:

  • Accredited First Assistant or Surgical Assistant degree program
  • Be a certified Surgical Tech w/ extensive First Assistant work experience

A surgical tech who earns the NBSTSA certification officially becomes a Certified First Assistant (CFA).

The National Surgical Assistant Association also offers a Surgical Assistant Credential which is earned by passing a written, oral and practical certification exam.