How to Become a Surgical Technologist in California

Surgical technologists help keep things running smoothly in the operating room (OR) by assisting the surgeon and other members of the surgical team. They make sure the OR is clean and sterile for surgery. They are responsible for preparing patients for surgery as well as taking them to recover afterward. During surgery, they are responsible for keeping up with the surgical instruments as well as handing them to the surgeon. [En Español]

In California, the California State Assembly of the Association of Surgical Technologists (AST) sets guidelines for what surgical technologists can and cannot do and how much supervision they do or do not need. Other than that, surgical technology is not regulated in the state of California. National certification is not required, but many employers within the state prefer it. Current basic life support (BLS) and CPR are required by most employers.

The only educational requirement in the state is to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Completing a surgical technology training program is not mandatory to work within the state of California, but to take the national certification exam you must first complete a training program that is accredited by either the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools (ABHES).

Surgical Technology Programs in California

Not only does earning a certificate or degree in surgical technology prepare students to take the national certification exam, it also provides them with work experience since many of the programs include surgical externships. California has over 70 colleges that offer CAAHEP- and ABHES-accredited surgical technology programs. These are just a few of the many choices:

  • MiraCosta College. MiraCosta College in Oceanside presents students with the opportunity to earn a Certificate of Achievement in surgical technology. This is a one-year certificate program that consists of a total of 39 credit hours. Human Anatomy, Basic Medical Terminology, and Basic Pharmacology must be taken before a student can be accepted into the program. Upon graduation from this program, students can take the national exam on campus.
  • San Joaquin Valley College. The following San Joaquin Valley College campuses offer an Associate in Science degree in surgical technology: Bakersfield, Fresno, Rancho Cordova, and Temecula. This program takes 15 months to complete and covers surgical case management, basic surgical procedures, and advanced surgical procedures. Program graduates qualify to sit for the national certification exam. They also earn CPR certification upon completion of the program.
  • Skyline College. Located in San Bruno, Skyline College offers both a certificate program and an Associate of Science degree in surgical technology. The certificate program can be completed in approximately a year and consists of 34 credit hours of program-specific courses. An associate degree can be earned in two years. A minimum of 60 credit hours are required to graduate. These hours include the 34 credit hours in the certificate program. The remaining credit hours are general education classes.

Surgical Technologist Certification in California

Students who complete a surgical technology program that is either ABHES or CAAHEP accredited are eligible to sit for the National Board of Surgical Technology and Surgical Assisting (NBSTSA) exam. Once they pass the NBSTSA, they will hold the title of certified surgical technologist (CST). It is not a statewide requirement to become nationally certified, but it is encouraged. Most employers in California prefer to hire CSTs and some even require that their potential employees be nationally certified.

If you are a member of the AST, you will need to pay $190 to take the NBSTSA exam. Non-AST members must pay $290. Certification should be renewed every four years to remain current. Renewal can be achieved through taking 60 continued education hours during the four years between renewals, or by retaking and passing the NBSTSA. Continued education can be completed by taking more surgical technology education courses or going to seminars. A renewal fee will apply. You will also have to pay to retake the exam if you choose that option. You shouldn’t have trouble finding somewhere to take the exam in California. There are more than 20 locations in which the exam can be taken including Anaheim, Burbank, Fresno, Laguna Hills, Modesto, Palm Springs, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Ventura.

Job Outlook and Salary Expectations

California is the top-paying state for surgical technologists in the U.S. The state also holds the highest employment rate for surgical techs. In 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the state employed 11,300 surgical technologists. That number is expected to rise by 10 percent over the next several years.

While the average hourly pay for surgical techs in California is $35.60, many make between $30-$40 an hour. Their average annual salary is $74,050

but depending on experience and location, many surgical techs in the state earn more than that. Surgical technologists in Modesto make an average of $59,090 annually, and those in Oakland make an average of $78,350 annually. The highest earners in the state can earn as much as $93,420.

Working as a Surgical Technologist in California

Since California is such a large state, it is no surprise that there are many opportunities for employment for surgical technologists. Some of the cities with the highest employment rates for surgical technologists in the state are Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, Irvine, Fresno, and Long Beach. They may find work in places such as hospitals, outpatient surgery clinics, plastic surgery centers, birthing centers, and oral surgery clinics. Surgical techs in hospitals may choose to focus on a specialty or they may be “floaters,” meaning they will assist in various areas of surgery.

If you are interested in a career as a surgical technologist in California, now is the time to pursue it. The growth rate continues to increase, and training and certification do not take long to complete. In addition, this is a rewarding career both financially and personally, and there is plenty of opportunity for advancement in this field.

Neighbor States

Residents of California may also wish to review their options in ArizonaNevada, and Oregon.

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