All About Surgical Tech Programs Online

Find top surgical technologist schools, learn about online programs and courses, and discover how you can begin a fulfilling career today.

Surgical technologists, or operating room technicians, play an important role in the healthcare industry assisting doctors and nurses during surgical procedures. Their duties include sterilizing equipment, counting surgical supplies, and disinfecting the operating room. In order to train for this career, prospective surgical techs need a specialized education — some of which can be completed online. This page discusses the training and provides information on how programs are conducted, financial aid opportunities, earning potential, and avenues for career advancement. Find the surgical tech program that’s right for you and take the first steps toward your new career today.

2019’s Leading Surgical Tech Schools Online

A surgical tech career can be rewarding, but people who choose this path need to find the right degree program first. In order to help future professionals get the training they need, EduMed has created the Best in Class initiative, which spotlights the best surgical tech programs available. In order to create this list, we regularly research schools from around the country to find the programs that provide the best education to its students for the best value. The following is a sampling of some of the schools we feature on our current list.

Montana Tech – University of Montana

University-of-Montana

Montana Tech Highlands College, which is partnered with The University of Montana-Missoula College, offers an associate’s degree program in surgical technology that combines online classes with clinical experiences completed at a hospital. During the online portion of the program, students build a solid foundation for their career by taking coursework in surgical procedures, medical ethics, and operating room techniques. After completing this part of the program, students work in a hospital to learn about surgical technology and techniques to solidify the concepts they previously studied.

In order to gain admission to this program, prospective students should have:

  • A minimum high school grade point average of 2.50
  • A minimum 1120 score on the SAT or a minimum 22 ACT score
  • Completed college preparatory requirements that include classes in computer science, foreign language, math, and writing

As of March 2019, the tuition is $339.08 per credit hour for state residents who are in the lower division and $898.36 for non-resident students. For those in the upper division, the resident tuition is $360.57 and $978.48 non-residents.

Saint Paul College

Southeast Community College

Can You Take Surgical Tech Programs Online?

Although other health care related programs may allow students to complete their studies entirely online, those who enroll in a surgical technology program must participate in clinical training on campus or in a medical facility. However, these programs do allow students to take some of their coursework online, which is convenient for those who are not able to travel to campus on a regular basis because they are working full-time jobs or handling other responsibilities. The following is information on how these programs work.

  • How it works online 
    Surgical technology programs allow students to complete part of the curriculum online, while the rest of the required training is provided at hospitals and on campus. Before they participate in hands-on training, students can take classes like anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and surgical principles online. In some cases, programs are conducted in a synchronous manner, where students are expected to attend classes at a certain day and time, while asynchronous programs allow them to watch lectures at a time that is convenient for them.
  • The benefits
    Those who enroll in hybrid surgical tech programs get the quality education that students on campus receive, while enjoying the flexibility that comes with distance learning. In addition, depending on the program, students may be able to complete their studies in a relatively short period of time, which allows them to begin their careers quickly. Also, the cost of these programs may be more affordable than other types of degrees because oftentimes students are charged by the credit hour, which can drastically cut down costs. All of these factors make partially online programs a good option for those who want to enter the surgical tech field.
  • The reality
    Although some classes that provide the theoretical framework for surgical tech programs can be taken online, people who are interested in these degrees should keep in mind that a large portion of the work will be done in person. This ensures that students are able to put the concepts they learned into practice, while also preparing for their certification exam and the realities of the job.

Types of Online Surgical Tech Programs

In order to become a surgical technologist, professionals need to earn a certificate, diploma, or associate’s degree. In many states, people are not able to enter the field without an associate’s degree, but in other cases, prospective surgical techs are able to get a job with a certificate or diploma. The following describes these programs and what students can expect when they enroll.

Certificate/Diploma

Surgical technology certificate and diploma programs can generally be completed in about a year and a half. These fast-paced, intensive programs are designed to train students quickly on the fundamental information they need to know in order to get their professional credentials and land a job. As with associate’s degrees, people who enroll in these programs take courses to teach them about the patient care standards that are expected in the field, as well as hands-on training that shows them how these practices work in the real world. This is a good option for those who want to stay in school for a shorter period of time than they would in an associate’s degree program, which can ultimately save them money as well as time.

Associate

Like certificates and diplomas, associate’s degrees combine surgical tech didactic training with clinical preparation in order to give students the skills they need to work on a surgical team. However, these programs are for people who want to spend more time in school in order to get an in-depth and well-rounded education. In addition to taking coursework in areas such as medical terminology, health care law and ethics, and surgical techniques, these two-year programs require students to complete general education classes that strengthen skills like writing and mathematics.

What to Ask Before You Apply

Every student has different criteria that they look for when considering a surgical technology degree program. However, there are certain things that all students should look for no matter what their educational or career goals are. The following are some important qualities that surgical tech programs should have.

  • Accreditation
    In order for students to ensure that they’re getting the highest quality education, they should look for a surgical tech program that has been accredited by the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES) or Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). This ensures that the program has the curriculum that will best prepare them to pass their certification exam, as well as knowledgeable instructors who can teach them the skills they need.
  • Campus clinic
    Since hands-on training is such an important element of a surgical tech program, students should get information about the clinic on campus and what technology the program has to offer. Access to state-of-the-art technology will help ensure that students are prepared for working in a real world hospital.
  • High pass rates
    One way for prospective surgical tech students to determine if a program is going to give them the training they are expected to have is by looking at the certification exam pass rates of former students. This is a clue of how effective the program is, so students should look for that information on the school’s website or ask the department for it.

Core Surgical Tech Courses Online

Surgical tech students acquire a myriad of skills throughout their programs, some of which can be acquired through online courses, while others are learned during the hands-on training portion of the program. The following are examples of courses students can taking online and the skills these classes are designed to teach.

Pharmacology-icon

Pharmacology: Students in this class learn about the different types of medications they will encounter as a surgical technologist, including diuretics, antibiotics, and anesthesia agents. In addition, the course teaches how medication calculations are made.

Medical-Terminology-icon

Medical Terminology: Medical terminology courses teach students how to recognize, define, and pronounce terms they are likely to encounter during their careers. Students may learn about the word roots, suffixes, and prefixes of medical terms in this class.

Surgical-Specialties-icon

Surgical Specialties: This course teaches students about the different categories of surgical procedures they may provide assistance with. Topics may include orthopedic and vascular surgery.

Once students have completed their online classes, they go on to the hands-on training where they can complete the following coursework:

Sterile-Processing-icon

Sterile Processing: Surgical technologists should know how to clean, decontaminate, and sterilize surgical equipment, so students need to actually get practice in order to learn how to work up to the standards hospitals demand. In addition, this class teaches how these tools are classified and distributed.

Surgical-Procedures-icon

Surgical Procedures: Students in this class get first-hand experience in surgical procedures. The class may cover how surgical technologists work in different settings, such as ophthalmic, cardiothoracic, and neurosurgery environments.

Operating-Room-Practice-icon

Operating Room Practice: This course is designed to teach students the practices that are common in an operating room setting. Topics may include how to pass instruments, change contaminated gloves, and communicate with members of the surgical team effectively.

Other courses that students may take in a surgical technology program include medical ethics, pathology, and surgical microbiology.

Funding Your Online Surgical Tech Program

Surgical tech students can find several options to help them pay for their education. In some cases, students may take out loans in order to pay their tuition and fees. In addition, they may be able to win grants and scholarships to help defray the cost of their studies. For example, some professional organizations, like the Foundation for Surgical Technology, offer scholarships in order to support the field and ensure that highly-skilled people enter the workforce. Also, specific schools may offer scholarships to the students in their surgical technology degree programs.

For more details on how to pay for your surgical tech program or other health care related training, visit our comprehensive guide to financial aid.

Surgical Tech Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way for students to fund their education without worrying about having to pay the money back after graduation. The following are some scholarships that are provided specifically to surgical tech students.

Accreditation & Certification for Surgical Techs

In order to find a job in the field, professionals are required to earn a Certified Surgical Tech (CST) or Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C) credential. For the best opportunity to get the rigorous training needed to pass their licensing examinations, students should enroll in programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. This section provides a close look at the credentials surgical technology graduates are able to earn, as well as the organizations that provide accreditation for surgical tech programs.

  • Accreditations: Program Credentials

    Accreditation is important because it ensures that schools are offering the high-quality education students need to provide patient care. During the accreditation process, schools have their curriculum, facilities, and faculty evaluated in order to determine if they are equipped to train students to meet the demands of the job. There are two organizations that provide accreditation to surgical tech programs: the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES), which are discussed below.

    • The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs:  The CAAHEP accredits programs in unique areas of the health sciences discipline, such as surgical technology, art therapy, medical illustration, and advanced cardiovascular sonography. When considering schools for accreditation, the organization looks at its faculty, curriculum, facilities, and resources to ensure that the program prepares students to be successful in the field.
    • The Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools: The ABHES has been accrediting health programs, as well as colleges, since 1964. Recognized by the United States Secretary of Education, this organization has an accreditation process that includes reviewing applications from schools, visiting the campus multiple times, and providing required workshops for schools.
  • Certifications: Certified Surgical Tech vs. Tech in Surgery-Certified

    The work that students put into their classroom and hands-on training ultimately culminate in them receiving a certification needed in order to find employment. There are two types of certifications that surgical technologists can receive: Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) and Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C). The following are descriptions of each of these certifications.

    • Certified Surgical Technologist (CST): To earn this credential, surgical tech graduates must pass the CST exam, which is administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting. This is a 75-question test that covers perioperative care topics, including preparation and procedures for the different stages of operations. In addition, the test also covers administrative duties and basic science. In order for professionals to keep their credentials current, they must complete 60 hours of continuing education classes every three years.   
    • Tech in Surgery-Certified (TS-C): The Tech in Surgery-Certified is provided to surgical techs after they have completed their degree programs and passed the exam administered by the National Center for Competency Testing (NCCT). This test contains 175 scored questions, as well as 25 unscored pretest questions, which cover topics related to pre-surgical care and preparation, post-operative care, intraoperative care, and equipment sterilization and maintenance.

Surgical Tech Salary & Career Advancements

For those who are considering a surgical tech career, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is a great time to start training. Between 2016 and 2026, the agency reports that there will be a 12 percent increase in jobs for these workers, which is faster than the national average of all professions. The reason for this growth is in part because older generations are more likely to need operations and seek treatment for their medical issues.

Other health care related professions are expected to see similar growth in the coming years. The following are examples of some of these growth rates:

  • Dental assistants will have 19 percent job growth
  • Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses will have 12 percent job growth
  • Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians will have 13 percent job growth
  • Medical assistants will have 29 percent job growth

There are a variety of places where surgical technologists can find employment, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, dentists’ offices, and outpatient care centers. People who are in these professions can expect to stand for long periods of time and have work hours that may be during evenings, weekends, and holidays.

How Much Can You Make as a Surgical Tech?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for surgical technologists is $46,310. Those who are the highest earners in the field make $67,000 per year, while the lowest ten percent of earners make $32,470.

What’s Next for Surgical Techs?

Those who want to move up in their careers, but continue working in an operating room setting, may choose to pursue similar professions after being a surgical tech for a while. The following are some examples of similar careers that surgical techs may want to consider.

Surgical assistant

Surgical assistants have a similar role in the operating room to surgical technologists, however, they also have more hands-on duties in the surgical team. As a result, they are able to perform more advanced care than surgical techs, such as wound treatment, suctioning, and suturing during a procedure. In order to become a surgical assistant, surgical techs will need to complete a program that generally lasts about one to two years. In addition, surgical assistants are required to also earn a Certified Surgical Assistant (CSA) or Certified First Assistant (CFA) certification.

Nurse anesthetist

Nurse anesthetists are advanced practice registered nurses that are responsible for providing anesthesia to patients during a variety of procedures, including dental, obstetrical, and medical operations. In order to pursue this career path, surgical techs first need to earn a bachelor’s degree to become a registered nurse. The next step is to complete a nurse anesthesia program, which generally takes two to four years. Although this is a big investment to make, the extra work does pay off: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse anesthetists make an average of $165,120 annually and the job opportunities are expected to grow by 31 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Surgeon

Those who want to pursue a career as a surgeon will need a great deal of training. In order to learn how to operate on patients, surgeons are expected to earn a four-year bachelor’s degrees and then go on to medical school, which can take between three and seven years to complete. These professionals can specialize in a number of areas, such as general, plastic, pediatric, oral, and trauma surgery.