Surgical Technology Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Class Info

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What kind of jobs can you get with an associate's and bachelor's degree in surgical technology? Find out associate's and bachelor's degree requirements, online options and info on courses and surgical technology programs.
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Surgical Technology Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Surgical technology undergraduate degree programs prepare you to work as a surgical technologist and assist surgeons and nurses before, during and after surgical procedures. Specific duties include sterilizing equipment, disinfecting surgical sites, passing instruments and disposing of bio-hazardous materials. Technologists may also move patients and place the surgical gowns and gloves on the surgical team members.

While both associate's and bachelor's degree programs will prepare you to work as a surgical technologist, a bachelor's degree can enable you to advance and work in management positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for surgical technologists are projected to grow 19% from 2010-2020. Careers are available within hospitals and surgical centers.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to work as surgical technologists Those who want to obtain management and educational positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Surgical technologist ($42,000)*
-Medical assistant ($30,000)*
-Surgical assistant ($75,000 - additional training and experience required)**
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements -About 20-24 courses
-About 40-48 graduate-level courses
Prerequisites -High school diploma
-High school diploma
-Associate's degree for transfer students
Online Availability No Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **National Surgical Assistant Association.

Associate in Surgical Technology

An associate's degree in surgical technology will provide you with the knowledge and skills to work in various healthcare settings. You'll learn how to communicate with various medical professionals and operate different types of medical equipment. In addition to taking classes, you'll also have to complete an internship in a medical facility. This is an opportunity for you to learn how to perform various operating procedures with speed and accuracy under the supervision of an experienced surgical technologist. Because technologists are around sick patients on a daily basis, you may be exposed to infectious diseases.

Pros and Cons


  • Advances in technology will improve job growth*
  • Prepared for work after graduation
  • Program provides hands-on experience


  • May be exposed to infectious diseases
  • Will have to stand for long periods of time
  • Working nights and weekends may be required

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

An associate's degree program will require you to complete general education requirements and surgical technology courses. General education requirements cover areas in English, math and psychology. Before taking surgical technology courses, you will also need to complete basic science courses in medical terminology and human anatomy. Advanced surgical technology courses include surgical instrumentation, specialty procedures, pharmacology and patient care concepts.

Online Course Options

Fully online associate's degree programs in surgical technology are not available. However, you may find programs that allow you to complete general education requirements and basic science courses online. You'll need to make sure that any prospective programs are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP).

How to Stand Out

It's important for surgical technologists to have the dexterity to work with their hands. Whether you're sterilizing or passing instruments, it's essential that those items are not dropped or contaminated. Some surgical operations can be stressful, and you must have the temperament to work well under pressure. You can practice your instrument-handling and stress management skills during your internship and laboratory classes. The Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) accepts student members, so you could consider joining; as a member, you'll receive a free copy of AST's monthly journal, The Surgical Technologist, to help you stay abreast of new developments in the field.

Bachelor's in Surgical Technology

A bachelor's degree in surgical technology will prepare you for additional employment opportunities in the medical field. While high school graduates will have an opportunity to enroll in a 4-year program, 2-year degree-completion programs are also available for those who already have obtained an associate's degree. This program may be offered as a concentration or specialization within a health sciences program. You'll take advanced courses in the field, and you'll be eligible for certification upon graduation. You'll also be well-positioned for further training toward a surgical assistant role, if you so choose. However, you will have to compete with associate's degree holders for entry-level jobs as a surgical technologist.

Pros and Cons


  • Able to become certified sooner after graduation than those with 2-year degrees
  • Aging baby boomers needing care may increase employment*
  • Programs are available online for working professionals


  • Career may be stressful
  • May be exposed to unpleasant sights and odors*
  • Continuing education may be necessary

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

The first two years of the program are going to closely resemble the curriculum in an associate's degree program, while the final two years will require you to take advanced courses involving surgical fundamentals, surgical procedures, surgical pharmacology and patient care. Because surgical technology is often part of a health sciences program, you may be required to take courses involving business and management. These courses include accounting, human resource management, marketing and healthcare delivery. While pursuing the 4-year program, you'll be required to complete an internship.

Online Program Options

Those who have already graduated with an associate's degree in surgical technology have the option of pursuing a bachelor's degree completion program online. This is a 2-year program that offers you a flexible learning schedule if you're already working in the field while studying. You may be able to substitute your current work for an internship.

How to Stand Out

While not required by all employers, certification demonstrates a certain level of knowledge and skills in the field. After graduating, you can earn certification through the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting as a Certified Surgical Technologist (CST). The Tech in Surgery-Certified designation is offered through the National Center for Competency Testing. Both of these agencies require applicants to complete an accredited formal training program, pass an exam and pursue continuing education opportunities. You might look ahead toward earning these credentials and start studying for the exams while still in school.

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