What is a Surgical Technologist?

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 13, 2023
3 min read

A surgical technologist is a health professional who prepares an operating room (OR) before surgery. They’re a crucial part of a surgical care team, working alongside the surgeon, the surgeon’s assistants, the nurses, and the professional providing anesthesia

Surgical technologists may also be called surgical techs, surgical assistants, scrub tech, or operating room technicians.

Surgical technologist duties include preparing operating rooms and patients for surgery and assisting during and after the operation. 

Before an operation 

Before you have surgery, your surgical technologist gets the operating room ready. They set up the instruments and make sure all equipment is working the way it should. Surgical techs also gather and prepare any sterile solutions or medications that the team may need. 

The surgical technologist brings you into the operating room. They’ll take you to the table, make sure you’re comfortable, and cover you with sterile drapes. Surgical techs also clean and disinfect your incision sites. Usually, all of this happens before the rest of the care team enters the room. 

During an operation 

The surgical technologist acts as an extra set of hands for the surgeon and first assistants. They hand out sterile instruments and supplies. Depending on the operation, they might prepare robotic surgical equipment, hold organs in place, or hold retractors. 

After an operation 

Your surgery might be over, but the surgical technologist’s job isn’t. They may take care of your wound by putting bandages and dressings on it. They are sometimes tasked with taking people to recovery or restocking an operating room. 

Surgical technologists must complete a surgical technology program. It can take as little as a few months to as long as 2 years. 

The process to become a surgery technologist involves:

  • Taking classes in the sciences and learning about patient safety, infection prevention, and surgical equipment
  • Earning a diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree from an accredited surgical technology program 
  • Taking part in supervised surgical technology clinicals 

Some surgical technologists get certified to improve their job prospects or to meet regulations in their state. They then need to complete continuing education to keep the certification active. 

A surgical technologist doesn’t directly treat or diagnose any medical conditions. Instead, they work on surgical care teams in hospitals, providing help to the surgeon and the first assistants.

If you need surgery, you’ll probably see a surgical technologist before and after your procedure. Surgical technologists assist with inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures. 

Inpatient surgery 

If you need to be admitted to a hospital for the procedure, it’s called an inpatient surgery. Common inpatient procedures include cardiovascular (heart), respiratory system, and urinary system surgeries. You’ll need to stay in the hospital until you’re cleared to move to a rehab facility or to return home

Outpatient surgery

Outpatient surgery, also called ambulatory surgery (AS), doesn’t require you to stay in the hospital overnight. Some of the most common outpatient procedures include invasive therapeutic surgeries on the nose, mouth, pharynx, eye, and ear. Lumpectomy, which is the surgical removal of a lump in one or both breasts, and bunion surgery are also outpatient surgeries.