Surgical Techs are those healthcare professionals who play a major role before, during, and after surgical procedures.

Before the surgery they ensure the OR is ready, during it they assist the surgeons and Surgical Assistants, and post that they make the OR ready for the next procedure.

We bet you have known about this before, and what probably brings you here today is – how long it would take to become one, the money to be invested, or which route is the most efficient one.

We’ll help you with all these queries and more in this article. We’ll also recommend the best route going forward. Moreover, we’ll be discussing the possible next steps after you acquire your Surgical Tech program.

Let’s Start –

How Long Does It Take to Become a Surgical Tech?

How Long Is a Surgical Tech School?

If you have a High School Certificate, then you can enroll in a Surgical Tech program. These programs are often offered by community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, or universities.

You may also opt for online schools.

Read -> What is a Surgical Tech?   

If you wish to enroll in a Surgical Tech program, then you typically have just 3 options –

  • Option 1 – Associate Degree
  • Option 2 – Certificate Program
  • Option 3 – Online Surgical Tech Program

But, as you know with career courses, it’s crucial to choose a program accredited by the CAAHEP – Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or ABHES – Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools.

During the program, you’ll receive classroom instruction as well as hands-on clinical training in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or surgical center.

To become a surgical tech, you need to invest around 1 to 2 years depending on the program of your choice, more on that later.

Also, you need to ensure that you go for the certification as well. Certified Surgical Techs, CSTs, hold more value and are sought after by employers as well.

Read ->What Does a Surgical Tech Do?

Now, let’s discuss in depth about each option –

Associate Degree in Surgical Technology

An Associate Degree in Surgical Technology is an undergraduate program typically offered by community colleges and technical schools. This degree program is designed to prepare students for a career as Surgical Techs.

This degree provides a comprehensive education and practical training to prepare individuals for a rewarding career in surgical healthcare.

It equips students with the skills and knowledge needed to assist surgical teams effectively and ensure patient safety in the operating room.

Course Overview

Course Credits 60 – 64
Course Duration 2 Years
Course Costs $5,000 to $40,000

You’ll Learn About

If you choose an Associate Degree in Surgical Technology, then you’ll find a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience.

In the classroom, here’s what you’ll learn –

  • Surgical Procedures
  • Medical Terminology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Sterilization Techniques
  • Patient Care

For practical experience, you’ll be working in real operating room settings by assisting in surgeries, setting up surgical instruments and equipment, and learning to maintain a sterile environment.

Read More:

-> Online Surgical Tech Programs

-> Surgical Tech Classes & Courses

-> Surgical Tech Program & Training

Getting Certified

However, for Surgical Techs there are no such requirements in education or certification but employers often prefer it. So, you too should aim to acquire it.

So, after completing the program, you should sit for the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam, which is administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) or the NCST by AAH.

More On:

-> Surgical Tech Certification

-> How to Become a Certified Surgical Tech?

Why an Associate Degree is NOT Recommended?

Surgical Tech Requirements  

An Associate Degree in Surgical Technology is the best choice if you wish to advance your career. But, apart from that, there is nothing much it offers.

Also, some factors go against it, like – career goals, timeline, and financial considerations.

Here’s why it is not recommended by many –

Course Duration

Associate Degree programs typically take two years to complete, whereas other program options can often be completed in a shorter period, such as 6 months to a year.

So, if you were looking to enter the workforce quickly, an associate degree couldn’t be an attractive option.

Also Read:

-> AST Surgical Tech 

-> NCCT Surgical Tech

-> Surgical Tech Study Guide

Costs Much

Associate Degree programs are longer and may be more expensive due to tuition and additional educational expenses. Online programs tend to have lower tuition costs, making them a more cost-effective choice for many.

Career Goals

If your career goal is to work as a Surgical Technologist and gain immediate employment in the field, other programs can provide you with the same necessary skills and qualifications.

An Associate Degree may offer a broader educational experience but would indeed delay entry into the workforce.


Online programs often provide more flexibility, allowing you to complete coursework and clinical training while accommodating work or other commitments. Associate Degree programs may require a more significant time commitment.


All the Surgical Tech programs prepare you for the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam. Therefore, the level of certification achieved is not significantly different between them.

So, considering all the time, money, and effort you invest to earn a career as a Surgical Tech, an associate degree might be too much.

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Certificate Program in Surgical Technology

A certificate course in Surgical Technology is a short-term, specialized program that provides students with the essential knowledge and skills required to work as Surgical Techs.

This is an excellent option for aspirants looking to enter the healthcare field quickly and begin working in operating room settings. It provides focused training and can lead to rewarding careers in surgical healthcare.

Course Overview

Course Credits 36 – 44
Course Duration 9 Months to 1 Years
Course Costs $5,000 to $15,000

Course Curricula and Certification

The course curricula are the same as that of an associate degree. You’ll be learning about – surgical procedures, operating room protocols, sterilization techniques, patient care, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, surgical instruments, and surgical technology principles.

Talking about certifications, since employers often prefer them, you should aim to acquire them. So, after completing the program, you should sit for the CST exam, which is administered by the NBSTSA.

Why a Certificate Program is NOT Recommended?

While certificate programs in Surgical Technology can be an excellent choice for many individuals, there are situations where they may not be recommended when compared to online programs.

* We don’t mean that all Surgical Tech certificate programs or providers are not worth it, but most of them are not.

Here’s why –

Not so Flexible  

Certificate programs may have more rigid schedules. On the other hand, online programs often offer the flexibility to study at your own pace and on your schedule, which can be advantageous for individuals who need to balance work, family, or other commitments.  

Limited Depth of Education

Certificate programs often provide a focused and streamlined education specifically tailored to the skills needed for entry-level roles as Surgical Technologists. However, they may lack the depth and breadth of knowledge that can be obtained through an online program or associate degree program.

Career Advancement

If you aspire for career advancement, such as moving into supervisory roles or pursuing further education in healthcare, a certificate program may not offer the academic foundation or opportunities for advancement that online or associate degree programs can provide.

Competitive Job Market

In regions with a highly competitive job market, employers may prefer candidates with more extensive education, such as traditional associate degrees or online programs.

Online Surgical Tech Program (Recommended)

We all are aware of the virtues of an online training program. The flexibility, affordability, and accessibility it provides is unmatchable. The same is the case with Surgical Tech online programs.

An online program in Surgical Technology allows you to study the principles and skills necessary for a career as a Surgical Technologist.

However, you must research program accreditation, clinical requirements, and state-specific licensing regulations.

Additionally, you should have access to the necessary technology and resources for online learning, such as a computer with internet access and the ability to attend clinical training in person.

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Course Overview

Course Duration 6 to 8 Months  
Course Costs $3,000 to $10,000

Course Curricula and Certification

The course curricula are the same as that of an associate degree. You’ll be learning about – surgical procedures, operating room protocols, sterilization techniques, patient care, anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, surgical instruments, and surgical technology principles.

Talking about certifications, since employers often prefer them, you should aim to acquire them. So, after completing the program, you should sit for the CST exam, which is administered by the NBSTSA.

Why Online Program is Absolutely Recommended?

An online program in Surgical Technology is recommended for its flexibility, cost-effectiveness, accessibility, and the ability to prepare students for successful careers in healthcare.

It provides a convenient and adaptable way to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to become a skilled Surgical Technologist.

However, it’s essential to choose an accredited online program to ensure the quality and recognition of your education.

Here’s why you only need to choose Online Accredited Programs –


Online programs offer flexibility in terms of scheduling. You can access course materials, lectures, and assignments at your convenience, making it easier to balance education with work, family, or other commitments.


Online programs are accessible to a wide range of students, including those who live in remote areas or have limited access to traditional educational institutions. This accessibility can help individuals pursue their educational and career goals.


Online programs often have lower tuition fees compared to traditional on-campus programs. Additionally, you can save on commuting and housing costs, making online education a cost-effective option.

Customized Pace

Online programs allow you to progress at your own pace. If you grasp certain concepts quickly, you can move on to the next module or lesson. Conversely, if you need more time to understand specific topics, you have the flexibility to do so.

Technology Integration

Online programs incorporate digital tools and resources that can enhance the learning experience. These may include interactive simulations, virtual labs, and access to up-to-date research and resources.

Clinical Experience

While educational coursework can be completed online, clinical training is typically in-person. This ensures students gain hands-on experience and practical skills in real healthcare settings.  

Certification Preparation

Online programs are designed to prepare students for certification exams, such as the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam. The curriculum aligns with the requirements for national certification.

Next Steps after Completing the Training

pros and cons of Surgical Technologist

There is no specific next step or a step that fits all. In fact, your next step would depend on your career goals, interests, and the opportunities available in your region.

After becoming a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) and gaining experience in the field, there are two paths that you may choose – pursue further education and career advancement.

Here are some common next steps taken by CSTs, which you too could follow –

Surgical First Assistant (CSFA) with additional education and clinical training.

Bachelor’s Degree in a related field, such as healthcare management, nursing, or surgical technology management.

Specialization in specific surgical areas, such as orthopedic, cardiovascular, or neurosurgical technology.

Registered Nurses or Physician Assistants by advancing your education with nursing programs and by acquiring licensure. 

Supervisory or Management or Admin Roles by pursuing a master’s degree in healthcare administration or healthcare management.

Teaching and Education sharing their knowledge and expertise with aspiring surgical tech students.

Research and Development with additional education in engineering or biomedical sciences.

Sales and Product Representation careers in medical device sales, where they had to promote and sell surgical equipment and instruments to healthcare facilities.

You May Also Like:

-> Surgical Tech Requirements

-> Is Surgical Tech School Hard?

-> How to Become a Surgical Tech?

In Conclusion

If you’ve set your sights on a healthcare career, and the role of a Surgical Technologist has caught your attention then you know now which route could be the best for you.

Actually; there are no specific educational or certification requirements for Surgical Technologists, yet. Instead, one can become a Surgical tech either by enrolling in a program or by experience and with/without CST certification.

However, with the changing rules and for the safer side, try getting a Surgical Tech Program certificate online and acquire the CST status, since this is a national certification and could serve well for your career.

In the end, the timeline to become a Surgical Tech can vary depending on the educational path you choose, but on average, it can take anywhere from 6 months for certificate programs to 2 years.

Keep in mind, with dedication and the right education, you’ll be well-prepared to embark on a rewarding career in the operating room, and helping save lives.


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About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.