What is a Surgical Technology Degree?

Surgery is a team sport. And the surgical technologist and surgical assistant, like the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, and the nurses, is an integral member of the team.

The surgical technology curriculum includes foundational courses in human anatomy and physiology, microbiology and pharmacology, medical terminology, and health law and ethics, but its focus is on hands-on learning and clinical experience in operating room setup and technique; patient preparation, safety, and care; and surgical procedures.

Program Options


  • To be eligible to take the Certified Surgical Technologist (CST) exam administered by the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA), it is important to choose a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES). Passing the CST exam is a condition of employment in some states.
  • Programs require applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED (general education development) equivalent. Many require that candidates complete a course in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) as well as a criminal background check.

Certificate in Surgical Technology – One Year Duration
Certificate programs teach only subjects in the major. They are focused exclusively on the various aspects of surgical technology.

Associate Degree in Surgical Technology – Two Year Duration
A surgical technology associate program combines courses in the major with general education classes in subjects such as mathematics, English composition, the social sciences, and information technology.

Despite the differences described above, both of these programs combine classroom and laboratory learning with clinical training and experiences, and are built around the following core courses:

  • Human Anatomy and Physiology I – medically oriented study of the structure and function of the human body; overviews of the scientific method, chemistry of life, cell biology and tissue structure and function; detailed study of the skeletal, muscular, endocrine, integumentary (skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands), and reproductive systems with discussion of related pathology (the causes and effects of diseases)
  • Basics of Medical Terminology – foundation for the use of the language of medicine, emphasizing correct pronunciation and spelling, various word parts, abbreviations, and symbols pertaining to body systems; symptomatology , pathology, and diagnostic procedures for identifying various disease processes
  • Application / Techniques of Surgical Asepsis and Instrumentation – application of microbiology as it relates to sterilization and asepsis (the absence of bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms); identification, proper handling, assembly, and sterilization of instruments, equipment, and supplies; surgical scrubbing prior to surgical procedures; gowning, gloving, and assisting surgical team members; counting instruments, sponges, needles, and other items on the sterile field; performing initial steps of surgical procedures; handling sterile equipment during an operation; the roles of unsterile and sterile surgical technologists
  • Surgical Technology Practice I – beginner level practice of operating room fundamentals; the roles of all members of the surgical support service department, which includes sterile supply, sterile processing, and instrument room
  • Introduction to Surgical Technology and Patient Care Concepts – introductory surgical technology theory related to hospitals, healthcare facilities, management, and job responsibilities; ethical, moral, and legal responsibilities; patient care concepts; critical elements of surgical procedures; perioperative patient care concepts including assessment of the patient’s response to illness and hospitalization and assessment of the patient’s physical, spiritual, and psychological needs; issues surrounding quality care, informed consent, and legal / ethical concerns; review of basic patient chart components; assessment and response to special population patients; the physical design and needs of the surgery department; identification of potential hazards; review of basic operating room safety; preoperative routings, documentation, and post anesthesia care; the basic definitions of electricity and robotics with their basic applications in the operating room
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology II – medical oriented study of the structure and function of the human body; topics include the nervous, cardiovascular, lymphatic, circulatory, immune, respiratory, and digestive systems with discussion of related pathology
  • Pathology and Disease I – introduction to the study of pathology and the process of disease; common disease conditions, prevention, etiology (determination of a cause of disease), signs and symptoms, diagnoses, treatment, prognoses, wounds and healing, and the use of medical references for research and verification; particular emphasis on infectious disease and immunology, oral medicine, nutritional and metabolic medicine, dermatology, musculoskeletal system, ophthalmology, gynecological and obstetrical medicine, and endocrinology
  • General Surgical Procedures – study of general surgical procedures, including devices, techniques, and wound characteristics; types of wounds, inflammation, and the phases of healing; sutures, accessory devices, surgical staplers, and suture needles; techniques used in preoperative diagnoses and opening and closing of surgical wounds; relevant anatomy of, and indications for, surgery; patient preparation; special equipment and supplies; purpose and expected outcomes of the surgery, possible complications
  • Surgical Technology Practice II – beginner level study of operating room principles and procedures; understanding the roles of all members of the operating room team, the basic ‘flow’ of the operating room, and the procedure to scrub, gown, and glove without contamination; back table setup and Mayo stand (portable instrument stand) setup; the opening of sterile supplies; the basics of instrument handling
  • Pharmacology for the Surgical Technologist – general principles of pharmacology related to the surgical technologist in the perioperative environment; topics include drug sources, classifications, regulatory issues, indications for use, complications, adverse reactions, routes of administration, calculation, and medication handling; relationship of drugs to the surgical patient; anesthesia and emergency situations
  • Specialty Procedures I – specialized surgeries as they pertain to the surgical technologist; related medical terminology, pathology, specific anatomical structures, basic and specialized surgical instruments, supplies, and drugs; room setup, draping needs, and positioning; obstetric and gynecologic procedures, including fertility-related surgeries; the surgical technologist’s role in the stages of labor and delivery; genitourinary (relating to the genital and urinary organs), plastic and reconstructive, and otorhinolaryngologic (relating to the ear, nose, and throat), and ophthalmic surgeries
  • Surgical Technology Practice III – intermediate level practice of operating room procedures; applied skills include scrubbing, gowning, gloving, and setups with increased organization and speed as well as instrument handling with increased manual dexterity
  • Pathology and Disease II – further study of pathology and the process of disease; common disease conditions, prevention, etiology, signs and symptoms, diagnoses, treatment, prognoses, and the use of medical references for research and verification; particular emphasis on cardiovascular and hematological medicine, ear-nose-throat and respiratory / pulmonary systems, gastrointestinal medicine, renal and urologic medicine, hepatic (liver) and biliary (relating to the bile or the bile duct) medicine, neurologic medicine, and psychiatric medicine
  • Microbiology – biology of microorganisms and viruses; overview of the natural and applied roles of microorganisms and applications to the human
  • Specialty Procedures II – further study of specialty areas as they pertain to the surgical technologist, with emphasis on oral and maxillofacial, orthopedic, peripheral vascular, cardiothoracic, and neurosurgery
  • Surgical Technology Practice IV – competent level practice of operating room procedures, with skills performed with little to no assistance; expectations include independent scrubbing for a variety of surgical cases, duties performed with increased speed and accuracy, increased awareness and anticipation of needs for procedures and needs of team members, and increased instrument handling skills
  • Professional Relations and Current Topics – examination of the healthcare practitioners’ professional obligations, including responsibilities to self, to the profession, and to the community; discussion of current topics in surgical technology practice, robotics in the surgical setting, organ procurement and transplant, concepts of death and dying, all hazard preparedness, and healthcare structure and hierarchy; resume writing, interview skills, and preparing for the national certification exam
  • Surgical Technology Practice V – proficient level practice of operating room procedures, with skills performed independently with speed and accuracy; expectations include excellent instrument handling skills and the ability to anticipate the sequence of items during a surgical procedure as well as the surgical process

Degrees Similar to Surgical Technology

Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries. Among typical classes are biochemistry, general biology, cell biology, chemistry, and genetics.

Cardiovascular Technology
Degree programs in cardiovascular technology prepare students to work as cardiovascular technologists (CVTs). These technicians assist doctors with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and conditions of the heart (cardio) and blood vessels (vascular). The curriculum is threefold in nature. Students learn (1) the structure, function, and pathology of the heart and blood vessels, (2) the diagnostic tools and procedures used to test them, and (3) the care of cardiovascular patients.

Clinical Laboratory Science
Degree programs in clinical laboratory science prepare students to work as laboratory technicians, who use chemicals and other substances to test body fluids and tissues for the purpose of diagnosing diseases. The curriculum combines chemistry, biology, and medicine.

Clinical Medical Assisting
This degree program prepares students to work as assistants to medical doctors. The typical curriculum covers medical terminology, medical office administration, insurance, and medical software. As the role of medical assistant may involve some basic clinical tasks, students also learn the fundamentals of human disease, disease diagnosis, and medications.

Dental Hygiene
Degree programs in dental hygiene train students how to clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases, treat tooth decay, and educate patients how to care for their teeth and gums. The dental hygiene curriculum is more clinical than the dental assisting curriculum. It focuses on subjects like dental anatomy, periodontics (the supporting structures of teeth), microbiology, and pathology (disease).

Emergency Medical Technology (EMT Paramedic)
Students who enrol in EMT degree programs learn the skills required to provide emergency medical care. The curriculum includes courses in medical terminology, patient assessment, and advanced life support such as performing respiratory procedures and administering IV fluids, injections, and medications.

This degree program is designed to give students the knowledge and experience for safe, compassionate, evidence-based, competent, and ethical nursing practice.

Physician Assistant
This program prepares students to work as a physician assistant or PA. Under the supervision of a physician, PAs take medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and provide preventative healthcare. They may also assist in surgery and conduct research.

There is no distinct pre-medicine degree. ‘Pre-medicine’ or ‘pre-med’ is merely a term that students planning to go to medical school use to describe their undergraduate studies. In fact, aspiring doctors enter med school having earned many different bachelor’s degrees. A science program such as biology or chemistry is certainly a common choice, but it is not mandatory. In other words, a pre-med student can be a psychology major, a statistics major, or a Spanish major. The key for students is to incorporate into their studies the classes needed to apply to medical school.

Radiological Science and Technologies
Degree programs in radiological science and technologies prepare students for careers as radiologic technologists. These professionals, also known as radiographers, use medical diagnostic equipment, tools, and instruments to capture images of the organs, bones, and tissues inside the body. They also analyze and interpret these images in consultation with doctors and other medical team members.

In addition to learning imaging procedures and image interpretation, students take foundational courses in anatomy and physiology, physics, and pathology. They also learn how to maintain imaging equipment, prepare patients for imaging procedures, and protect patients from harmful radiation.

Respiratory Care
Respiratory care programs prepare students for careers as respiratory therapists. The curriculum focuses on how to diagnose and manage cardio-pulmonary disorders. Training includes performing CPR, using ventilators, and providing oxygen therapy.

Skills You’ll Learn

Here are some of the competencies associated with the study of surgical technology:

  • Adaptability – in the operating room, things can change in an instant, which calls for the ability to make the proper adjustments
  • Attention to detail – the invasive nature of surgery calls for meticulous attention to detail
  • Calm nature, focus, and stress management – the medical and health implications of the work can make it stressful; the capacity to stay in control and focused is essential
  • Communication and collaboration – surgery involves multiple medical professionals working together; the operating room is an environment that demands clear and concise communication, because a single misunderstanding or misinterpretation can have dire consequences
  • Dedication, integrity, and reliability – members of the medical team must be able to rely upon one another’s unique skills; dedication to and passion for the work is the best way to keep these skills sharp
  • Manual dexterity – surgical technologists work with a variety of instruments; hand steadiness and precision are key
  • Physical stamina – the work involves standing for long periods of time
  • Willingness and capacity to learn – surgical technologies are constantly evolving; those that work in the field must be teachable

What Can You Do with a Surgical Technology Degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost three quarters of practising surgical technologists in the United States, work in hospitals. Others find employment in same-day / outpatient surgical centers and private physicians’ offices. A small number work in dentists’ offices.

Opportunities outside the operating room exist with surgical supply or equipment companies, who hire surgical technology grads in sales roles.

Career Paths

Learn about your career prospects after graduation.

Read about Career Paths