If you’ve ever considered a career as a Surgical Tech, you might have encountered phrases like “Surgical Tech License” and ” Surgical Tech Certification,” and wondered what they mean and why they matter. 

Licenses and certifications are not the same, although they share similarities. They are both official recognitions of your qualifications, but they serve different purposes and are governed by distinct regulations. 

In this article, we’ll try to explain the concept of a State License, its significance, and the steps to acquire one. Additionally, we’ll take a closer look at the states where licensing is mandatory. 

So, let’s begin –

Surgical Tech License

Difference between Certification and Licence

As we mentioned earlier, licenses and certifications are not the same. A license is usually a legal requirement to practice a specific profession and is issued by a government authority.

Certification is a voluntary credential that demonstrates a person’s expertise and is typically issued by professional organizations or certifying bodies.  


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Here are the distinctions –

Issued by

Typically, licenses are issued by government authorities or state boards.

While, certifications are typically issued by professional organizations, associations, or certifying bodies. These are non-governmental entities.


A license grants legal permission to engage in a specific profession or occupation. It is mandatory in some states for certain professions, such as healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, surgical techs).

Certification validates an individual’s expertise and competence in a specific area or profession. It’s not typically a legal requirement but is often preferred by employers.


Obtaining a license often involves meeting specific education, training, and passing an examination. It may also include background checks.

To become certified, you usually need to meet educational and training requirements and pass an examination specific to the field.

Certification requirements can vary widely between different professions. To become a CST, you can achieve it through NBSTSA or NCST.


A license is generally a legal requirement to practice in a particular field and is state-specific.

Certification demonstrates proficiency and knowledge within a certain specialty, but it may or mightn’t grant legal permission to practice a profession. In the case of CST, it does and completely depends on employers.

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What is a Surgical Tech License?

A Surgical Tech License is like a permission slip that says, “I’m ready to assist in surgeries!” It’s a piece of paper that proves you’ve got the skills and training to work in an operating room as a surgical technologist.

A state license is required to practice a particular field in a particular state. It is a legal requirement to practice a specific profession and is issued by a government authority.

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Why is it important?

Having a State License in any profession is a big deal. It’s not just a fancy certificate to hang on your wall. This little card opens doors to job opportunities.

Hospitals and clinics want to make sure they have skilled and safe surgical techs in their ORs. So, when you show them your license, it proves your expertise, skills, and dedication toward the field of surgical technologist.

In the case of CSTs, there are no such state licensing mandatory requirements as of now. The aspirants can choose between certifications and state registration to start the practice.


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Surgical Tech Requirements for State Licensing

scrub nurse vs surgical tech

There are no specific educational or certification requirements for Surgical Technologists. Instead, employers determine the qualifications for these professionals.

While many prefer candidates with completed Surgical Technology programs, some may also value national certification from NBSTSA.

However, no state requires licensing for Surgical Techs to work in the United States. But some prefer National Certification.

For those who do, AST (Association of Surgical Technologists) requires you to have –

Accredited Surgical Tech Program

Get Certified – through NBSTSA or NCST

Maintain CST certification valid by continuing education (CE) hours

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How to Get a Surgical Tech License?

Getting your Surgical Tech License is like following a treasure map. Here’s the step-by-step guide to make it happen:

Step 1 – Education

First, you need to complete a surgical technology program. We recommend you try online programs for they are flexible, reasonable, and finish quicker.

Step 2 – Certification

After finishing your education, you’ll need to pass a certification exam through NBSTSA NCCT or NCST by AAH.

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Step 3 – Hands-On Practice

You’ll also have to complete a certain number of hands-on surgeries. This is where you put your skills to the test in a real operating room.

Step 4 – Background Check

A clean record is important. You’ll need to pass a background check to make sure you’re trustworthy.

Step 5 – State Licensing (if needed)

Not all states require a separate license, but some do. If you live in a state that requires it, you’ll have to apply for a state license on top of your national certification.


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State Licensing and Certification Requirements

How to Become a Surgical Tech?

In the case of surgical technologists, they often pursue certification through organizations like the NBSTSA, NCCT, or NCST by AAH.

This allows them to prove their competence and gain a competitive edge in the job market. But, in some states, surgical technologists may also need a separate state license.

Well, it depends on where you live. Each state has its own rules. As of now, the state that requires surgical techs to get a separate state license is Arkansas.  

In all the other states, you don’t need a separate state license. Your national certification is usually enough.

But remember, the states don’t require licenses but they prefer certifications. It shows employers you’re committed to your job and your patients.

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In conclusion

In the realm of healthcare, a Surgical Tech License or a Certification is not merely a piece of paper; it’s a testament to your skills and expertise in your field.

Whether you find yourself in a state where licensing is mandatory or not, you’ll anyway require certification. Getting certified would prove your pursuit of excellence and your commitment and this will always set you apart.

With your certification in hand, you’re poised for a rewarding career that makes a tangible impact in the operating room. Good Luck! 


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About the Author
Grant founded OnlineDegree.com 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.